Kvinner og likestilling

Svart sløyfebånd

40 modige saudiske kvinner trosset førerforbud, og kjørte bil gjennom Riyadhs gater 6.november 1990. Deres protest resulterte i at de ble arrestert, fratatt passene, og likeledes ble de fratatt jobbene sine. 19 år senere lanserer saudiske feminister en ny kampanje. Deres ”vågale” ønske er å få lov til å bevege seg fritt i verden uten mannlig formynder. Dagens saudiske lov reflekterer nemlig klassiske shariah; en kvinne må ha en mannlig formynder/beskytter som skal godkjenne så å si hvert skritt hun kan ta i livet sitt.

Hege Storhaug, HRS

Det er den prominente aktivisten og journalisten Wajeha al Huwaider, som leder an kampanjen kalt Black Ribbon Campaign, skriver Phyllis Chesler, hos PajamasMedia en kampanje som leder tankene til de svarte under apartheidregimet i Sør-Afrika.

Al Huwaider has called for the abolition of the mahram (“guardian”) law which requires women to obtain the approval of a male relative for nearly any move they make in their lives. She is also demanding that Saudi women be treated as a citizens, just like their male counterparts, and that they be allowed to travel, drive, gain custody of their children, work, study, etc., just like their male counterparts. The Saudi women will not “untie their ribbons until Saudi women enjoy their rights as adult citizens.”

En saudisk prinsesse protesterer mot kampanjen. Hun har lansert en motkampanje: ”Min formynder vet hva som er best for meg.” Det minner om ”en fange som frykter lyset”, mener Chesler. Kvinner internaliserer kjønnsdiskriminering og gjør sitt for å holde andre kvinner nede, et fenomen også godt kjent i vesten

For example, the fully-shrouded Saudi princess, Jawaher bint Jalawi, says she must have and cannot part with her male “guardian” who accompanies her wherever she goes. She insists that only he knows what’s best for her. In response to Al Huwaider, the (government-backed?) princess has launched a campaign called “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for me.”

I wonder if she is one of the princesses who immediately shed their shrouds once the plane clears The Kingdom. But the princess’s stand is also a perfect example of how a prisoner fears the light, an example of the way in which women internalize sexism and try to enforce the status quo by keeping other women in line. This is a phenomenon that I discuss at length in Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman.

But Saudi Arabia is a very strange place. For example, a new TV show that discusses issues concerning teenage girls and female university students was recently broadcast with Saudi presenters dressed in black from head to toe. The show, Asrar Al-Banat (The Secrets of Girls), is broadcast on Awtan TV, a Saudi religious channel. One broadcaster said: “Basically, this is my hijab and I don’t wear it because of the channel.”

On the one hand, we have Saudi princesses who insist upon male minders and Saudi broadcasters who do not mind reporting the news covered in black from head to toe. On the other hand, we have highly aggressive women who oppress other women hellishly—in Iran, for example, but now also in Indonesia, where there is a newly created female Shari’a police. These humorless and self-important ladies go around Bandeh Aceh reprimanding other women for wearing clothing that they view as “too tight”—but these women have no male minders and are, in fact, also allowed to reprimand men who are not praying at the proper time.

Chesler sier at hun fra og med 6.november vil bruke et svart sløyfebånd i solidaritet med undertrykte kvinner. Som hun resonnerer: ”Vi er ikke virkelig frie når andre fremdeles er i lenker, særlig hvis vi nekter å høre deres rop, og nekter å støtte og hedre deres modige og potensielle frigjørere.”

I totally support the Saudi feminists and yet, as I read their list of demands, I also feel sad that they cannot also demand the right to walk about without being “covered,” the right to feel the sun on their faces as they shop or visit a garden. Indeed, my assistant asked a perfectly sensible question: “Where exactly will the Saudi women wear the black ribbon? Who will be able to see it if they are totally covered up?” Probably on their wrists—where I shall wear mine.

Historically, many Muslim women have resisted the Veil. Some have even done so for religious reasons. Yes—for religious reasons. According to Algerian-American sociology professor Marnia Lazreg, the Veil is not mandated in the Qu’ran; “modesty” may be expressed in many ways—indeed, Muslim men might start behaving more “modestly” towards both veiled and unveiled women; reducing Islam to one visual symbol, especially one that highly restricts, suffocates, and compromises only women, not men, is outrageous and tragic. Lazreg makes these arguments and more in her excellent, elegant book Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women.

According to Lazreg, Muslim girls and women once walked freely in their cities. They were not often harassed by men. That time is over. Ironically, as more women comply, give in, embrace wearing the Veil, this does not mean that either veiled or unveiled women are safer. On the contrary. Today, the Islamic Veil does not keep harassers away.

Let me note: Lazreg views the state, the family, and the culture which force women to veil as no different from the European secular state which forces Muslim women not to veil. She believes that women’s bodies are their own and that each woman should have the right to choose what clothing she will wear for herself. Her argument is a powerful one and I shall return to it in a future column. Lazreg does conclude by imploring Muslim women not to wear the veil.

I will start wearing a black ribbon on November 6th. I will keep doing so until Saudi women are free. Please join me. This black ribbon can become quite a conversation-opener and consciousness-raiser. Remember: We are not really free when others are still in chains, especially if we refuse to hear their cries, and refuse to support and honor their brave, potential liberators.