Tag Archive | "Women"

The Root Of All Evil


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From David Anthony Hohol… 

Hers is a sample of the Earthquake causers, stay clear at all times.

Here is a sample of the Earthquake causers. Stay clear at all times. Proceed with caution when approached by Va-jay-jays.

On April 16th, 2013 an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale rattled Iran, causing millions of dollars in damage, killing 34 people and seriously injuring many more. The country in suffrage, the Islamic Republic’s Clerical Leadership addressed the nation to help comfort the wounds.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” said Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a senior Iranian Cleric.

No, really. He actually said that. He actually said women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

The rest of the civilized world will never look at the Middle East as a whole with anything but disdain and tragic humor until backwards, fundamentalist and misogynist drivel like this stops emanating from their highest sources of power.  It is even more tragic when considering that this writer, having spent time in Iran and knowing many Iranians, has never seen a people so far removed in their thinking from its leadership. Make no mistake – the Iranian regime is truly despised by the majority of its population. 

In a region where women are valued at less than half of men, even in legal circles (women are described as having a deficiency in reason and therefore cannot give testimony as a witness in any court. Only when two women testify together will their testimony be accepted) women are often blamed for the shortcomings of men. Now it has shifted to earthquakes. What’s next?  Volcanoes? Tsunamis? Global Warming? Unemployment Rates?

Women in Iran are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes, wearing tighter fitting clothing and pulling their scarves back to show much of the hair. Holy shit, if that isn’t cause for an earthquake, I don’t know what is!

 

You nailed it Cleric, bang on the money, it's the women, the women that cause it all I say!

“You nailed it Cleric, bang on the money, it’s the women, those dam Va-jay-jays, that cause it all I say!”

 “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes,” stated the highly enlightened cleric.

I truly feel it’s this kind of thinking, these kinds of laws, in countries like Iran and most especially in the vestibule of defecation that is Saudi Arabian Legislation, where Islam is most damaged. Even more than the recent Boston Bomber, people look at this kind of thinking as scarier than that of some crazed lunatic; scarier because it is calmly streaming from a point of so-called reason and from those in positions of power, influence and control. 

 

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Saudi Role Model


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From Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

The first school I went to in Riyadh was, of course, an all-girls school. I was very happy to see it had a swimming pool. It was drained and fenced up and, because it was autumn, I thought nothing more of it. But as the weather got warmer, it became obvious that the pool would not be used that year.

When I asked why, teachers told me it was against the ministry’s policies to allow female students to have swimming classes. Indeed, the education ministry does not allow physical education in girls’ public schools and discourages it in private schools – especially organised competitive sports – despite many calls for the inclusion of PE from parents, doctors, specialists and even Princess Adela, the king’s daughter, who is married to the minister of education.

It is not only policies that are standing between girls and physical education. There’s a whole culture behind this thinking that’s very difficult to shake, and many in Saudi Arabia frown upon physical activity for girls. Their reasoning is that it’s masculine, that exercise would somehow result in girls losing their virginity and that it’s against the physiological nature of being a woman.

In eighth grade, a friend and I were called into the principal’s office to sign pledges to never do “acrobatic movements” during recess. A teacher had seen us do cartwheels in the schoolyard and had taken it upon herself to stop this unfeminine behaviour. In response to a question about private gyms for women, the highest Islamic council replied that it was “nonsense”, and that a woman’s place and responsibility is her home. Shiekh Abdullah al-Manea, a consultant to the royal court and a member of the highest Islamic council, stated that sports such as soccer and basketball could result in loss of virginity.

The nternational Olympic Committee (IOC) has criticised Saudi Arabia for being one of the last three countries to send female athletes to the Olympics, and there is no shortage of Saudi Islamic scholars weighing in: Shiekh al-Najimi advised that Saudis stand their ground against the IOC, as we did with the World Trade Organisation. He says that we refused the conditions that do not fit with Saudi culture and in the end, after 15 years of back and forth, we were admitted to the WTO on our own terms. He called the whole issue an issue of western dictatorship. Sheikh al-Tirifi sees it as a matter of honour, and reminds viewers that those who die defending their honour die martyrs. Currently, the most popular view of Saudi women in the Olympics is held by Sheikh al-Munijid, who reasons that there is no possible way for a Muslim woman to take part in the Olympics without showing her body.

With all this resistance coming from the religious establishment, it’s no wonder Prince Nawaf bin Faisal Al Saud, the youth and sports minister, said that Saudi Arabia would only send a men’s team to the London Olympics. “If there is to be women’s participation,” he added, “it would be by invitation” from international sporting bodies. Meanwhile, Saudi officials are said to have sent a list of potential female participants to the IOC.

It’s a confusing picture, but in Reema Abdullah we already have a Saudi woman who is unhesitating and proud to be an athletic role model for Saudi women. Abdullah, unlike the ministry, is very open about her participation in the London Olympics. It’s no surprise she’s taking the lead in her capacity as Saudi Arabia’s first female sports radio host, and as captain and one of the founding members of Jeddah United, the first public Saudi women’s football team. She is also one of the lucky few who will get to carry the Olympic torch on the 8,000-mile route to London. Instead of avoiding interviews and dialogue, she has bravely chosen to be open to everyone. She’s available on Twitter and even jokes about her aspiration to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first Saudi woman to carry the Olympic torch.

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Sporting Masculinity


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From David Anthony Hohol…

I started playing hockey at the age of four, and it remained an integral and constant part of my life until I was nearly twenty years old. Hockey in Canada, especially in rural areas, is not just our nation’s pastime, but a way of life and a belief in an idea. Hockey is organized like most sports with minor leagues, junior ranks, semi-pro and pro levels, each with their own governing bodies and modus operandi. All kinds play the game of hockey, as there are many different roles to be filled. There are certain personas in team sport, however, that rise to positions of leadership and power, just as there are those who lead us on the fields of battle, and in the politically charged ideological wars of our postmodern world.

