Fighting for Arab and Muslim women’s rights needs actions, not sermons
Levant TV Exclusive
You may read the title with a bit of disbelief, particularly if you are from the Arab and Muslim world. But let us stop, away from any ideological leanings, to be objective for at least a few minutes before you are going to take to read this. Where are Muslim women respected and valued more? In European countries or in Muslim countries? It is true that we refer people to Islam whenever we want to convince them that our religion was the first to honor and emancipate women. But, at the end of the day, actions alone speak louder than words. It is not what you tell people about stories of liberating women. It is rather about what you are doing for them today and what you are going to do for them in the future. Enough is enough of the past. Let us focus more on the present and the future.
To put an end to violence against women doesn’t happen by accident or by giving sermons on the rights of women as is the case in our region. In Europe, women enjoy more rights than in the Muslim world. Take, for instance, the issue of divorce. In many Muslim countries, a man can marry two or three wives and then divorce them while doing harm to these women, whereas in European countries, a man has to pay a higher price after divorcing, particularly if he has got children. To protect women against violence, we must enforce the law, not give lectures. To sexually harass or abuse a woman in a European country, for instance, leads one to prison. Think of Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred. A girl accused him of sexual abuse. Where is the star now? In prison. By contrast, where are Arab and Muslim men who have married more than one woman and who have ended up leaving them in the lurch with their children trotting streets?
Out of my experience, allow me tell you two real stories. A close relative of mine in Belgium used to beat his wife, deny her her rights and degrade her. He even tried hard to bring her back home in an attempt to divorce and forsake her once and for all. They have got four children, three boys and one girl. After so many attempts at reconciliation, the wife eventually sued him. What did the Belgian court? It forced my relative to pay for children’s shooling, shelter and everything else they needed. Not only was the husband forced to do that, but he was also ordered to halve his salary with his wife. Why is all that? Simply for guaranteeing the rights of women to a dignified life with her kids. This is not to pit men against women or otherwise, but this is actually to defend the law. Women must enjoy the same rights as men, not in sermons as is the case with our countries but on the ground.
Allow us now to move to our world. Polygamy has long been a stumbling block to family ties. Some Muslims say that Islam accepts the act of marrying more than one wife. But we usually ignore the strictest conditions our religion has set for men in order to marry four times. How about equality among the wives? No one talks about this? How about the financial means of the man setting to marry another woman? No one talks about this. How about the rights of children to education, health care, and living well? No one defends the victims of polygamy? All some Muslims know about marriage is polygamy. How nonsensical? What logic? Men aren’t perfect so that they may guarantee financial and emotional equality for their wives in the first place?
Recently, a Saudi woman has been pictured without a Hijab or Abaya. In response, Saudis are demanding executing the woman. Other social media users in the kingdom lashed out at the daring woman. ” Kill her and throw her corpse to the dogs, ” some of Saudi social media users wrote. This is an instance among a thousand others. You see how we treat women. In principle, we sing their praises and tell stories of women emancipation and the role Islam has played in restoring the status of women in society. Yet, in reality, our patriarchal socities still fail to address the real issues regarding the dignity, liberty, and basic rights of women. You never hear of such an incident in European countries, do you?
Where do women work as housemaids? In many Arab countries. A number of Moroccam housemaids who have worked for Saudi families continue to complain about being exploited, being overworked and underpaid and being treated as a slave. Did you hear of the story of the gousemaid whom the king of Morocco lately saved from the Saudis? Read about it. Meanwhile, sermons are being delivered every now and then in the Saudi kingdom about the status of women. But they are still banned from driving. They are provoked when they begin a business. They feel powerless.
In North Africa, women do all household chores. They work on farms and in mountains. Most mothers are housewives, not necessarily by choice, but mainly because they haven’t received an education. To not educate women is violence. To spot girls in remote areas dropping out of school is equally an act of violence. To marry off underage girls on the common assumption that marriage is more secure than education is a blow to an equal footing with men. Where does illiteracy grow more rampant? In our countries or in European countries.
In European countries, nearly all Muslim women benefit from family allowances, health care, social security, good working conditions and retirement. No doubt, they cannot have all they want. Yet, at the very least, they have basic things which they are denied in their home countries. So let us stop narrating stories of glory about women empowerment and begin to act. To blame European countries for mistakes of their past does no good. Our countries made grave mistakes, too. However, the main difference is that European countries made peace with their past long ago, whereas the Arab world is still wallowing in resentment and revenge against colonizers. Never do nations progress with resentment, hatred, and retaliation.
At this point, it is well worth asking why we are always comparing the Muslim world with the European one. Actions speak louder than words. It is not enough to hold conferences about Women’s International Day. No matter how many sermons we deliver and conferences we hold about empowering women, we won’t succeed at eliminating violence against them until we begin to take action through law enforcement. European countries have succeeded at the venture. Let us follow them and stop priding ourselves on the past while doing harm to women. Fighting for Arab and Muslim women’s rights needs actions, not sermons.