What We Really Need

By Lama Bashour

A while back, my mom was planning a business trip to a certain Arab country but realized she didn’t have sufficient time for the visa. Since my dad knew the ambassador, he decided to call and see if there was any way to issue the visa earlier. As soon as he started explaining the situation to him, the ambassador interrupted “Speak no more. I understand. You want to make sure her visa gets denied without implicating yourself. Consider it done!” Of course my dad then assured him that this wasn’t the case at all and he had no problem with the fact that his wife, a PhD holder who owns a well known establishment for making educational toys and books for children and teaches at the American University of Beirut, travels on business.

In our family, this story is told in jest simply because the entire premise is so alien to us. But that story never made me laugh. Because I could never help but wonder how many other such offers that ambassador, and others like him, had made which were accepted with a polite thank you. And that always got me down the long and depressing path of thinking how pathetic our situation is. The only way a woman can be liberated and yet accepted in our society is to be married to a gentleman instead of an insecure man, of whom many exist. The men in our families are the only ones who really protect us. But nothing protects us from them.

Egypt’s uprising was refreshing because the focus on women participating and being treated equally and with respect was very prominent. This was made more apparent during the Lara Logan affair. Obviously, Egypt still has a long way to go but I believe that they have finally embarked on the right track. Tunisia had been a leader in women’s rights in the Arab world for decades and their uprising will hopefully bolster this position (I am very conscious of the “hopefully”).

As for me, I am realizing more and more how unaccepting I am of my society (and I belong to several similar ones), one that only gives me the right to vote and work, on condition that my father, brother or husband approve. And I am even less accepting of a society that permits me to become a citizen because I married into it, but not because my mother was born with that nationality. I don’t accept a society where most women engage in politics only when their politician husband or father are assassinated. A society that finds loopholes in the system to give a lighter sentence to a rapist father who killed his own daughter. A society where a policeman questions what I’m wearing when I complain about a pervert flashing me in the street. And lastly, I refuse a society that thinks it’s OK to humiliate a respectable businesswomen by giving her husband the right to decide if she can, or cannot leave the country.

The thing is, and this point is ignored by many, there is no way that the Arab world’s society and economy is ever going to develop properly without the full participation of 50% of its population. And if half of the population are marginalized, whether socially, legally or professionally, then we’re gonna be stuck in a time warp for a while longer. I know I am labeled an extremist because I actually talk about this but I truly believe that not enough of us really raise these issues. And I do believe the onus is on us women to take our rights forcefully (No one will give you anything if you don’t make them – even if the end result is better for both). And so I will lay out three of the issues I think need addressing now, knowing that there are many people out there who are already working on them, instead of just writing it in a blog like I do:

- We want the bloody right to full citizenship that we can transfer to our family!
- We want the bloody right to be married under a civil law that does not adhere to any of the antiquated rules we are subjected to now!
- When a guy is being creepy and harassing me (or worse), be it a stranger, co-worker friend or family member, I want a proper system to report it without feeling humiliated and one that punishes him fairly!

I guess we can work with that, for now.

  • Basmabdallah

    Thank you Lama and I agree strongly with you. There is also another important issue which is opening the eyes of women to the fact that they should demand their rights as many women participate in the suppression of their daughters, students, and sisters, surrendering and defending male domination. A woman should have the freedom to express herself in any form without being persecuted by men or by other women who believe the myth of male superiority.

  • http://twitter.com/Momanij jmomani

    Thank you Lina
    No society can ever succeed by marginalizing 50% of its members. The patriarchal system(execlusive) of governance must be changed into a democratic (inclusive). Right now we have a window of opportunity to raise our voices, to bring our dirty linen out in the open and make Jordan a better place for all not just for the few.

  • Faisal86

    Excuse my ignorance, but the whole article is more of bragging! daddy, mom, ambassador, corruption, well known establishment, PHD.. when the jordanian stop bragging, the country will eventually reform! what a melodramatic story line!

    • http://twitter.com/MishuMathu Annika

      It really isn’t Lama’s fault for your lack of abstract thinking.
      How can it be justified that the husband of an emancipated (or any other) woman can decide whether she travels abroad or not? It cannot.

      • Faisal86

        ..and oh yeah bla bla bla, and the pepsi prices are rising,in addition to birds flying high..

        • mpn

          I really looked hard, but just didn’t see the price of pepsi mentioned anywhere in the blog … oh silly me, you are just being condescending.

          • Faisal86

            bravo mr disdain defender, you are our future PM!

    • Pur4live

      So if all of the things you mention had not been mentioned (daddy, mom, ambassador, corruption, well known establishment, PHD) would you understand then, would you get it?? If the post was broken down to the absolute basic point of:
      • Freedom to THINK for oneself
      • Freedom to SPEAK for oneself without being harassed or labeled
      • Having a system that supports RESPECT to all human beings

      Does this make a difference to you? The writer may or may not come from a background of privilege, I really do not know because I do not personally know the writer. What I do know is

      • Faisal86

        it can be as easy as: my mother wanted to travel, and my father tried to help in getting visa on the fly.. whats wrong with that? is that too hard? she could save our/her time of reading/writing and kept us to the main subject! jesus christ

        • Nidal

          Why are you so threatened by the mention of PhD-holding mother and a father who knows an ambassador or two? Did it really waste so much of your time to read those details, which clearly help illustrate the context of the story and its message? Had Lama mentioned the make of her mom’s car or brand of her dad’s suit, your case against particulars and in support of story-line focus would hold. Level of education and socio-political status and networking are not irrelevant variables in this discussion; your childlike comments are.

  • Alaa Tawalbeh

    I agree with the part that woman should fight for their freedom and rights, don’t expect a social system based on rotten thoughts and believes to suddenly get over the male dominance system of thoughts by itself ,,,
    All of us men and women should fight for equality of women cause simply they are equal.
    When i want to be with a partner a female partner as a girlfriend or a wife, i want someone how is fully Independent, self-confident and looks at me as an partner on the same level , i don’t want a follower or weaker person in the relationship ……

  • Abdullah99

    @Faisal86 it seems you didn’t get the punchline; she’s talking about people like you who think they understand and have an upper hand and can silence others. #useless

  • http://twitter.com/nadinetoukan Nadine Toukan

    How do we get to what we really need? It is ridiculous that in 2011 we’re having such a convo about basics for human dignity.

    Perhaps there is a fundamental flaw in the layout of orgs and movements dealing with issues of gender discrimination in Jo, and around the world. Too many tunnels, not enough genetic integration into the system to make things happen.

    There is a deafening void in the public discourse that addresses gender (in)dignity. Most of the time it is driven by stats, data with no soul to shame a nation about discriminatory behavior which results in breaking and holding back an entire nation.

    Where to from here to achieve your three needs, and then move on to the next three?

  • Zabarano

    stop complaining and clean the kitchen woman

    • Faisal86

      hat off :D

  • Nabihammani


    Could you elaborate on what you mean by:
    “We want the bloody right to be married under a civil law that does not adhere to any of the antiquated rules we are subjected to now!”

    • Ahmad Hamdan

      i think She means that religion shouldn’t be a rule in marriage, i.e. “Muslim girls marrying Non Muslims

  • Emma

    Ironically, all those chauvenist remarks underline exactly what Lama is writing about. But chauvenists are just too stupid to get this.

  • Pingback: What We Really Need