Leadership and social power are both integral parts of athletics, and even more so in a violent and physical sport such as the game of hockey. Effective leadership in hockey makes the team more successful. Who becomes team leaders and what makes them effective is something that I began to actively pursue an understanding of about half way through my fifteen-year hockey career.

I so loved playing that game. At times the feelings that still live on within me surge through my body and manifest themselves into tiny pockets of emotion. Pride, reverence, and sentimentality flow through me, as I look back at the time I spent in the sport of hockey and see it as amongst the most important and self-improving times in my life.  In retrospect, it seems I was a part of something that was indefinable yet complete in itself. Philosophical undertows aside, I was a member of a very powerful and decisive subculture. We all worked together in order to achieve a common goal. We had our own rules of protocol, our own rituals, our own values, and even our own language. Like men on a frozen battlefield, our goal was always victory. Other valuable objectives, both as a team and as individual players would always be included, but it was conquest that everyone’s efforts revolved around, and thus victory was our ultimate goal. The structure of hierarchy on a team was to be respected at all times, as we needed to be a cohesive unit in order to achieve that victory. Problems with individuals were discussed amongst the team first, the coaching staff second. We were the ones who would be out there in the fight together, so disputes had to be settled internally. Problems with the team system or philosophy would be communicated to the team captain or his assistants first. We did not disrespect our coach in front the team. We left the dressing room in the same order, we warmed up in the same order, and ended every warm up the same way with the ritualistic tapping of our goaltender’s pads. Last but not least, the captain would always be the last man back with the goalie before the opening face-off.

Most importantly, no matter if it was the pre-season, the regular season or the playoffs, and no matter what the score or situation, if two or more opposing players physically doubled up on one of our own, we were to save our man at all costs. This precluded absolutely everything and is the only time victory or defeat was temporarily set aside. When one of our men was down, it was the team’s responsibility to not only get him safely out of harms way, but to avenge him with extreme prejudice. This is why physical play in hockey is so revered, as it represents sacrifice, solidarity, leadership and power all at once.

What results from this exceptionally powerful cohesiveness and structure is the emergence of a unique language or argot, a form of communication born from the domestic side of hockey and is used to refer to both teammates and opponents alike. Whether it be grinders, goons, cherry pickers, hackers, stick men, submariners, hat tricks, shut outs, bangers, or shadows, the terminology is endlessly unique and is quite perplexing to those fully removed from the group. The bottom line is that such idiosyncratic standards demonstrate patterns of a distinct subculture. Deeper still, the foundational super structure that serves as point zero for any and all characteristics is that we all operated under the pretext of hegemonic masculinity, as power and leadership within a male inter-group structure of hierarchy was vital to the maintenance, growth and success of the team. As all subcultures are, any team I played on was a social group that stood completely separate from yet integrally connected to the daily ingestion of human experience.

I spent a large portion of my years playing hockey in a leadership role. Why did I become a team leader? As I now look back upon my past through the lenses of a classical education, it seems the necessary characteristics were there, and perhaps they always had been. Without question drive, the desire for achievement, and leadership motivation were all integral components of my ability to lead. I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be the one that the coaches and the team looked to as an example of how to play the game; I wanted it more than anything. Further still, honesty and integrity was applied through my candid approach to both my coaches and my teammates. At times, I was seen as a hothead, as I just couldn’t help but say what was on my mind. Contrarily, I was respected as someone who was always open and honest. I played honest as well, as no matter who it was I played for when I was out on that ice my heart was always on the sleeve of my jersey. Self-confidence and cognitive ability also applied to my ascent to the leadership role. I never considered being intimidated an option, which directly correlated to the development of my ability to read others team’s systems, discover their weakest points, and my specialty, latching on to the opposing teams weak minded players and provoking them right out of the game.

Although I didn’t make all of the decisions all of the time and I didn’t constantly give orders, I probably leaned towards an autocratic style of leadership. I did so, however, as an autocratic in democratic clothing, a Napoleonic style of leadership that works very well, albeit slightly Machiavellian. Present to your teammates the right to choose, but subtlety convince them that your way is the best without them knowing it. If one is a good leader this approach encourages all to participate while simultaneously activating your ideas the vast majority of the time. At all times, however, I was well aware of team hierarchy. Certain players were more followers than leaders, and other players were more leaders than followers. Beyond the team aristocracy, there was a wide range of players who were all important parts of the team, no matter how big or small their role. I felt it my duty as a team leader to be able to handle different players in different situations, and at different levels to maintain the power structure of the team. The sociological approach that most applies itself at this point is called Normative Theory, that suggests leaders are most effective when their decision-making styles are formulated on a situational basis. In other words, a leader’s ability to establish a definition of the situation is a vital part of leadership, as the idea of the reflexive self once again demonstrates its centrality to social psychology.

I believe that the inter-actionist approach explains much of why I came to lead, as I was the right leader for the right situation due to a combination of past experiences. The ability to lead and the ideals of masculinity from which they stemmed, had been developed from within my childhood reference groups and role models. My grandfathers both epitomized masculinity. My mother’s father was a paratrooper for the British Army during WWII, and then served as a police officer for twenty-eight years, including twenty years as a homicide detective. He always symbolized authority and that masculine detachment from emotion. My father’s father worked his entire life farming out on the prairies of Alberta, working with his hands and his back for more than sixty years, a man’s man and the picture of strength. My father’s image was that of Johnny Slick, an in- your-face publisher heavily involved with politics, who was sued for defamation of character countless times, but in representing himself in court never lost once. Telling it like it is, regardless of the sting that resulted, was my father’s specialty. All these men, in combination with the traditionally subordinated persona of my grandmothers and my mother, produced a constant countenance of masculinity and I came to see these ideals as being represented in leadership, and in some ways I guess I still do.

