Category: Patriarchy


Mona’s recent article “Why Do They Hate Us” in Foreign Policy (complete with a picture of a nude woman painted in black paint representing niqab. Nice way of tackling already over riped stereotypes of Muslim women) has caused much furore and debate.

One of the major issues I have with the article is the often used argument of the Muslim women needing to be rescued by Western powers because they are just, upholders of law and virtue and generally more concerned with human welfare. Campaigns which encouraged and eventually led to to the Arab spring were effective because they were internally driven, not brought in guns blazing by the US or UK (who provided reluctant cheering as they most probably have their own agenda’s to toppling the despots – they remain silent where they have no vested interests e.g. Bahrain) and the same principles can apply to changing discriminatory laws. It’s this which should be emphasised, not pandering to the Western sentiments, already exhausted Orientalist notions and stereotypes of Arab women. Lauding a them vs us dichotomy can never be any good, regardless of the reasons behind it.

Much of the misogyny in the Arab world is also seen across other nations, such as South Asia – women from Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and other faith groups experience much of the same in terms of treatment and attitudes. This points to a patriarchial stronghold which prevent progressive laws – and its these patriarchial hierarchies within the various fields of law, health, social welfare and others which need to be eradicated. If the Arab people came together to topple their despot leaders, they can also work together to change the lives of their people for the better.

Sadly all Mona did in her article was flog a dead horse.

Interesting rebuttals to her article can be found here, here and here

I applaud this woman for taking the initiative in securing not only a job for herself, but also doing so successfully in the face of all of the obstacles she may have faced (as a Pashtun widow in Pakistan).

Zahida Kazmi has been hailed as Pakistan’s first female taxi driver. She has driven from the crowded markets of Islamabad to the remote tribal country in the north. Here she tells Nosheen Abbas about her two decades in a male-dominated world.

In 1992 at the age of 33, newly widowed Zahida Kazmi decided to take her fate in her own hands and become a taxi driver.

Born into a conservative and patriarchal Pakistani family, she flew in the face of her family’s wishes but with six children to support, she felt she had no choice.

She took advantage of a government scheme in which anybody could buy a brand new taxi in affordable instalments. She bought herself a yellow cab and drove to Islamabad airport every morning to pick up passengers.

In a perilous and unpredictable world, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection and she even started off by driving her passengers around wearing a burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.

Her initial fears soon dissipated.

“I realised that I would scare passengers away,” she said. “So then I only wore a hijab [head covering]. Eventually I stopped covering my head because I got older and was well-established by then.”

Exposing herself to the hot, bustling city streets of Islamabad and by driving to the rocky and remote districts adjoining Pakistan’s tribal areas, Zahida says she learned a lot about the country she lived in and its people.

Rest the rest of the article here:

Patterns of suicide and attempted suicide among Asian women in Britain do not reflect those in the wider community. A recent report published by Southall Black Sisters stated women, aged between 18 and 35, from the Asian community are 3x more likely to commit suicide compared to women of any other ethnic backgrounds. Venna Soni, an epidemiologist and a leading expert on Asian suicides, reported that 1,979 women of all races between the ages of 15 and 34 years killed themselves between 1988 and 1992 in England and Wales, 85 of whom were Asian. This rate is nearly double their proportion of the population. Other reports and research also point to the high rate of self-harm amongst Asian women. What is it about their ethnicity that makes them more vulnerable to self harm and suicide?

There are a few cultural concepts specific to the Asian community which may contribute to this. One is the issue relating to society and the impression that others will have if family problems are made public. These occur in 3 tiers – firstly the impression made of the individual, then the effect of this issue on this individuals immediate family, which includes her own family and her in-laws and on a larger scale the potential negative effect on her parents and siblings. All are interlinked and have an almost domino effect – nothing occurs is in isolation.

In the Asian patriarchal culture reputation, status and honour are very important in propagating the desirable social image and facade families display amongst their own kind. These three aspects are pertinent to the overall functioning of the family not only within their own relatives, their peers, acquaintances but also the larger Asian community (Bengali, Pakistani, and Indian) and one that families work hard to assert, maintain and propagate. Women are seen as the bastions of honour and reputation of families, therefore placing their behaviours and actions under greater scrutiny and judgement by others.

