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She’s… Just A Woman!

She’s… Just A Woman!

Wednesday, 29 June, 2022 - 09:15

The civil war cruel males are waging against women is escalating: verbal abuse. Depriving them of their children. Assault. Physical impairment. Rape. Setting them on fire. Murder... These are some of the headlines at the forefront of the conversation about women in our region. It sometimes seems that these “beings” are mere hostages in “men’s homes” or solitary prison cells run by men, where they are subjected to one or more of these actions or perhaps all of them.


Sometimes they are like chickens in a locked coop, with the man slaughtering one of his prisoners whenever he wants to devour a chicken. A bit of anger, jealousy or frustration is enough to compel him to slaughter her. At the end of the day, they do not have the same legal, political, and sexual rights as men, and this inequality can degenerate into absolute inequality between husband and wife or father and daughter.


The murder could take place in broad daylight, and it could take place in a crowded public place. This murder is audacious, perpetrated as though it were permissible or licensed by a culture and relationships that encourage it. As for us, in the best of cases, we shake our heads or bite our lip and continue on our way, waiting to hear about the next victim.


In a small country like Lebanon, our colleague Safa Ayyad listed three cases, quoted below:

- “In the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon, where the victim was a girl with special needs, her uncle and another individual raped her, and both men were members of the Palestinian security forces affiliated with the Fatah movement. When news of the rape began to circulate in the camp, the Palestinian security forces issued a statement denouncing what it called attempts at smearing its reputation, and they exonerated the accused of this heinous act.”


- “Mrs. Tahani Harb (30 years), a mother of two, was violently assaulted by her husband. She was admitted to the hospital, whose medical report stated that the domestic violence she had been subjected to led to bleeding in her spleen, requiring its removal, in addition to fractures in four of her lower ribs. One of the woman’s paternal cousins shared the forensic medical report on his Facebook page and said that the husband who had fled was being helped by his relatives, who were facilitating his escape and protecting him, adding that they were trying to get the security forces to close or resolve the case and allow him to evade prosecution.”


- “Diya Mahmoud al-Ghoul, a 14-year-old child from the Dinniyyah district in the North, committed suicide in her hometown of Qerhaya. Reports circulated claiming that the girl had been pressured to marry a man against her will by her family. ”


The same things happening in Lebanon are taking place in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and the other countries in the region.


The fact is that women in our region did not enjoy equal rights at any time in the past.


Nonetheless, they have not suffered from this degree of oppression and violence in decades: we are facing an unprecedented mix of tyranny, impoverishment, unemployment and despair, with egalitarian values on the back foot as dark ideologies flourish and education levels deteriorate... We see this in the teachings promoted by religious preachers, as well as in the values adopted by some on social media. It is particularly evident within immigrant and refugee communities, which have been ballooning in recent years and have faced some difficulty adapting to their new world, and so burdened women with most of the costs. We saw it, both in the Arab world and internationally, when the spread of the coronavirus led to a spike in domestic violence behind closed doors. The decline in human rights, justice, and equality, especially after the Arab revolutions were defeated and tyranny’s grip was strengthened, is very much part of this picture as well.


But there is also the question of the model. Defending women’s rights and equality has always been paired with some kind of reference to the West and what Western women have attained. While the influence of this model was not strong enough to consolidate Arab women’s gains, which were generally brittle and vulnerable to being pulled out right from under them at any moment, and though Pan Arab and Islamic narratives (‘the West is responsible for women’s conditions in our part of the world’) added to the fragility of those gains, the example of Western women constituted outlined a path that could be taken: one day, our women could find themselves in that position.


This model seems very weak today. It is not only undermined by our decreased capacity for taking but also its declined capacity for giving. International networks getting involved with their work on defending human rights leaves us with a glimmer of hope that the crimes, including gendered and sexual crime, might not be allowed to pass unpunished, but the prospect of accountability it becoming increasingly improbable.


The model has become less tempting, and the number of parties vying to present an appealing model to the world has decreased. Before, during the Cold War, for example, George Kennan, Mr. X, was among those to call for curbing Soviet influence with the democratic model. The model is a weapon no less potent than the policy of containment also advocated by Kennan.


Today, whoever stumbles upon news about women in the United States finds himself stumbling upon news of their suffering first. The US Supreme Court voting against women’s right to an abortion, which had been guaranteed for five decades, provides a counterexample. A few days before this vote, the same court decided to expand the legal scope for using weapons, knowing that women in the United States are 16 times more likely to be killed by these weapons than men.


These are not examples to be replicated, nor are they signs of a better future, neither for us nor for anyone else. The Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood predicted this kind of grim outcome in The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been made into a television series. Her work is good to read or watch; maybe it could get us to fear another form of totalitarianism and slavery.


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