The masculine image of the men of my reference group brings us to the idea of hegemonic masculinity; the masculinity of power and leadership. Hegemonic masculinity is part of the very fiber of my hockey experience. The masculinity of leadership is an integral part of sport, and it becomes heightened with a higher the level of violence and physical play. There’s no doubt, team leaders become figureheads of hegemonic masculinity. As mentioned, I used the normative approach to leadership and incorporated my legitimate power as a team leader, my reward power to offer my approval from a position of authority, and my referent power, as I had the ability to call my team into action. Like the sport/war metaphors that are so common in the world of athletics, when I stood in front of my teammates before a big game I spoke with an androcentric tongue and stood as an elite male extending his influence and control over lesser status males within the team inter-male dominance hierarchy.

Sport/war metaphors valorize masculinity and lionize or make heroes out of the most aggressive men. I always led my team with a socialized power motivation. I wanted to be lionized. I wanted to be seen as the picture of masculinity to serve my own ego, but also to work with my teammates and lead by example, so that in the end we all would be victorious. As a hockey player, victory was the only thing that ever mattered to me, the only thing I played for… for fifteen years. And not only did I want to win, to use a sport/war metaphor, I wanted to crush my opponent and stand above my vanquished enemy as a symbol of hegemonic masculinity. I was often told by the many I played with and against that I was one of the most brutal and animalistic players they had ever seen. I did and still do take pride in that. Furthermore, I always saw myself as though playing on a stage and as a result I would often skate a brief but victorious circle around a fallen foe, still dazed from the crushing blow I laid upon him and say “Keep your head up boy”, as I skated back into battle leaving him immersed in hegemonic totalitarianism.

I respected the hierarchical structure of leadership and power in the game of hockey immensely. Hegemonic masculinity is always constructed in relation to a variety of subordinated masculinities and I was by no means always the vision of the elite male. The first half of my hockey career I was the subordinated male in the power structure of the team and I did so with pride. I remember when playing for and winning the Alberta Championships, I wanted the best players out there on the ice as much as possible, well aware that at that time I was not one of them. I looked at my role as providing rest for the team’s elite and security for my coaches by playing solid positional hockey when I was on the ice. I wanted to win – nothing else mattered. My role was embedded in the structural hierarchy of hegemonic masculinity. I had a part to play and played it well.

The second half of my hockey career involved a five-inch and fifty-pound growth spurt and the discovery of how physical play, and even out right violence triggered not only my offensive skills, but also my ability to lead. I remember as if it were yesterday the first time I was struck with this revelation at the age of thirteen. I’d already began to play rougher early in that season, but there was one instance in just our third or fourth game of the year when I caught a guy with his head down and literally knocked him cold right in front of our bench. What I remember clear as crystal was that when I looked up, I saw all my teammates and even my coach pumping their fists and screaming approving obscenities. The whistle blew and the young man had to be taken off the ice by his trainer.

I’ll never forget that hit. It was the first time I experienced power, not from the hit itself, but through my teammates’ reaction to it. It was a catharsis that changed my hockey career and deeper still, it changed me as a person. I made the jump to being a leader shortly thereafter and I began to realize that male solidarity is achieved and maintained by constructing and reconstructing inter-group relations at many levels. At a societal level, this represents hegemonic values as not only advantageous, but entirely essential to social order as it serves as an amalgamating ideological structure.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’d immersed myself in machismo and testosterone and more often than not, I was the leader. I became of those off-the-hook, over-the-top lunatics, who specialized in athletically sanctioned battery and assault. By extension, I was extremely adept at whipping an entire room of young men, oozing socially prescribed maleness, into an absolute frenzy. While in the locker room before hockey games, there were times I would pound my head into a steel cage that held the team’s equipment, while screaming war cries like some kind of madman, until my teammates frothed at the mouth. During the pre-game warm up, I skated out onto the ice without my helmet, so the opposing team could see the steel grating of the cage imprinted on my forehead. All the while, I stared down my opponents with a look that seemed to suggest I was planning on drowning their kittens or shooting their dogs after the game.

The off-shooting result of such ritual is the systematic delineation of gender. Manly men of aggression are lionized, while men who appear to be weak or passive are marginalized and emasculated. An extremely physical sport such as hockey thus links maleness to highly valued visible skills, and with the positively sanctioned use of violence and aggression. Such images serve as resources of mobilization to advance, justify and rationalize the patriarchal values that delineate hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity also pigeon holes women into the subordinated roles of mother, wife or girlfriend, while officially licensing homophobia all in the name of the masculinity of leadership and power. Hegemonic masculinity represents, reproduces and legitimizes relations of domination under the guise of cultural values, norms, and beliefs. Such a construction frames out resistance as to challenge this will be perceived by many as challenging the fundamental morality of the social order and is often painted as an opposition to the very core of values upon which our society was built.  In the end, hegemonic masculinity thus survives and thrives on the mantle of its own neutrality, and the hegemonic androcentric construct of Western society is one in which the most manly of men still construct, maintain, and control the agencies of domination and power. The extremely cathartic experience of athleticism is an extension of these societal ideologies and gives the masses the temporal opportunity to wield micro-level power, while reciprocally supplying an arena to restore to the world the pre-conceived learning mechanisms of a given civilization, perpetuating the mass production of a society’s membership and the structure of power that results.

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The Black Widow of Saudi


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From Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

The fight against terrorism in Saudi Arabia is taken very seriously and hundreds of terrorists have been caught. Last March 113 members of sleeper cells were arrested. The Saudi media at the time did not focus much on who these people were, until June 3rd when the head of Al Qaeda in Yemen, Saeed Al Shihri threatened to assassinate members of the royal family and government officials if Heila Al Qusayer was not freed.

Heila is a 36 year old Saudi woman from a respectable and upper middle class family from the Qaseem region. In March she was apprehended by the Saudi secret services at the home of another terrorist. However the government has a policy of respecting the privacy of women terrorists so not much was known about her before the Qaeda demands. But when Al Shihri showed how desperate Al Qaeda is for her release, people became curious.

