Globalist Bookshelf

A Voice Against Violence

It is time to dismantle the political and economic system that treats half of humanity like children.

Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution By Mona Eltahawy (April 21, 2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


  • The status of women in the Arab world is not better than you think, it is worse.
  • Not a single Arab country ranks in the top one hundred positions on the Global Gender Gap report.
  • That Yemeni women can drive hasn’t ended their problems, but it symbolizes freedom of mobility.

There is no sugarcoating it. We Arab women live in a culture that is fundamentally hostile to us, enforced by men’s contempt.

They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us. Yes, they hate us. It must be said

Why The Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution: By Mona Eltahawy

Part I – A Voice Against Violence

Part II – Saudi Arabia: From the Eyes of an Insider

Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses against women occurring in that country, abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, when the Middle East and North Africa are in turmoil, when people are losing their lives by the thousands, when it can sometimes seem as though the revolutions that began in 2010 – incited not by the usual hatred of America and Israel, but by a common demand for freedom and dignity – have lost their way.

After all, shouldn’t every one receive basic human rights first, before women demand special treatment? Also, what does gender, or for that matter, sex have to do with the Arab Spring? It should have everything to do with the revolution.

This is our chance to dismantle the entire political and economic system that treats half of humanity like children at best. If not now, when?

Breaking the silence

When more than 90% of women who have ever married in Egypt have had their genitals cut in the name of “purity,” then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence.

When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions,” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness.

And what are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is not “severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Arab world, it’s not better than you think.

It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” women remained covered up and anchored to the home, are denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, are forced to get permission from the men to travel, and are unable to marry or divorce without a male guardian’s blessing.

Yemen is at the bottom

The Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa stand apart in their terrible record on women’s rights. Not a single Arab country ranks in the top one hundred positions on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom.

The annual report looks at four key areas: health (life expectancy, etc.), access to education, economic participation (salaries, job types and seniority), and political engagement.

Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, are eons apart when it comes to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but only eight places separate them on the Global Gender Gap Report, with the kingdom at 127 and Yemen coming in at 136, the very bottom of the 2013 index.

Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129th.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 49 per cent of women are illiterate, 59 per cent do not participate in the labor force and there were no women in the parliament as of 2013.

Horrific news reports about 8-year-old girls dying in the eve of their “wedding” to much older men have done little to stem the tide of child marriage there.

Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, and clerics declare that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

At least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their problems, but at least it symbolizes freedom of mobility.

Editor’s note: Excerpted from Headscarves and Hymens : Why The Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Mona Eltahawy. All rights reserved.

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About Mona Eltahawy

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian American freelance journalist and commentator on Arab and Muslim issues and global feminism.

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