Category Archives: Women

Kuwait National Assembly

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I write this with a disturbingly vivid recollection of approximately 250 pairs of eyes bordered with bushy eyebrows fixed on me in a peculiar mix of fascination and loathing. In a room of almost 250-300 men, roughly 15 of the people in this hall were women, at most, all from my private American school, all uncovered, one blond. The queasiness that came over me quickly disappeared in mere moments when I reminded myself that I, along with the female classmates and teachers with me, had as much of a right to be in that hall as they did. Even if the security expressed their displeasure at our presence by asking girls to “uncross [their] legs when [they] sit”, they couldn’t exactly ask us to leave. I then remembered a scene from Meryl Streep’s new film The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher’s life, where she is first elected into Parliament and she is the only woman there. She’s momentarily overwhelmed by the amount of men in suits, ties, pants, polished black shoes – and she feels so feminine standing amongst them, in her baby-blue skirt and blouse, in her flowery hat, in her high heels, with her blond hair. Still, this is the Iron Lady we’re talking about. She holds her head up and takes firm steps as confidently as their own, for she knows that she had earned that position and worked hard for it. She was not about to give it up because of a few condescending, misogynistic/intimidated eyes.

The Main Hall of the Kuwait National Assembly was insanely packed with men, and even though I had decided against wearing a skirt because I had expected this, I felt ‘uncomfortably’ feminine nonetheless. I wore the lowest heels I could find, long pants, and a formal blouse. I do have to point out that I even if I got looks for being a girl, I didn’t get comments of ridicule for the way I was dressed like my classmates who showed up in skirts and dresses did – for that I’m strangely grateful. Put politely, they were considered to be dressed ‘unconservatively’ and were ‘perfect examples of why there needs to be a law that requires women to cover up’. I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that it made sense, when you have a male-dominated Parliament, it’s only natural that you’ll have a male-dominated society. Or is it the other way around? Does it matter which way it is?

As you may have heard, today’s jalsa was cancelled due to black flags being raised in protest of the title of الاربعاء الاسود. We were dismissed from the hall 10 minutes into the session, but that was all it took to absorb in the patriarchy-saturated atmosphere that soaked the hall. I’m happy to say that although we received critical looks and comments, the ‘tour’ made up for it. Waleed Al Dhefiri  kind enough to show us around and tell us the history of the Parliament both from the architectural aspect and the political one. A very down-to-earth and critical-thinking man, he gave us the opportunity to ask about anything that we were wondering about. Speaking for myself, I was very reassured with his answers that, mainly, this Parliament won’t be able to impose all the things that they want to impose on the citizens. I also voiced my concerns to him as a female, and he gave me a great piece of advice that I’ve vowed to always carry with me: “Sheikh Jaber الله يرحمه has given you a right that no one can take away without your permission.” Those words alone revitalized the determination and the hope that I have for a better future, and for being a part of that process of betterment – not despite being a woman, but because of being a woman.

Paint to Freedom

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Shurooq Amin had her gallery “It’s A Man’s World” at Al Salhiya tonight, and was surprised to find that someone had reported her artworks to be ‘inappropriate’. Police received complaints of people feeling ‘insulted’ by her artworks, and around 10 PM headed there to notify Shurooq that her gallery would be shut down, and if she didn’t comply she would have to pay a fine. They referred to her artwork as “pornographic” and مخلة. They took photos of her artworks, saying that they would be sending them to the ministry.

This is exactly why we’re always either stuck in limbo or in a constant state of regression rather than progress. We can’t find proper books in our own country anymore, now with Virgin being shut down and all the good writers banned in the other bookstores. Our movies are censored, and instead we’re fed a bunch of media advertisements to turn us into consumerist robots during those 15 minutes that the cinema had cut out. Our writings are censored, it’s inappropriate to write about love and inappropriate to address the endless issues our society is facing. How does denial help anyone? Why is it believed that if we pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it’ll go away? It only gets worse the more it’s ignored. Shurooq addressed those issues in her paintings and I for one am glad she did, someone needed to speak up. As a writer I relate to her, because I know how frustrating it is to constantly be forced to bite my tongue and mute my voice when I know that what I’m seeing is wrong – yet, pointing out the wrongs of society is apparently wrong in itself.

I say it needs to end. The intellectuals of the Arab society need to unite to fight censorship and ignorance and regression. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this regression was planned. Why would higher powers want ‘the public’ to enlighten and liberate themselves from their own shackles? Better to make them love those shackles and brainwash them well enough to have them enforce your ideologies on others too. That way, it won’t just be your security forces imposing your beliefs on others. It’ll be the monsters you created too.

Please hashtag #painttofreedom with any tweets regarding Shurooq Amin’s gallery or art/writing censorship in the Gulf.