Heila grew up in Qasseem and obtained a BA degree in geography. During her time in college something drew her into extremism and she eventually ended up married to an influential extremist who also was much older than her. Her first husband, Abdulkareem Al Humaid, is a former ARAMCO employee. He quit his job and lived a life of  complete extremist Puritanism, no electricity, cars or any other modern invention. It’s rumoured that he didn’t even use paper money. Due to his preaching of Islamic fundamentalism he was arrested and imprisoned to this day. From prison, he divorced Heila and advised a former student of his, Mohammed Al Wakael to marry her. They married and during her pregnancy with her now 5 year old daughter, Al Wakael was shot down by the Saudi Special Forces. Since his death Heila’s activities intensified. She would go around proselytizing Al Qaeda’s version of Islam. She managed to collect substantial sums of money under the pretense of building mosques and helping orphans. She is documented to have transferred 650,000 dollars to Al Qaeda. She uses women to recruit men to the cause. The terrorist’s home that she was found in was actually a moderate Muslim who was changed by Heila after she became close to his wife. Sixty Qaeda members took orders from her and she arranged safe houses for hiding.

The use of women to recruit men has become a noticeable trend. Three factors are creating this phenomenon; the enormous percentage of unemployed women who are a product of our borderline extremist education system, their access to the internet and the fact that 83% of all Saudis are under the age of 39. Although they might not be out fighting and bombing, they are doing something just as sinister by spreading the ideology online and recruiting the men in their families. Before Heila, this was going on relatively undetected and even those that are caught are treated as victims rather than as perpetrators.

A point made by Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh in her widely read article. She is unimpressed by how these terrorist women are portrayed in the media.  As an example she gives Sheikh Al Swailim’s interview regarding Heila. Sheikh Al Swailim is on the counseling committee. He meets with caught terrorists and tries to convince them that their ideology is wrong. When he was asked about Heila he referred to her as “sister Heila, a very simple woman who was stressed and revengeful after the killing of her second husband”. Sheikh Al Swailim went on to say that he found her quite “rational” in her argument and that the “poor woman” is “uneducated” and here Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh points out how could she be uneducated when she has a BA?

Sheikh Al Swailim claims that Heila only after a 90 minute conversation became remorseful and Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh remarks that’s not counseling, that’s magic! And then she moves on to Prof. Al Saeedi, who was on the same show that sheikh Al Swailim was on, he is of the view that Heila is not important but only an “exploited” woman who the media is using to draw our attention away from Gaza and the flotilla. Another guest on that show, Sheikh Al Maliki, had the audacity to claim that some of these terrorists are actually agents from the West and that they are working under the umbrella of foreign countries and embassies to defeat our country.

Fortunately some good did come out of the capture of Heila Al Qusayer. She provided the government sensitive information about Al Qaeda and just by being, she shows us how big a threat women of her mindset are. Now the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is looking into regulating those that call themselves dayia (Islamic missionary), a title that Heila used to get access to social circles.

On a lighter note, one of the articles I read on Heila’s capture had a commenter asking how was she identified and that he hoped that they did not resort to uncovering her face. As if that was all that mattered, that a Muslim woman’s face remains covered!

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Sexual Expectations


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harassmentFrom Lama J…

When I graduated from my University in Amman, I was young and excited to find a job. I dreamt of working in a company throughout the four years it took for me to acquire my degree.  I always wanted to put on a suit and be a business woman. As young girl, I looked at women I saw like this as sophisticated and sharp and I wanted to be the same.

I got my University degree and unlike my fellow graduates, I immediately started looking for a job. Most of the people I went to school with were thinking of higher education, but I wanted to work and start chasing after my dreams. I was 22 years old when I graduated with a degree in English Translation and my first job was working as a translator in a small government office.

 The office was small and dirty, but I needed experience and accepted this was just how it was going to be at the start. I worked for a very old man and within a month I realized he was as sour as could be. He used to make me work day and night, sometimes asking me to arrange his office and order his coffee. I felt like a maid, but I knew I had no choice, but to be patient. My mom told me many times I shouldn’t quit my first job so quickly, as I needed to learn and gain some experience.

After couple of months, I started searching the newspaper for another opportunity and ended up working for the Jordan Yellow Pages as the assistant to the manager. The boss was short, totally unattractive, and married with two sons. With that said, he was busy chasing every woman in the office.  There were more than one hundred people working in this particular office and about half were women. Some were married, some engaged and others were single, but this boss never really cared about a women’s marital status.

It was around this time when I starting to hear the men in the office joking about “taking the stamp.” Not long after I started my new job, a male co-worker even directly asked me, “Did you get the stamp yet?”  

As I stood there and listened to him let out a big belly laugh, I had no idea what he was talking about. Later on, however, while on a business trip with my boss, I realized what they guys in the office were talking about.

This little fat hobbit of a man literally knocked on my hotel room door in the middle of the night.  I immediately knew what he wanted, so when I opened the door I pretended I was sick. This didn’t stop him from harassing me to come into my room.  I refused, but still he insisted. When he eventually figured out he wasn’t going to get to give me “the stamp” he began to shout.  “When we get back to Jordan, I don’t want to see your face again!”

When we returned I was immediately fired and was not even given the remainder of my salary. In case you’re wondering if there was anything I could do about – the answer is a big no.

Soon enough, I was once again going through every newspaper and searching for a new job. Shortly thereafter, I found myself working for a large IT company. It was a big name company with big name brands and I thought I was at last exactly where I wanted to be.

I thought the CEO of an IT company must be either a nerd or an old man focused on work.  I was also happy to see the staff was almost entirely made up of unattractive men. This made me think the boss cared about work and nothing else. I was offered a good salary, but the working hours were really long. I didn’t care though and simply did my best each day to do my job.

Things then got strange. As I started to get to know my new boss more, I realized he was a porn freak.  He used to send me dirty jokes, somehow thinking he was cool in the process. I didn’t like it at all and felt I needed to politely tell him as much, but never got around to it.

