The #MeToo movement has seen some amazing success improving women’s rights in this country and in Europe. It has generated real results from raising awareness to issuing indictments, from horrified reactions to unexpected resignations.
Not so in Asian countries. Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan are two holdouts on the issue of women’s rights and their global fight for equality and justice. Even the United Arab Emirates, where women have far more freedom that in other Muslim countries, doesn’t quite get it. But India is making strides in the right direction.
I’m going to start with the most negative and work toward the positive so i can end on an optimistic note.
In Afghanistan, women watch the new peace talks with trepidation. Yes, they want peace but they fear the consequences of the Taliban being given a seat in government. Worse, the women have been shut out of the peace negotiations.
The United States can’t remain in Afghanistan forever but I find it disheartening that the departure of our soldiers might send Afghan women back to the Middle Ages. The last time the Taliban ran the country, they closed girls’ schools, denied women access to health care, made it illegal for women to leave the house without a male escort, forced them to wear burqas in public, and beat women viciously for minor infractions.
Under Taliban rule, women were not only beaten but also shot, stoned, had acid thrown in their faces and had their noses cut off for perceived infractions of rigid rules. A return of the Taliban’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice will not bode well for Afghanistan’s women.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Mohammed Bin Salman, the next in line to the Kingdom’s throne has made some significant steps forward. He has disbanded the religious police that once harassed women on the street for wardrobe violations and lifted the ban on women driving.
I had high hopes that he could continue this progress. But no. Recent events look more like steps backward. Here’s the latest from Saudi Arabia:
- Saudi officials have imprisoned and tortured 29-year-old Loujain (pronounced Loo-JAYNE) al-Hathloul for advocating gender equality.
- At least 10 women who campaigned for the right to drive were imprisoned and tortured during interrogation. At least eight of the women remain in prison where they are subject to sexual harassment and have no access to lawyers.
- Canada granted asylum to Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, who fled Saudi Arabia to avoid physical abuse from her family and a forced marriage.
- Other young Saudi women have also fled the country but been returned to their country where they were subject to retribution from their embarrassed families.
The United Arab Emirates
On January 27, the United Arab Emirates handed out their new Gender Balance Index Awards. The Index features four categories: Best Personality for Supporting Gender Balance, Best Federal Entity for Supporting Gender Balance, the Best Initiative for Supporting Gender Balance, and Best Equality in the Workplace. The first three were for agencies and the last award went to an individual.
Sounds good, right? Steps in the right direction?
All the winners were men.
This looks ridiculous on the face of it. To be fair, however, if only men are in power, what women could receive awards?
Yet the image of men—and only men—In their long white robes and keffiyehs handing out and accepting the awards did not go over well on the world stage. It held the UAE up for ridicule at best. In response to widespread criticism, the UAE Gender Balance Council said:
“This is indicative of the great and extraordinary progress we have made as a nation, where men in the UAE are proactively working alongside women to champion gender balance as a national priority.”
At least, they are trying to improve women’s rights. Maybe we should try giving out gender equality awards to American men who make a positive difference. I suggest starting with corporate CEOs and the US. Congress.
India’s top court has just ruled that sex with a child is always rape. This invalidates a legal clause that allowed men to have sex with underage girls if they were married to them. A much overdue decision, it also closes a legal loophole that rapists had historically used to escape punishment.
The age of consent in India, as in America, is 18. But Indian law previously included a clause in the rape laws that lowered the age of consent to 15 if the girl was married. This allowed parents who felt the rape had besmirched their honor to force a daughter into marriage with the man who raped her. Imagine spending your life tied to the man who violated you when you were just a child.
The court has now ruled that the clause is “discriminatory, capricious, and arbitrary”, and “violates the bodily integrity of the girl child.” That’s big progress, even though it may take a while to take effect in rural areas. The organization Girls Not Brides ranks India 10th in the world for child marriage with an estimated 47% of girls married by the time they turn 18.
An Unenlightened United States
- Child marriage – when a minor under age 18 is married – is legal in 49 U.S. states, accounting for judicial exceptions.
- In 25 states, no statutory absolute minimum age for marriage exists. Minors can legally marry another minor or an adult in at least 25 states.
- As of May 2018, Delaware is the only state that prohibits child marriage with no exceptions.
- 31 states allow a rapist to sue for parental visitation rights but do not allow the mother to sue for child support.
Judicial exceptions mean that a judge has allowed an underage child — almost always a girl — to marry with her parents’ consent. There is no upper age limit for the man, allowing adult men to marry elementary-school children.. As in India, some girls are compelled to marry a rapist so as not to bring shame on the family. Others are forced into arranged marriages. A pedophile could even pay parents to give consent, thus effectively buying a child “bride” right here in the USA.
The Issue is Control
All of this makes me wonder, as it frequently does, why men are so determined to control women.
- Are they afraid of us? Are women—biologically smaller and weaker than men—that scary to big, strong men?
- Do men seek to protect themselves from any contradiction or competition from women? By keeping women from attending school, earning a profession, running for office, or having legal agency, they make sure that all the good jobs—and all the power—go to men.
- Do they think this is the only way to guarantee that their children are truly their children? Are they so insecure they fear that, given the chance, a woman will cuckold them? Do they thus project onto women behavior that they themselves would engage in were the roles reversed?
- Do they control women so as to control their own lust? Are they capable of even taking responsibility for it?
- Do the answers to these questions exist?
Egregious and Extreme
If I appear to single out Muslim countries as examples of male bias, it’s because they are currently the most egregious in their behavior as well as the most visible—right out there in plain sight. Also, the most extreme. They have not yet gotten to the point where they bother hiding gender bias because, well, why would they?
They appear to have forgotten the lesson of Khadijah al-Kubra, the Prophet’s first wife and the first Muslim woman. History tells us that she was a “leading and successful business woman.” The Prophet Muhammad actually worked for her and she proposed marriage to him. He lived in her house. As the Muslim Business Women site says:
“Khadijah (pbuh) knew what she was doing business-wise, never compromising her modesty or integrity to succeed in the male-dominated trades.”
Note: pbuh means “Peace be upon her.”
Losing Ground on Women’s Rights
Muslim women have lost a lot of ground since the days of Khadijah. While Islam itself contains specific provisions that define the rights of women, such as marriage, divorce, and property rights, radical groups like the Taliban ignore these provisions.
And here in the United States, state legislatures have shown little interest in modernizing old laws that allow for child marriage.
Will the situation turn around? Who knows? I have no idea how the mind of a Muslim man works—and they are the ones who need to change. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on current events and update when possible.