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.