And so, while working late on a big presentation and after everybody left the office except for the two of us, he came to the printing room and closed the door behind him. All of a sudden he jumped on me. I screamed, slapped him across his face, took my bag and stormed out of the office.  I was shivering and crying, but laughing at the same time. I mean the guy didn’t even work up to it!

I told my mom I simply couldn’t find a decent man to work for and that’s when she told me to just stay home until something I felt comfortable with came up.

After several weeks, I received a call from an embassy. They invited me in for an interview and I was so happy. As it turned out, I got the job and worked for a foreign ambassador to Jordan for the next two years. He was such a great guy and treated me well the entire time I was there. The embassies Commercial Attaché, however, was a wrinkly old grandpa who just loved slapping girls on their asses, but that was all he ever did.  I needed to settle down in a career and just let things be, so I took the odd slap across my ass and stayed put.

I eventually felt done with Jordan and wanted to hit a more professional market. To work in the West, I thought, would be my best move.  I also thought a non-Arab boss would be more professional. Once again I began looking for work, but this time I wasn’t looking through Amman newspapers. Europe was my new target and not long after, much to the surprise of my family and most anyone who knew me, I was on a plane to Germany.

I took a job in Frankfurt with a security company and my new boss was a German guy in his mid-fifties. He was kind enough to show me the real-deal, taught me a lot about business and believed in me.  I ended up visiting and working in all his office branches. France, Denmark, Belgium, Amsterdam and Switzerland – suddenly this young girl from Amman who dreamed of being an international business woman was doing just that.  Along the way there was one stumble, however.

A few months after settling down, I was cooking my dinner and readying myself for a night at home. It was -15 degrees outside. The weather was so cold in Germany during the winter, I spent a lot of time indoors.

Unexpectedly, my door bell rang and using the intercom system I went to check who it was. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be my boss. When I opened the door he was waiting on the steps, cradling a bottle of wine in his arms.  As I stood in the doorway in my pajamas, I wondered what on earth he could want. “If you haven’t your dinner yet, I’m here to cook you some good German food,” he said with as smile.

 I invited him in, but told him I’d finished my dinner and was in fact going to bed soon.  Nevertheless, he sat down and opened the bottle of wine, before asking me to join him on the sofa. I got scared at this point and didn’t know what to do. I remember immediately worrying about being fired and having to go back to the Middle East – something I desperately didn’t want to do.

 It was at this point I thought to bring up religion. “Sir, I don’t drink. I am a Muslim,” I said politely.

“So what? Some Muslims do,” he replied.

 I told him that he was right, but I wasn’t one of them. Still not getting the reaction I was looking for, I came up with a plan I was sure would work. I pretended I needed to pray, went to my room, put on my prayer clothes and came back with the Quran in my hand. “I will be with you after I finish my prayers,” I said stoically.  

As I turned to walk away, it took all my effort not to laugh at loud at the look of shock on his face.  He ended up leaving the house, while I was praying. I laughed for hours after that and today I still do whenever I think about it. He didn’t try anything with me that night, but it was clear he was checking to see what he could find. He never bothered me again after that night and was later let go by the company.

I eventually left Europe and moved to Dubai. I took couple of jobs and the hits juts kept on coming. One client asked for some tips to help him better enjoy sex with his wife, an HR rep looked at my breasts throughout an entire interview, another client asked what type of underwear I preferred. Some potential bosses and clients even offered me things like a personal driver or a free apartment, but just as long as I was willing to be their back-up entertainment system.

Something most men out there don’t realize is that women all over the world have to deal with this kind of nonsense every day. Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes tragically funny, and always uncomfortable; even more so in the Middle East we are less protected under the law than in the West.

Whatever the case may be, to all you perverts out there – we women just want to work!  Get over yourself and no, I’m not telling you what color my underwear is.  

 

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Gender Apartheid


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igfm_schariaFrom Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

Gender Apartheid is the best word to describe the situation in Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe there is any other place in the world where gender decides everything a person does on a daily basis and to the minutest details. To the outside world this manifests in the ban on women driving and the compulsory abaya. However it goes much deeper than that in that gender discrimination is institutionalized in every sector of the Saudi government.

The majority of government ministries are off limits to women, both as visitors and as employees. Women are assigned a side building that is usually in the back with a separate entrance and it’s usually cramped. Moreover, when a woman needs to get her own papers done, these women sections are only authorized to do the most routine and mechanical administration. As an example let me tell you about a close friend of mine; she happens to be a Saudi who was born in another country and as such carries dual nationality. She went to renew her other passport and the embassy noticed that there was a discrepancy between her Saudi passport date of birth and her birth certificate by a few days. They insisted that this discrepancy had to be corrected before they could issue her a new passport. So naturally she took her Saudi passport and her original birth certificate to the ministry of foreign affairs. Of course she didn’t go through the main door like the men but to a small building to the side, added like an afterthought. That’s bad but it can be tolerated since it’s basically an aesthetic issue. But what was really frustrating for my friend was that the women working inside told her they were powerless to help her. They told her that her husband, brother, or father has to go to the men’s section to get her passport birth date corrected.

Of course, she got upset because at the time she was separated from her husband, she does not have a brother and she didn’t want to bother her father with such a mundane errand.

This scenario is extremely common; Najla Barasain here gives an account of how pointless the women’s section is at the ministry of higher education. And I’ve personally visited the women’s section at the ministry of education and they too had no decision-making power. Neither did female heads of departments at the women’s sections of universities. They were there just for appearances sake. Any real decisions had to come through the men’s section.

This translates to the impossibility of Saudi women getting hired, transferred, starting a business and even properly quitting without the total support of a man. When I had to get some paperwork done, I resorted to hiring a stranger and giving him a cell phone and my file. He would go to the offices that I directed him to, call me and then hand the cell phone to the official behind the desk. I couldn’t call the officials at their office numbers because frankly they rarely answered. And so this guy I hired would go from one official to the next at my instructions like a remote controlled robot. All this because as a woman, I am prohibited from entering a government ministry.

