This week, many of our brave sisters in Iran are risking their lives by standing in public without their mandatory – legislated – head covering. Yes, a woman not covering up is tantamount to a criminal activity, not just in Iran, but in other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Yes, this is 2018 and we’re still dealing with these barbaric and backward practices. Depressing, isn’t it?
But there’s something that depresses me even more. I have a hard time understanding why some Canadians and other Westerners – many who call themselves liberal and open, and bend over backward to be politically correct – vociferously defend face, head and even fully body coverings that are usually dictated by archaic traditions and customs where women are treated as second class commodities, with very strict rules and roles to follow.
Such women are usually told the coverings are for their “safety” – as twisted that logic is. This kind of sentiment is not just degrading to the women, but disrespectful to those men who are more than capable of controlling their impulses and live in society as normal, law-abiding citizens.
If this practice is so “noble” – as some purport it to be – then why is it only forced upon women? Why is this practice enforced in communities where women must sit in the back of religious institutions while the men sit at front? Is this what egalitarianism looks like?
Yes, there are some adult women who dress a certain way willingly, as a sign of their beliefs and faith – and to those women, I offer my respect for their freedom to express themselves as they wish.
But a majority, especially girls and young women, are coerced by their own misguided mothers, patriarchal fathers and brothers, as well as community and religious leaders, and told if they will be ostracized if they don’t comply. As we, humans, typically live in group environments and seek validation from our community, these young girls follow through, not wanting to be punished or be seen as not being dutiful.
Remember that young woman in Quebec who wanted to cover her full face in public institutions? She was never without her male guardian. Then, a journalist asked her if, just like she wants the freedom to cover up fully anywhere here in Canada, would she confer that same freedom of dress to her sisters in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are currently fighting this oppression enforced by legislation. Her answer? “No, they MUST cover up.”
The hypocrisy is deafening.
Yet no one raises their voice to defend this type of subjugation that comes from misogynistic practices common a thousand years ago. No one wants to offend these cultures. If we acted with the same mind-blowing apathy about other issues, we’d still have slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa.
For those who say “but it’s their culture,” I’d like to remind you that girls are human too, regardless of their culture, race or background. They have feelings and dreams, and desire freedom of speech, dress, movement and education just like any of us. Don’t take away their dignity by treating them like some alien race.
Your silence only thickens the age-old cultural veils behind which blatant human rights abuses hide. Your silence allows these backward practices to continue today. And that’s really a shame.
If you want to learn more about Iranian women’s fight for their rights, here is a great place to start: http://mystealthyfreedom.net/en/
EDIT – 1 February 2018
Some have asked why I wrote what I wrote here. Here’s why.
There’s a group of almost a million determined and brave women who have gathered under the banner My Stealthy Freedom and who are fighting for their basic rights and dignity in Iran. I’ve been quietly reading their stories for the past two years, feeling lucky that I have the opportunity to live in the free world.
Then, on Tuesday these women came out in force and asked on their forum whether we – those of us living in the West – care for women’s rights around the world. They asked if we even know what’s going on and asked why we’re so silent? That made me sit back and think.
I know many of us who look away and pretend nothing’s wrong, lest we offend another culture. Many have chided me for bringing international women’s issues up because that can be construed as “racist.” This mindset, I believe, only aids and abets the abusers and enables heinous crimes to carry on under our own watch. I certainly want no part in that, so I told these women that I’m a writer and that I will write.
I told them that what I’ll say will not be popular, but my feelings of discomfort or any concern for losing popularity are nothing compared to the human rights violations these women go through. So I wrote this to open everyone’s eyes. And I did so apologetically. Because I’d never want to get to the end of my life, knowing I remained a silent coward while others suffered.
If speaking up for women’s rights and for the most vulnerable population on earth makes me a racist, so be it. I will wear this badge proudly.
Every morning, I do my exercise routine at home listening to motivational talks from a Youtube playlist called Top Ten Rules, and it just happened that I clicked on Martin Luther King today – on his 89th birthday.
I write stories based on how young women around the world are mistreated by their own families and communities, and I realized as I listened to Mr. King that the struggles these women, and especially girls, face in these traditional cultures are no different to what African Americans faced during his time. Forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, suppression of freedoms of movement and of speech are just the tip of the iceberg. These practices are shockingly entrenched – yes, even in 2018.
Then I heard Mr. King say this: “We must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So time is always right to do right.”
I felt my chin lift a little higher and I stood a little straighter. Yes, we must not be too complacent, hoping one day these societies will modernize. We must never be too fearful to speak up for fear of offending other cultures. Human rights violations are human rights violations, regardless of where or when they occur.
As much as we’d like to think all traditions are sacred and cannot be criticized, we should never fear to speak up when we see atrocities, especially when the victims are girls, mere children.
Immigration is not the answer to the world’s problems. It’s a band aid, feel good (for some) solution that does little to progress the planet as a whole. And I say that as an immigrant myself.
We must empower people within their own nations and force their leaders to value their own people. Having lived on four continents and travelled to countless places now, I’ve observed and experienced, time and time again, gut wrenching corruption, unbelievable nepotism, mass scale and at times legislated discrimination against women, entrenched abuse against the poor, the disabled, and LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations. These problems are rampant and chronic.
There are many countries where young girls are still subject to forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings—barbaric acts perpetrated and upheld by community and political leaders. You’d be surprised to know this happens even in our own backyards, within communities that quietly engage in these stone-age practices. These happen because we allow it to happen. These happen because we’re too afraid to offend “their culture,” and turn a blind eye to blatant human right violations.
Just like we rallied against apartheid, we must call abusers out even if it means losing trade or business opportunities or make us “politically incorrect”. We must hold foreign leaders and community leaders accountable to how they treat their own people and not reward them with charity, aid or business which only lines their own pockets, while the majority struggle to make a living.
It’s astounding to see the ruling families of some countries been driven around in luxury super sedans while right next to them are slums where their own people scrounge for food. It’s heart breaking, frustrating, maddening.
There’s something inherently misaligned when we’re solving some of the biggest science and technological problems and even considering becoming an inter-planetary species by populating Mars, while girls here on earth are still denied an education by their own families and children don’t have enough to eat everywhere.
We must stand up for what’s right and do so unapologetically. We must stop tolerating the intolerable.
The first novel of the Red Heeled Rebels series went live today. So I decided to do a live Facebook chat explaining a little bit about the series, the book, launch promotions happening right now and a contest where you can win one of three print books. Click on the video to learn more.
Answer your choice of four questions to enter a sweepstakes to win one of three signed and print copies of Disowned, the first novel of the Red-Heeled Rebels global adventure series. This book is now available on all online book stores, but three lucky winners will get free copies of this book mailed to them wherever the world they live in.
CONTEST DATES: Contest starts midnight on 31 December 2017 and ends at midnight on 21 January 2018.
WINNING ANNOUNCEMENT: Winners will be announced in the 23 January email to all Red-Heeled Rebels subscribers and will also be posted on the Red Heeled Rebels Facebook page. I’ll also send a direct email to each of the three winners to ask for their mailing addresses and congratulate them!
ENTRIES & WINS: Winners will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter’s algorithm where this contest is being hosted, but the questions on top will give you more points than the lower ones. Sharing this contest with friends who’ll enter as well, will also give you more entry points.
Question 1 – Select answer for question from the prequel short story Beginnings – 5 entry points
Question 2 – Tweet about book launch – 4 entry points