There is also an unspoken code of honour which relates to keeping family affairs, troubles and problems within the four walls of their home. Keeping problems within the family attempts to prevent shame and tainting of the reputation of the family within the Asian community, which being tight knit makes this a real possibility. The clustering of Asian communities in areas where other Asian’s have settled and made their nests nearby primarily for this reason further adds to this palpable tension and fear of problems escaping the cocoon of their houses.

The hardships inflicted on women in their homes may take many forms. Commonly it is assumed that if a woman is staying in an abusive marriage/home, then it is because perhaps her issue is confounded by her not being able to speak English, fearing her family back home may suffer or being unfamiliar with support services available to her. But these suicide cases do not only include those who have been brought to the UK from desi-lands, nor were they all forced into marriage or married strangers. Some of these women are born and bred in the UK, have their families living 10mins away and married someone of their choosing. This gives more weight to the statistics which infer ethnic background alone to be the greatest factor in the suicide rates amongst Asian women.

A lot of these married women may be being mistreated by their in-laws, including their husband. Issues such as domestic violence, removing her autonomy, imprisoning her in the home, taunting her, treating her as their slave,  subjecting her to emotional and mental distress and even resorting to physical harm are not unknown. However because the notions of honour and shame are so powerful, most women feel they will be judged by society if they leave or expose the issues occurring in the home.  Accusations normally point to the woman: “what did you/she do?” . Ultimately the issues and problems occurring in her personal life are her fault, and she is the problem.

Often these women may even present at gatherings at places of worship, and discreetly ask for help but people wishing not to interfere in what essentially is viewed to be a private matter simply walk away. This includes women acquaintances and peers who may be sympathetic to their suffering, but do not want to meddle and gain the reputation of someone who breaks up families. Watching from the sidelines, sticking their head in the sand and brushing problems (that are almost epidemic in the community) under the carpet are common.

Sadly sometimes the woman’s own family wish not to intervene as it may “ruin” things for them and their family if she exposes the problems or divorces. Women are encouraged to stay in abusive relationships out of this possibility that she may ruin and bring shame on everyone including herself.  There is an ironic element in this – most Asian cultures are inherently patriarchal and it has been known that the men would defend the honour of their family if it was stained, even resorting to murdering the female relative – honour killings. However, when it comes to preserving the value, worth and integrity of their female relatives who have been married into another family there is at best meek support by way of advising her to “stick it out”. Owing to this lack of support, the only way out of the desperation these women experience and to save face by keeping the family honour intact is seen to be suicide.

Alienation, isolation and ostracisation from the family and community are real consequences for women who choose to expose and break free from the oppressive relationships they find themselves in.  The key factor in allowing these women to feel they have the absolute option and autonomy to leave in order to protect themselves is the unwavering support of her family and friends. If these families valued their women more on the basis of humanity, love and kinship and less so on the societal impression and opinion of them, the patriarchal concepts of shame, honour and reputation which dictate expected decorums of women, many of their sisters would feel there is a way out apart from suicide.

After reading the review on MMW about the movie “The Stoning of Soraya M.” I decided to give it a bash, it’s been a while since I’ve watched something worth the reel its embedded on.
[This post contains spoilers, although the title of the movie is a spoiler in itself]
((Please excuse the untidy layout of  this entire post. I have tried to fix it a number of times but it won’t budge))