There is little likelihood that this will change anytime soon. Shiekh Al Barrak recently issued a fatwa stating that those who call for the mixing of genders even in the workplace should be killed. The Fatwa led the government to censor the shiekh’s website, but that did not stop him. He just moved to another website.

Moreover 27 other fundamentalist shiekhs signed a petition in support of Al Barrack’s violent fatwa. Al Barack himself is the last living member of the traditional, misogynist eighties rat pack of sheikhdom. However he has a loyal following within the muttawas of Nejd. His call for the death of gender mixing people has been linked by some to the burning of a literary club tent in Al Jouf. Feelings run high when it comes to women’s rights issues in Saudi Arabia. For every Saudi willing to speak up for women’s rights, there is a Saudi willing to attempt murder to shut them up.

To read more about Saudi gender apartheid check a translation of Dr. Fawzia Al Bakr’s article here.

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The Miracle


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pregnancyFrom Lama J…

In my Halloween costume, I was feeling very happy to do what I’d wanted to do for long time – dress up and show my dark side!  It was Friday, the 30th of October, when my husband and I joined our friends.  I was wearing a dark witch costume for a night of Halloween fun; my husband was somebody called Zoro.  Although not a part of my culture, I always thought Halloween looked like a really good time and it’s become quite popular here in Dubai. I had to fly to Kuwait on business the following day, transforming my personality from the crazy partying witch to a business woman, talking about banking and the stock market, but we still had our fun.

The next day I got ready to head to the airport, but wasn’t feeling very well. Don’t mistake this for a hangover, as both my husband and I don’t drink and we were home by 12:30, but I just didn’t feel right and didn’t know what was going on with me. I felt hyper one minute and tired the next, but I took my Emirates flight to Kuwait and upon arrival, went straight to work.  My first night there, alone in my room, once again, something just wasn’t right. I ordered some food, but ended up eating nothing. I was up and down with everything and soon called my husband to tell him.

The next day was much of the same and after two nights in Kuwait City, I headed back to both Dubai and my usual routine.  I went through a hard time at the office that week. My mood was all over the place and a lot of the time I was ready to fight with the wall. This is when I realized I needed to talk about it to my husband. He immediately suggested a pregnancy test, although I hadn’t really thought about it at all.

And so, after my husband returned home from the pharmacy with two home pregnancy kits, I went to the bathroom. Soon enough, I was done. After taking in a deep breath, I looked down at the pregnancy tester, my eyes wide open. That’s when I knew. I was going to be a mom.

I was both scared and happy at the same time. After staring at the tester for several minutes, I came out of the bathroom screaming, “Babe, I‘m pregnant!”

The first 3 months were hard. My female friends started telling weird and frightening stories about pregnancy. I was scared and confused. They made me feel like I was going to come out on the other side of a 9 month pregnancy half dead and useless. My mom told me not to listen to women. “Many of us are just bitches by nature,” she said.

I heard stories like how a woman’s face often becomes paralyzed or that not being able to breathe was going to be common.  I also heard I was going to vomit every minute of the day, have terrible headaches, and be dizzy all the time. And this was  just for starters.

Now more than fourth months into my first pregnancy, much of what I heard has been proven to be total nonsense, while some has turned out to be true. With that said, it certainly hasn’t been the hell described to me by so many.

I am now in my 5th month and new stories still come my way all the time. Almost every day I hear things like, “You’re not big enough, you should eat for two.. do you want to starve your child? Why do you exercise? Going to the gym is so dangerous! Do you want to kill your baby? You will be so big after delivering, it will take 3 years to lose the weight. Don’t breast feed because your hair will fall out and you’ll go bald. The delivery itself is like seeing the angel of death and saying hi to him.”

I mean really – I was hoping to find at least some kind of positive feedback about being pregnant!

I’ve felt down many times and emotionally mixed-up, but my husband always supports me in every way. He also tells me, again and again,  never to listen to all the rubbish people throw at me.

As the months continue to go by, I’m always talking to myself. “I am going to be a mom,” is what I say most often and this always puts a smile on my face, no matter how I’m feeling that day.

I know I’ll be tired through all this, but I also know the best things in life never come easy. I can’t wait to be able to talk about my own experiences with other women who want to be mothers, but I can promise you this – I will be sure to share the positive side of things.

Prophet Mohamed – peace be upon him – once said, “Heaven is under the mother’s feet.”

In the end, each life brought into this world is a miracle, and these words show how mothers are honored for what they do and all they go through – for every one of us. All I know is that I hold the greatest respect for all the mothers out there.

And more than anything else these days, I cant wait to be one myself…

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My Guardian, My Dictator


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From Saudi Arabian Correspondent Eman Al Nafjan…

In Saudi Arabia this past August a campaign was launched titled “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”. The aim of the campaign is to stand against women who are demanding to be treated as adults. Yes you read it right, a campaign that demands that the status quo remains as is. The campaign is headed by two  princesses and has two rivaling websites. And since it has gotten a lot of attention and some rumors that the two princesses were fighting over whose idea it was, the “Who are we” page has been taken down on one of them. The goal of the campaign is to gather one million signatures from Saudi women who support it. On the bottom of the main page of the weaker website is a button that says click to vote and when you click it, it automatically counts as a vote of support! The other website’s button actually asks for specifics like name and city. The stronger website is here and the weaker one here.

Below I’ve translated Dr. Elham Manea’s piece on the hows and whys of this campaign: 

I swear I almost smiled, but how could I smile?
Then I said to myself, that people are people, in their wisdom or weakness, here or there, no difference.
So I contemplated rather than smile.

Some Saudi women have decided to express themselves.
They wanted to take a stand against human rights activists calling for Saudi Arabia to give women some (not all) of the rights that are enjoyed by their Arab counterparts in neighboring countries. So they came out with a new campaign titled “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”.  
Do we blame them? All they wanted was to fix a problem they know nothing of, and thus made it worse.  It would be strange to expect anything else from them. You cannot miss what you’ve never had.