Literary Open-Mic Night

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I came across an announcement that caught my attention: a literary open-mic night. Only the one event I’ve forever dreamed of! The catch? It’s not Kuwait who’s hosting the event. It’s The Writing Club in Riyadh, who will be holding the event at The Sheraton Hotel, their sponsor, on February 15th at 7 PM.

Writing enthusiasts can attend and listen to young and talented aspiring female writers perform their literary works.

You can RSVP here: Literary Open-Mic Night

More info on their club can be found on their website: http://riyadhwritingclub.wordpress.com/

I genuinely think this is worth taking a trip to Riyadh for, and I really hope I’ll be able to attend this remarkable initiative taken by young Saudi women.

Note: this is a public event for women only.

The Cruel Society

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My friend Arie wrote an article called The Cruel Sea about Bas Ya Bahar (an old Kuwaiti film) and an upcoming Egyptian author, Yahia Lababidi. It can be read here. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, even though it’s one of the only Kuwaiti films to be considered top-notch. In my defense, however, it’s very difficult to find lately. But I will try my best to find a copy at any of the old video stores in Salmiya.

I asked some older people about it, and they told me that it depicts the pearl-diving history of Kuwait before the discovery of oil. I asked, “That’s it?” and they said yes, mostly. I didn’t understand because Arie had mentioned something about rape victims in the Middle East, and here they were telling me it was about pearl diving. After Arie finished writing his article, though, I saw the very critical element that my elders seemed to have found irrelevant: two of the characters are in love with each other, but their families don’t approve of the relationship. So the girl is married off to a rich, old man. The girl is raped by her husband on their wedding night.

Of course, many people would argue that a woman can’t be raped by her husband, when in truth it’s more common than people think. If she’s not giving him her consent and he does it anyway, it’s rape. I got a reply on Twitter also mentioning a crucial occurrence that’s equally neglected: prostitutes being raped. Although that’s a separate issue on its own (I think this gives a good portrayal of the truth), women can be and are forced into sexual acts under all sorts of different circumstances. 1,000 women are raped per minute, according to UN statistics. That’s not even counting the ones that go unreported.

But what I think should be discussed, is how rape victims are looked at. Generally, they carry *at least* partial blame. Most societies all over the world tend to blame the victim in some way. In the Middle East, they carry most of the blame. It’s usually said that she asked for it by dressing or acting in a certain way, or by being out ‘too late’. Other times, she’s very badly beaten up by her own family, sometimes even killed, simply because her ‘honor’ has been violated – i.e. her virginity. I read about a sixteen year old Kuwaiti girl who was raped in 1991 by an Iraqi soldier. A case was filed a while later, but not because the girl was raped. A case was filed because the sixteen year old was murdered by her father and two brothers who thought they were preserving their family’s ‘honor’. The girl’s mother was also investigated with, but she apparently showed no objection to their act – she was ashamed of her daughter and proud of her sons and husband. The degree of monstrous inhumanity to which brainwash can lead to is just stunning. When a brother can kill his own sister, a father can kill his own daughter, and a mother can look on and say ‘good riddens’, that’s when you know society has reached a terrifying definition of priorities. ‘Honor’ – a figment of Middle Eastern mentality – topples over love. Over family, over justice, over protecting your loved ones.

I also remember watching a Kuwaiti TV show back in 2004 or 2003, where a woman is raped, and her brother finds out and decides to kill her. He takes her out to the desert, holds a gun to her temple, and you hear the girl’s thoughts being narrated, you hear her blaming herself and saying that she doesn’t blame her “maskeen” brother because she brought عار to her family. Then you see the brother having flashbacks of all their childhood memories, and suddenly she isn’t the cause of “shame” to his family, but his little sister. I can’t remember what happened later, I just remember that he couldn’t bring himself to do it and he cries because of what a “coward” he is. This was shown on TV! Even the media advocates honor killing! Heck, in Jordan, it’s legal! TODAY IN 20-FREAKING-12!!!

I wonder how Arab men today would react to their sister or future-fiance or wife getting raped. Would they blame her or support her and help her through the healing process? Someone was offended that I asked, saying that I was implying that they were savages. It really isn’t what I think, but from what I’ve seen and heard, most Arab men do tend to blame the victim, saying that she asked for it by doing something, as I said before. I have to point out that rape is never asked for, and that if they insist on going with that logic, then they’re also saying that men are animalistic savages who can’t control their sexual urges if they see something that appeals to them.

A friend of mine told me about a married 19-year-old girl in Saudi who became widely known across the media as Qatif Girl, and was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with her ex, and another 110 for trying to ‘distort’ Saudi’s reputation through the media by reporting her case to a Human Rights organization. She was gang-raped by 8 men, who got varied sentences ranging from 2-15 years. That’s it. So half of them will be released in two years, go back to society, and probably repeat their crime. Very few of the victims will have the courage to report the crime. Not even Qatif Girl did; her husband found out because the gang kept gossiping about what they did in an attempt to ‘ruin her reputation’. They were hoping that her husband would find out and kill her. Her brother tried to, apparently, when he found out; he beat her up until she was unconscious, but she didn’t die. She did, however, try to kill herself twice since then. Her life has been an absolute hell from what she’s said. If we were to apply the “she asked for it” logic in this case, it doesn’t apply. She was wearing an abaya and a niqab.