The movie is based on a book by the French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjami, who stumbles upon a small village in Iran in 1979, shortly after the Revolution. His car breaks down and whilst waiting for repairs Zahra notices he has a tape recorder and recognises him to be a journalist. She beckons him to her home to narrate the incidents which occured only the day before in the village.
And this is where the movie begins. A true life account of Soraya Manutchehri, 35 year old woman married at the age of 13, a mother of 6 children with a husband who actively works at turning their sons against her and is physically, emotionally and sexually abusive with a hankering for prostitutes. Her husband, Gorban-Ali, wishes to marry a younger girl of 14, the daughter of a doctor who is on death row at the prison where he works as a prison guard. However Gorban-Ali cannot afford to keep 2 wives and wants to avoid paying Soraya her dowry if he divorces her so wants her to divorce him.
Soraya on the other hand doesn’t want to divorce Gorban-Ali since she would not be able to provide for her children without his financial contribution and would be prone to being harrassed or propositioned, as does the mullah who visits her on saying of Gorban-Ali, to propose she, over time, become his sigheh – temporary wife, or as Zahra, Soraya’s aunt, calls it “his holy whore”.
Zahra is an outspoken woman who see’s the religious mullah for what he is; selfish and corrupt and drives him out of Soraya’s home with a good earful of insults. Gorban-Ali knows the Mullah from his days as an inmate, where he was detained for child molestation charges. Zahra is Soraya’s confidante and her well-wisher.
When Gorban-Ali’s cousin, Hashem, mourns the passing of his wife, Zahra see’s this as an opportunity for Soraya to generate some income in order to feed her daughters, as her husband refuses to provide any further financial support unless she divorces him. So Soraya goes to Hashems house and does the cleaning and cooking. This is where the trouble begins and the plot her husband spins starts. Her husband, with the support of the Mullah, begin to accuse Soraya of adultery and with abit of co-ercion and threats of causing harm to Hashem’s son, he contributes to the web of lies and soon enough the village comes to hear the rumours.
The Mayor of the village, who propositioned Zahra for marriage once but she refused, is advised of the moral crime and holds a tribunal, the panel of which consisted of Soraya’s father, the mullah, her husband and 2 sons. They find Soraya guilty of adultery and put her to death by stoning. Zahra tries to escape with Soraya, but they are trapped in her home as guards have been placed outside to prevent her from absconding.
The final scene plays out the long stoning scene,  Soraya is put waist high into a pit and then the stoning begins. The first stone is cast by her father, the second by her husband, then Hashem and her sons – after which the rest of the villagers join in. She lies there, after what seems like an eternity of pelting stones at her, bent over in a pool of her own blood. Zahra takes the Soraya’s body but is refused permission to bury her.
The stoning scene is long and drawn out, harrowing and disturbing. I personally couldn’t watch the stoning, so decided to just listen attentively to that portion of the movie.
There is a strong sense of injustice as Soraya is being stoned, despite being an innocent woman – a woman who was told to prove her innocent and to disprove her guilt, the onus being on her despite the accusations coming from her husband who was known to be a philanderer and of dubious character. Some of the characters are typical, such as the husband – he personifies evil, but Soraya is not the meek quiet woman despite giving off such airs when being taken to the freshly dug pit. You do wish however that she had tried harder to protest her innocence, though would probably have made little difference to such an unforgiving crowd.
I noticed a few discrepancies which to me quite jarring. They were:
  • In the book Soraya has 6 children, mostly in their late teens. In the movie Soraya has 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys – all young, the oldest being 12.
  • Zahra – an ignorant village woman, who speaks perfect English to the journalist. Why, since the journalist spoke Farsi anyway?
  • The undubious character of Soraya’s husband – why no-one spoke out about his infidelity and sleeping around when he accused Soraya of adultery?
  • The calibre of witnesses and their reputation – surely if witnesses are known to be of shady characte thenr their accusations or testimonies would be put to scrutiny even more so? This wasn’t the case in this movie.
  • The application of punishment – the villagers were seen picking up stones from all over the village. They are only meant to use those available in the vicinity of are where punishment is to be carried out
  • The un-veiling of the woman before stoning – they removed her burka and she is dressed all in white, as one is for burial.
  • Refusing to bury the body – you bury the body regardless of what they died of or for.
  • Her being stoned for adultery when she, in the end, was accused of trying to seduce Hashem. In this case, as far as I’m aware, it would be lashings not stoning.

I personally don’t think the movie was remotely about the application of Islamic law with regards to stoning, it wasn’t a critique of it, nor was it about showing how barbaric stoning can be. The stoning was simply a medium for darker, sadistic intentions. The movie was about the abuse of power and position by those with vested interests (the mullah), the selfish motives of the husband and how a desire can result in destruction. The main message imparted was about patriarchial and mysogynistic attitudes, how the voice of some (the women in this video) is not always loud enough against those who know how to twist the system.