Most of them belong to the Saudi aristocrats. Their leader is a princess. Their hands are velvet. They live in palaces and villas. How could we blame them for not knowing the reality of average Saudi women?

These campaigner are only worried about Saudi women. They are protecting women from themselves.They are protecting us from activists, activists who have lived the reality of being a Saudi woman in the East, West, North and South of Saudi Arabia. They know how we suffer, and how we are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Luckily, these activists are not princesses.

These activists believe we should be treated as adults and humans and not as children and minors, and not as digraces to be covered. Activists who are tired of this reality of suffering and daily humiliation and so they call for the guardian system to be absolved.

These campaigners who stand againsts activists see nothing strange in the fact that we are the only Muslim country that bans women driving. Isn’t it funny that Saudi Arabia is unique in this odd religious aspect? But it has always been so. They don’t wonder as to how a woman’s freedom in our country has been choked and strangled a thousand times over,so that the poor soul cannot make a move without a male’s permission, a male who’s only distinction is his genitals. To the degree that we see nothing weird about a twenty year old being reprimanded by her ten year old brother.

My guardian knows what’s best for me, seriously?!

They do not see anything strange in that the women of their country cannot make the smallest move without their guardian’s permission. They have no right to leave their houses, to study, to go to a clinic…without their guardian’s permission. And the guardian is a woman’s father, brother or any related male until she marries. And then her guardian becomes her husband until either one of them dies. Her guardian may marry her off at ten, hit her, abuse her or may be kind to her, it’s all up to luck. Her life like a watermelon, it might open up to be red and sweet or bitter and rotten.

These campaigners live like princesses and the restrictions that stifle average women daily, do not apply to them. Have they ever faced a PVPV  commission member who stole their very breath. If a PVPV commission member even set his eyes on them, he would shake from fear, because the only power that the PVPV recognize is the power of your guardian. These men know nothing of religion.

My guardian knows what’s best for me, seriously?!

They never wonder and they never question. Instead in a naiveness that is to be envied, naiveness reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, they are bothered by the demands of the women who have suffered. And so they send to the king, asking him that this system of injustice be maintained.

They say “Who said we need to be human?”
“We do not want rights that contradict our customs!”

“Stop their demands!”

“Cut their tongues!”

“Silence their voices!”

“Leave us as we are!”

“An object in a degree closer to the animal! (With all due respect to animals)”

And surprisingly, I am not surprised. Not surprised by the campaign.
And you know why?
Because the history of  movements demanding women’s rights throughout the world, was full of similar campaigns to this “My guardian knows what’s best for me”. For every woman who demanded her rights, stood more women who cursed her, in the name of tradition, in the name of customs, in the name of religion (whatever that religion may be), and shamed her for seeking change.
This campaign is not strange.
It is similar to another campaign carried out by women in Switzerland in the twenties and then again in the fifties and sixties against women’s right to vote. They too used religion, customs and traditions as an excuse to stop development.

Even in this, they are not unique.
People, as I said before are people,in their wisdom, and strength and in their weakness and simplicity.
Here or there. No difference.

But my guardian does not know what’s best for me.
I am worthy of making my own decisions.
And only I know what’s best for me, even as I bow my head in respect to my father.  

Those campaigners insist on staying minors.
That is their decision. But who said that they speak on behalf of Saudi women?

 

Click here for Eman al Nafjan’s Bio

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A Cry in The Wild


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LutenganoBasic human rights are often taken for granted.  Further still, hospitals to go to, schools to attend and even clean drinking water are things many of us count as the entitled norms of daily life. For many of our fellow human beings however, this is simply not the case.  Some of our brothers and sisters do not enjoy such basic human rights as liberty, freedom of expression, or personal security. Proper medical care and an education are little more than a far off dream. RELATIVTY OnLine’s Tanzanian correspondent Lute wa Lutengano pulls back the tattered velvet curtain of Africa to reveal the plight of many in his region. His words should remind those who have more to be thankful for pulling a winning ticket in the grandiose lottery of birth.     

It was cloudy and chilly morning when I walked into the offices of Mr. Alatanga Nyagawa, a charming young political activist in Njombe town in Southern Tanzania. I had gone to enquire about the several NGOs based in Njombe. And Alatanga was and is the Chairman of the association of NGOs in the district.

Sitting before him in his office was a middle aged white lady who I was to later learn was a German volunteer. Mrs Angela Gierl, told me she was in the business of helping a health centre in Uwemba – the St Anna’s Health Centre, some 20 or so kilometres south of Njombe town.

From the brief exchange we had in that office it occurred to me that Angela was gravely concerned with the life of the Centre which caters for about 25,000 in the area. In my good stride and for the sake of being polite I casually told her I would also try in my small way to assist in solving the problems of the Centre.

Angela was, to my surprise, delighted and her sad face lightened up, on getting this promise. She explained that she was sadly on verge of returning to Germany because her visa could not allow her to continue with her efforts. She would try coming again next year. We exchanged contacts and she promised to follow up with me on the matter.

That was a few months ago and I’d almost forgetten the whole incident, when the other day I received a message from one Sister Bernarda Hyera, a sister and overseer of the St. Anne’s Health Centre at Uwemba. The message reminded me of my earlier meeting with Angela.

But hers was, to be more precise, a lightening a bolt to my conscience on the plight of the Centre. She narrated to me the need for urgent assistance to the Centre which she described as being in a very sorry state. And this she explained was adversely affecting the people’s lives.

The story begins some seventy seven years ago, in 1932 to be precise, when the German Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing established a dispensary in Uwemba in the then Tanganyika. Later in 1976 this establishment was made into a Health Centre. For a long time it was supported by the families of the Benedictine Sisters from Germany . But the most of these Sisters died, and now the community consisted of mainly local Tanzanian Missionaries. 

Unfortunately and predictably they, the local missionaries and their families are poor and cannot financially support such an enterprise. With no Government support, funding has naturally decreased to an extent that the Sisters themselves do not even have salaries. Sister Hyera now says medical equipment and medicine is inadequate if not there. Premature and unnecessary deaths therefore occur because of this and even when there are referral cases, no transport in available. Poor peasants simply return home to suffer and die.

