Fear for women and their repression in the Middle East


Just a quickie, on why some women are more at risk of honour crimes than others. Based on a talk given by Penny Johnson (Institute of Women’s studies at BirZeit University, Palestine), my own mental meanderings are italicised.

In reality she was looking for the reasons behind women’s bodies becoming the icon of fear for societies, and what causes one community to be more fearful for their women folk and restrictive of their movements… an attitude which could potentially lead to honour crimes.

She compared two small village communities in Palestine (I cant remember their names), both are under occupation (duh) and both are poor. In a survey of 19 to 29 year old women she found in Village A that the women were optimistic and spoke of hopes and dreams for themselves, of ‘developing their personalities’ and such whereas in Village B the women were very pessimistic they said they could not go out, lead very restrictive lives and ‘did not feel they had anything to live for’. Since there were no differences in education, economy or basic culture between the 2 villages, what could have lead to such a difference in attitudes?

Penny was able to determine 3 factors which contributed to the differences in attitude:-

  1. Security: village B was very close to a settlement and were often attacked by settlers and the army, thus leading to an overriding sense of insecurity.
  2. An enabling environment: village A had a more organised and active community council. There were therefore more community activities.
  3. Social cohesion: village B suffered from social fragmentation and unruly men. Thus 1 event can have far reaching events (no one is sure what happened or who to trust)

Lack of these factors can lead to a serious restrictions being placed on the womenfolk, such as:

  1. Blaming seemingly innocous things for the excessive danger perceived to face women (e.g. stallellite televison).
  2. The placement of inane restrictions, such as banning the use of the phone.
  3. Over-exaggerating events, and reading too much into them. An example she gave was the case of Village B, where a young couple were found killed in a car (I think this is how it happened I missed a bit of it) and people assumed the girl had been up to no good, and placed restrictions on their own daughters. Even after the community leaders, including the Imam, exonerated the poor girl from all wrong doing.

I would have loved for her to extrapolate on these points but since she was focussing on the effect that the occupation had on women, she moved onto other issues (namely how women dealt with keeping the family together in hard time).

But I think we can see similar trends in neighboring Arab countries, where women complain about harassment, also complain of a lack of trust of the police (lack of security), community activities are minimal, and people are mistrustful of others (social fragmentation). Often I find that people shift the blame, onto the women, onto the television, onto the high costs of marriage (women again), penalizing the victim I think must be easier. Solving the problem seems to be doable though, upgrade the police forces, offering training in dealing with cases of sexual harassment, probably increasing the number of female officers to make it easier for women to speak out, increasing community activities and projects, this may also lead to a healthier social framework.

8 Responses

  1. The Muslim World desperately needs a feminist “revolution”. But only the locals can do it.

  2. actually the rights are already there, have been for ages, we just need to unlock them, and stop channelling our feelings of fear and fristration onto our women, and deal with the real sources of these feelings head on.

  3. Very interesting report, thanks!

  4. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  5. I agree that women need equal rights. I can’t believe the U.S. maintains relations with Saudi Arabia with the way the treat women.

    I guess its all about the oil and money.

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    • Your comment got caught in the spam filter, and I have only just gotten round to clearing it up! sorry about that.

      The post was really to investigate why the same people, in the same country, with the same socio economic background have different attitudes towards women. I found it interesting that is could be linked to fear and lack of general security.

  6. I can’t believe the U.S. maintains relations with Saudi Arabia with the way the treat women.

    Absolutely. Of course the USA (and all the Western wannabee democratic block) also mantains relations with Israel regardless of the deep racism, apartheid and genocide that this implies.

    There’s just too much hipocrisy and double standards and it’s clear that the metropolitan West does not want the South to become really advanced and democratic. Otherwise it would support secularist regimes. But what it does is to support Fundamentalist ones, like Saudia, Egypt and Israel.

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