(The following article is dedicated to the Egyptian anchorwoman who contacted me yesterday crying, and asking me to find her a job in the Gulf or help her immigrate to Canada. Her phone call and mine are recorded and saved.)
As a youth in Lebanon, I used to hear a saying that has its loose equivalent in the English-language in “When it rains, it pours.”
Arab news is bad news is these days. I keep in my office dossiers on “hot” countries (Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Lebanon in addition to Afghanistan, Turkey and the United States). And when it comes to women, the news that concerns them is no better than the news coming from Egypt and Syria.
I call for full equality and freedoms for Arab women on par with men. To be sure, Arab women have proven that, when they are given but half an opportunity, they are more able than men, more moral, and more diligent and dedicated.
The last entries in my dossier on women in my office were about Egypt’s draft constitution, which President Mohammed Mursi wants to offer, or impose, in a referendum set to take place on the 15th of this month. The draft constitution is a step backward, compared with the Constitution of 1971.
Indeed, it was drafted by men for men. While the proposed constitution mentions equality of citizens before the law in rights and duties, it (shamefully) does not mention women by name like the 1971 Constitution did, which also spoke about equality between men and women.
The draft and the constitution both include clauses about equality on the basis of Islamic law, which would be great were it not for the Egyptian Salafis, who focused on things like lowering the marriage age and calling for Egypt to withdraw from international treaties it had signed on the rights of women and children.
The problem is not in Egypt’s draft constitution alone. The bad news keeps pouring from everywhere. In Britain, where there is equality between the sexes and sexual freedom – or depravity –, newspapers ran with successive stories about a man who was charged for raping a four year old girl and then hiding her body, and then about another man who took an injured girl to hospital, before it turned out that he had assaulted her and caused her subsequent death. Moreover, a third man raped an 11-year old girl after abducting her on her way home from school. There was even a story about college girls working as prostitutes to pay their tuitions.
As bad as the above, if not worse, was the story about a mother who seems from her name to be an immigrant in Britain, who killed her 7-year old son Yassin because he would not memorize the Quran. This woman was convicted by a court for torturing the child to death, and then burning his body to hide the evidence.
I don’t understand it. If she is so religious, should she not know that children are excusable in religion? Children may not be able to memorize the text, and they should not be punished for it.
All of this while the United Nations holds the International Day of the Girl Child in October, to raise awareness and prevent the marriage of girls who are less than 15 years of age. And in November, the U.N. also holds the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The idea is good and necessary, and this is a good time for it. But it cannot prevent the most heinous crimes from occurring. According to a news story from Pakistan, for instance, two parents threw acid on their 16-year old girl, because the father saw her standing next to a boy.
Amid the foregoing, a book titled The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, by Hanna Rosin, sparked some controversy. Rosin claimed that the age of men has drawn to a close, with men falling behind in jobs, and even in their sexual abilities (which is true, as recent medical studies have shown that the fertility of men has fallen considerably in recent years).
Regarding the decline of men, including myself, I say, Amen. But most likely, the book is a compilation of the wishes of its author, because the news says otherwise. Or maybe, the news shows that men are waging one last desperate battle to retain the “right” to oppress women everywhere.
What is not a book, or wishes, is the fact that the UK (judicial) Sentencing Council recommended this month tougher sentences for all those convicted of rape and sexual assault, because their crimes cause long-term psychological harm in the victims. In fact, this reminded me of the late Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, may God have mercy on him. Once, I objected to the death sentence in a night meeting in his office. But he told me that my problem was that I was thinking about the criminal, while he thought about the victim.
I see (Arab women and women everywhere), even without a draft constitution, rape or child marriage, as potential victims at every turn, simply because they are female.
(Jihad al-Khazen is a writer for Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on Dec. 12, 2012)