She adds that if she and her fellow Sisters could provide an improved health service, there would be fewer premature deaths, fewer orphans, higher productivity and a better quality of life. 

To illustrate this tragedy Sister Hyera writes; “In September 2009 the local medicine man came into the hospital because his 11th wife was giving birth and needed medical attention (which he, of course, couldn’t give). Then he proceeded to explain how women had come to him for medical attention and were unable to pay his fees; in compensation for the services offered by him, he married them – so he acquired 11 wives.”

This, Sister Hyerasays, is just one example of the violation of women’s rights and a direct result to the fact that the hospital is right now not always in a position to help these women. This coupled with ravaging HIV/AIDS, at 21% in Uwemba, the Centre is a lone and fragile cry in the wild, which needs everybody’s support.

“I have no doubt that with better health care, the economic situation of the population will improve; and then the patients will be able to contribute adequately for the health care they are receiving. However, there will always be a certain amount of people who are too poor to contribute, but will be treated anyway, as we do,” Sister Hyera cries out.

How to help: call 0767 725199

E-mail hyerabern@yahoo.com.

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Men Rule, Women Follow


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lama1Some say men and women have been caught in gender warfare from the beginning of time. Women might be from Mars and men could be from Venus, but one thing is for sure – men and women are different. The result has always been a power struggle of sorts and further still, there have always been jobs designated more for men or for women. Work around the house has traditionally been done by women, but times are changing. At least staff writer Lama J would like them to be. 

 

 

An article in one of the biggest Middle Eastern magazines recently claimed 63% of married women in the Middle East complete 90% of household tasks, leaving only 10% completed by their husbands. 26% of these women said they do all the house work out of love and don’t ask for any help in return from their husbands. 37% were not happy with their situation and complained that their husband never offered even the slightest bit of help around the house.

 

Only 9% of the Middle Eastern women said they receive help from their husbands and are content. These figures made me stop and think why so many men feel they’re excused from house work.

 

A recent Oprah show revealed that the majority of American women are doing 80% of the house work without any help from their husbands or partners, and most of these husbands never offer to help. That’s when I realized this is not a Middle Eastern issue, but one that runs worldwide.

 

What makes most men on this planet almost united in this way of thinking? Why do most women accept this, although they are equal partners? Why do most women feel they are more committed to taking care of their kids? Even though both equally work at their jobs outside the house, why are their tasks at home not divided between men and women more equally? Can’t we consider marriage duties in the home to be more like a company, where all employees do their part?

 

I have many female friends, mostly Arabs that I chat with all the time. I always hear things like, “My husband wasn’t happy with the food yesterday, or I have to go home because he’s coming back early from work, or he’s out all night smoking and playing cards with his friends, or it was my birthday and he didn’t buy me flowers or even a gift, or I need to put the kids into bed before he comes back because he doesn’t like to hear them screaming.”

 

I am not saying Middle Eastern men are the only men who think this way. It’s clear that men around the world subscribe to this way of thinking. With that said, it seems the majority of men in Arabic societies think housework is for women and women only.

 

Many people think Middle Eastern men are this way because of they are Muslims. Let me clarify one thing here – Islam 100% supports women. We even have a chapter in the Quran called “Al-Nisaa” (Women) dedicated to the topic of women, their rights and how men should treat them.

 

Despite what many people might think, Muslim women are free to choose their own husbands, just as they are free to divorce. Even if there is pressure from the entire family to marry a man or leave a man she is already married to, it is her right to choose. There is nothing in Islam that says a wife has to cook and clean, and it is her right to refuse to do so. The Prophet Mohamed, (peace be upon him) even said that a husband is obligated to pay his wife for the work she does at home, if he does not help her. Prophet Mohammed also said that men should be more flexible with women than they are with themselves.

 

What we see from many men in the Middle East nowadays is not related to Islam, but to antiquated traditional values, norms, and other cultural issues that appear to give men the right to be lazy. This way a man can point his finger towards a woman and say she is not doing her job properly. The result is that many women are left feeling obligated and they end up doing everything around the house to show they are good wives.

 

What surprises me even more is when I see that even women in other parts of the world, First World fully developed countries, where women are suffering the same fate. What’s going on here? Are we living in an Empire of Men?

 

Some men never realize how awful their partners feel because of this. Women, by their very nature, are givers, or at least most of the time they are. This is why we can be mothers, why we are more connected to our emotions. My mother always tells me I’ll know this feeling when I carry my child for nine months. Of course, I am generalizing here, as many women are even worse than men.  But when you see women all over the world, all doing the same tasks, without that help of their husbands, one cannot deny there is a pattern. 

 

Does it come from the way people are born and raised? Do we need to re-learn how to care for one another as human beings? A carless parent will raise a carless child, who will also be a partner one day and repeat the same example. I think women need to stand up for their rights more often and be easier on themselves.

 

I cannot deny that I do many things around the house, but my husband always offers his help, again and again. Sometimes I have to kick him out of the kitchen, as I’d rather just do things on my own. That way they will be done how I like them to be – but at least he is offering. I cook, and he makes the table, I wash clothes and he puts them out to dry, I clean the house and he surprises me with flowers almost every week. We take turns choosing movies or restaurants. In the end, he treats me as his equal.

 

Of course we fight and have our own problems, but I think our married life is healthier than many others I know. Many Arab women often say, “Lama, your husband is Canadian… he’s different,” but I don’t think this is the reason. My guess is that he simply cares. Further still, both the husband and wife need to stand up and voice their opinions, so that each knows how to treat the other.

 

I wish those percentages I mentioned earlier were different. We can make them different if we stand up for ourselves and say NO sometimes. Society needs to be less harsh on Middle Eastern women, but we must also remember women have helped to create this kind of society. Now it’s up to us to make things different.

 

From Lama J…

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