As with all societies, how  boys and girls are treated is subject to social norms, expectations and behaviours deemed suitable according to their gender.

Amongst desi’s these manifest themselves quite strikingly when seeing how little boys and girls are treated by their adults. Tantrums, keen on playing in dirt, playing with their food, being messy eaters are all common across the spectrum, but what is interesting is the KIND of banter desi people, usually Indian and Pakistani have with their wee ones.

Boys (and I am talking about toddlers) are often asked if they like a girl at nursery/school – and usually they might play with the opposite sex but kids are kids and there is no attraction of a sexual nature involved in this. However, this doesn’t deter some adults from making comment such as asking them if they want to marry “shaadi karo ghay?“, if they like this girl, do they want to bring this girl home and who they want to marry (to which the boy promptly may reply the girl he plays with only because he has gauged the reaction of the adults beforehand towards this play mate of his).If a boy prances about naked, it is a lighthearted affair – remarks of “shame shame!” said half-heartedly laced in humour.

Girls on the other hand, amongst desi’s, are rarely subjected to these kind of taunts – if she is seen running about naked in her house, she is severely rebuked and is considered incredibly shameful “bey-hayah, bey sharam larki“. No-one should see “it”. “It” doesnt have a name that isn’t considered insulting or derogatory, unlike boys bits which have names considered “cute”. Regarding the opposite sex, her boy play mate may be known but jokes about whether she wants to marry him, and if she likes him are never asked. Never is she asked if she wants to become a bride, for this is inherently tied to her “leaving her maternal home”. Often girls may be told their parental home isn’t their “real” home, they are temporary dwellers “do pal ki mehmaan“,  and they infact aren’t really her parents for her inlaws are since her final abode is the home of their husband/inlaws.  The girl is being “kept” in her parents home to be “handed over” post marriage. Much like the way courier services may hold a package until it time for shipment to be dutifully handed over in one piece, unsoiled and undamaged! It is considered inappropriate and somewhat shameful to “encourage” these kind of behaviours in a girl, but with a boy it is deemed amusing and a source of entertainment hearing him say he wants to marry his female play mate.

These initial differences become very apparent as boys and girls grow up. Academically boys and girls are often encouraged to do well due to the competitive nature between families and friends. Parents take pride in relating the grades their children have got in school. However if boys dont do as well as their girls alot of effort is put in an attempt to sort this. If by chance a girl doesnt do as well as the boys in a family, it may not be seen as a big issue – after all “she is going to get married and have kids, not as if she’s going to work, so education isnt going to be of much use to her”. Of course if academically she does do well, it is seen as an achievement and much celebrated as it, as also with their boys, make them much more appealing in the marriage market if anything else. Down side to having a girl/daughter who is too educated? If you educate your girls “too much” it may make them less appealing as she would be 1) Too old (even if she is only in her mid 20s) and so will only find suitors who are divorcees (with or without children), widowers or much older men, 2) too opinionated, and 3) focused on having/wanting a career rather than being a home maker.

Boys are often to be waited upon, cleaned up after and not burdened with house chores.  Girls become mummy’s little helpers, engage in domestic affairs, take on large chunks of the household chores. Some go to the extreme of picking up their brothers’ dirty dishes after they’ve done with them and bring them water or whatever else they ask for since of course tending to their brothers is considered noble and a form of kidmat (service) for which they will be rewarded, but much more important than that is the practise they obtain for when they become married as it is predicted and secretly hoped they would pretty much be doing the same as a married woman. Girls regardless of how educated they may be, how successful their careers, good dress and lifestyle, well being and health are, are not considered to be “proper” women amongst the South Asian communities until they are able to run a home, which involved knowing how to cook and clean and be impeccable hosts, and churn out a few children. They are cultural retards if they cannot cook the cultural dishes adequately and are not swift in household chores.

At the end of the day, girls primary role and interest revolves around being good home makers, wives and mothers  – and so are raised with view of maintaining certain behaviours, traits and skills necessary to ensure they can execute this role adequately. Everythingelse such as a good job, or other ambitions are  secondary and not relevant.

In some ways, it seems like despite years or even decades of cultural reforms won’t completely remove how desi’s view their boys and girls – its too ingrained in their psyche