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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Feminism unleashed

(Disclaimer: This post is not attacking anything/ anyone. I am not generalizing that this goes to all society. It is not undermining official Jordanian efforts to improve the status of women is society. I've written about those efforts with praise here, and here. To recap, "We Jordanian women enjoy excellent political and social status compared with that of our peers in the region. We are an essential part of the Jordanian government, the armed forces, the police force, and the judiciary system. We are offered the same opportunities for education as men; in fact, the number of female students in higher education precedes that of males by 29 percent[link: Jordan University]! Comparatively, we are allowed to vote unlike our sisters in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Heck, we can at least drive our own cars, go shopping unattended, and not only work, but also excel in any profession we choose! We have complete freedom to choose what kind of life we want to lead!")

Today is International Women's Day.

As a feminist, the first thing that comes to my mind on such an occassion is issues that concern me regarding women's rights in Jordan and the Arab world, where women and men are not treated as equals.

In Jordan, there is severe legal discrimination against women in matters of pension, social security benefits, and inheritance. Female heirs receive half the amount that male heirs receive and the non-Muslim widows of Muslim spouses have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half of her parents' estate; the rest goes to male relatives, but a sole male heir inherits both of his parents' property. What I know is that my friend Lara works triple as hard as her brothers and will probably reach better and higher places, so why should she be given half the amount that her irresponsible brothers recieve? How can people still consider women's issues a religious issue? As women, our concerns should not be dealt with through outdated chauvinist interpretations.

In matters of marriage, divorce, child custody, and citizenship, things aren't so good for Jordanian women either. Men are able to divorce their spouses more easily than women. Marital rape is not illegal. There is also a heart breaking leniency for a person found guilty of committing an "honor crime".

Similarly, when it comes to citizenship, married women need to have their husband's "permission" to obtain a passport, and they do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which in turn means that these children lack the rights of citizen children, such as the right to attend school or seek other government services. (More: Natasha Tynes on this)

In religion, and not just in Islam, certain roles are reserved for men, including prophecy, divine mission, the caliphate, the adan, and the delivering of sermons. Even if a woman has a PhD in religious affairs, an illiterate man is more worthy of delivering the prayer simply because he is a man. Women's participation in these sacred roles is, naturally, a forbidden innovation.

But personally, I find that the legal pressures are nothing when compared to the social pressures prescribed by our machismo society. From a very young age, Arab girls are engraved with their gender roles- to be helpful daughters and obedient mothers. Women are discouraged from pursuing professional careers because it is "better" for a woman to stay at home, cook, and take care of the kids. Many women are still treated as mindless sex toys, and some are still treated as though they contaminate purity, and arouse temptation and immorality.

As a woman, I ask my fellow Jordanian women to stand up to women's rights. For afterall, women are partially to blame for our positions today- we have a heartbreaking lack of awareness of our rights and/or an unwillingness to assert those rights. Society, industry and politics and power are all tilted in favour of men, and we’ve got a very long way to go before the scales are equal. Why am I a feminist? Why would any woman who wants to be able to vote, work, go to school, choose whether to have children, or in any way be in control of their own lives not be a feminist?

As an Arab, I ask my fellow Arabs to stand up to women's rights. The 2003 U.N. Arab Human Development Report attributed the failure of development in our region to three main shortcomings: lack of knowledge, lack of freedoms, and lack of gender equality. These reports were based on numerous indicators, such as the 60% illiteracy among women, and women's pitifully low representation in decision-making positions. Imagine that women's representation in Arab parliaments does not exceed 6%!

Equality. Dignity. Rights.

All incomplete this Women's Day.

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