The plight of women in the Middle East.
In her debut book, Egyptian-American journalist and commentator Eltahawy mounts an angry indictment of the treatment of women throughout the Arab world. Born in Egypt, she spent her childhood in London, moving with her family to Saudi Arabia when she was 15. Her shock was immediate and visceral: “It felt as though we’d moved to another planet whose inhabitants fervently wished women did not exist,” she recalls. Women could not travel, work or even go to a doctor’s appointment without male approval. On buses, they were relegated to the last two rows at the back, and schools were segregated by gender. Eltahawy focuses on six areas of women’s lives that demonstrate men’s hostility: the demand that women enshroud their bodies in public; maintain their virginity until marriage; submit to genital mutilation; have no recourse in cases of domestic violence, rape or divorce; are forbidden to drive; and suffer dire repercussions if they dare to speak out on their own behalfs. In addition to her own experiences, the author draws upon interviews she conducted for a BBC documentary, Women of the Arab Spring, giving voice to a wide range of women, including some who perpetuate patriarchal values and others who risk their lives to oppose them. Her discoveries fuel her rage and dismay. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, women are the property “not only of their sons, but of their babies,” mandated by law to breast-feed for two years. In Jordan, a rapist can avoid punishment if he agrees to marry his victim. “When I married him it was like he was raping me again…,” one woman admitted. In Yemen and Saudi Arabia, girls as young as 8 can be married off to older men.
Although Eltahawy’s passionate book contributes to the struggle against women’s oppression, in the face of endemic misogyny, the potential for revolution seems chillingly remote.