“Women’s Rights”: Cute Han?

Rita Sfeir

Lebanon, July 4th 2013, Rim Zakaria and Zaynab Awada fled their abusive husbands to take part in a press conference organized by the NGO KAFA-enough violence and exploitation… China, 2011, Wu Hei (which isn’t her real name), a successful woman who earns almost one million rmb (around 150 000$) walks out of an abusive marriage that lasted 5 agonizing years barehanded leaving behind her home, her life savings and most of her belongings… Saudi Arabia: women can’t  drive (which means-to be more precise-are not allowed to)… Moroccan girl, 16 year old Amina Filali takes her own life after being forced by a judge to marry her rapist… Saudi Arabian girl gets sentenced for 90 lashes being raped by seven men…and many many more shocking stories…

A simple conclusion? Women are – in most cases and countries – underestimated, and their rights are practically buried.

Since the beginning of time and women were considered weak, they always used as objects of pleasure; a woman “belonged” to a man who would protect her and give her food, shelter, and clothing, and in return she would obey him no matter what.

Even nowadays, this mentality prevails, and no matter what you do, you will never find a place where men and women are truly equal in rights.

Citizens of the third world countries don’t have basic rights, therefore, it seems at first that talking about women’s rights would be utterly stupid. In developed countries, well, let’s just say that the situation is far from ‘perfection’. For example, over 60% of Native American women are physically assaulted by a partner or spouse, women are more likely to be killed than men and especially during pregnancy, and over 50% of homeless women are subject to domestic violence. But that’s not it. Other developed countries are not off the hook; for example in France 1 in 10 women are victims of domestic violence and more than six women die every month due to domestic violence, not to mention that many more either are assaulted or die off the records.

And what if we get to the subject of religions… Starting with Christianity we would say that this religion was based – with its traditions and thoughts concerning women – on the Bible which clearly states that women in church do not have the right to speak and are expected to cover their heads; at some point women had and still have to sit in the back of the congregation during a meeting and it continued to escalate until it was questioned whether women have souls or not. That’s according to the Catholic Church. In fact the catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that women were defective men, imperfect in body and souls; they were unreliable and weak, they were inferior beings. Also, protestant churches were not better – remember Martin Luther’s saying:”a woman’s place is in the home”. He also insisted on the right of a husband to beat, rape and hold his wife in captivity without considering he is doing something wrong, immoral or sexist. It was not until the late 18th century that people-women as well as men- spoke up and women got the right to vote, and to get proper education.   Christian mainstream thought is now in the process of change. The more liberal sects have started ordaining women again, while the more traditional ones still hold out against it.

Islam is not better. True does give women souls and the right to be educated, but it clearly says that daughters get half the inheritance of sons; women’s testimony in court, at least in financial matters, is considered half that of a men’s; the compensation for the murder of a woman is half that of a man’s; for a woman to prove that she has been raped is as simple as walking to the moon; the legal age of marriage for a girl is rather young – usually nine years old -; women have the right to demand a divorce (try it and see where it gets you) but will lose their children because – of course – husbands obtain the custody; not to mention that beating the wife is a perfectly reasonable and right thing to do since it is –after all- mentioned in the Quran. And that’s in short the Islamic version of women’s rights.

Last but not least, we would all come to agree on one thing: much has been said, but it’s not even about rights, more like prohibitions and rules imposed on women… Outraging!

Nevertheless, women are working on eliminating this gap between them and men – examples: Saudi women breaking the driving ban and defying the warnings and campaigners by posting videos on YouTube on Saturday 26th of October 2013; also Sunday 6th of October 2013 Saudi Arabia ministry of justice licensed the first 4 women attorneys to work in the kingdom; and more, Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet has passed landmark legislation recognizing all forms of abuse, including domestic violence, as offenses deserving investigation, prosecution and punishment by law enforcement agencies, managing to force “FyourT” shop on Etsy the online market place to remove abuse shirts that has sayings such as “I am a sensitive guy. I only rape pregnant women” or “autumn is perfect for date rape” and Facebook to remove an abusive video of a man beheading a woman and restrict such violent things.

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