Why do they pretend to be ‘open minded’ and say that they would never blame the girl, but all of a sudden change their opinions when it’s a relative or someone close to them? All of a sudden it involves their honor. All of a sudden the first question that comes to mind isn’t, “How will I help her overcome this?” but rather, “What will people say?” and then there’s the sub-questions of “Who will marry her now that she’s lost her virginity?” “How will I deal with the shame?” “What do I do with her?”

What do you think? Guys – honestly, if it was your sister/mother/wife/fiance/steady girlfriend, what do you do? Do you ever blame the victim?

Girls – “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” 😉 keep that in mind next time you judge a girl who was harmed by a man.

Arab Spring in Kuwait?

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For a while now, many foreigners have been asking us Kuwaitis why the Arab Spring has not reached Kuwait – and doesn’t look like it’s going to. The answer has been one and the same: because we’re living the dream. We have malls with all the clothes we could desire, restaurants to fill our mouths with food to keep us fat and quiet, jobs that pay us to do nothing, universities that accept and nurture students with zero ambition, public schools that only require you to do well on exams, and extravagant cars that don’t get stolen or vandalized when we park them outside our homes – something very rare, since this hardly EVER happens in other countries. Many of my teachers still express their surprise over how secure our cars are.

But, the dream is going to die very soon, when Kuwait will have to find an alternative for oil. And from the looks of things, no one has a back up plan yet. No one is even considering a back up plan. No one is thinking long term. Not even the Kuwaiti men and women running for Parliament right now. Everyone is thinking short term instead.

If we were to come up with a long-term plan to improve Kuwait’s future rather than sustain this materialistic, meaningless abyss everyone loves so much, then the key parts are social development and education. Socially speaking, our society is still living in the stone age, where you’re judged according to who your ancestors are. You don’t defy the ‘alpha male’ of your family. MP’s beat each other up at the parliament and disgrace the entire nation. Human rights are violated on a daily basis, citizens robbed of their right to freedom of speech, religion, sexuality, political views, and marriage.

I think that for the Arab Spring to reach Kuwait, it’s the youth that needs to make it happen. The hard part is actually getting them to wake up and realize that the dream they’re living in isn’t what reality is actually like. It’s a world that was created to keep them quiet and away from ‘trouble’ – i.e. freedom. It still baffles me that this is enough for them, that they’re satisfied with shopping and eating and tanning their lives away. It’s no coincidence that that’s all there is to do in Kuwait. Dumbing an entire nation down is a process that requires careful thought and precision. First you start with the education. You make sure that all the modern, revolutionary ideas of the evil West are not incorporated into their academic studies. Then you make sure that the language of those evil ideas isn’t taught well enough for the students to be able to go out and explore those ideas; that way, they won’t pick up a book that tells them all about oppressive regimes and their cunning ways. 😉 They won’t do that because, 1) they don’t understand the language well enough. 2) they don’t like reading. If you create an entire generation of people who hate books and who groaned their way through English class, a class that was supposed to teach them to be fluent speakers, writers, and readers of a universal language that could be their gateway to knowledge and enlightenment, then you are essentially creating slaves who will submit to your laws and rules without complaint.

Then you show them what their boundaries are by making examples of other people. You use the media to your advantage. You arrest writers. You censor magazines, newspapers, and movies. You ban books. You make TV shows that encourage the mistreatment of domestic workers, that demean the importance of treating your partner properly, that glorify disrespecting women, and tell girls that the only way to ‘be beautiful’ is to objectify yourself – by Kuwaiti media standards, that means dress in really tight clothes, rub your face in a ton of make up, and make your voice about ten pitches higher than what it naturally is.

Then you create laws that tell them there’s no escape, but you don’t make it obvious. You make it seem like a good thing. You tell the women that they’re never allowed to marry a man without daddy’s approval, even if they’re 40 year old well-known professors. Then you narrow it down even more. You try to avoid intercultural marriages by telling those women that if they marry a non-Kuwaiti, you will guarantee them and their children a crappy future. Then you move on to the Kuwaiti marriages. In that case, it’s the family who instills those values within their children’s minds. They’re taught not to fall in love with someone who’s from a different religious sect – because you don’t need to worry about them falling in love with someone who’s from a different religion. Then you emphasize the glory of your own ethnic background, so that way they look down on other backgrounds enough to find them unappealing, thus ensuring that they won’t fall in love with an ‘outsider’. Of course, this is all if they fall in love.

If they’re allowed to fall in love, I should say. This is all assuming that the family in question is one that’s not a big fan of arranged marriages, of hooking up strangers and hoping for the best. It drives me insane because I’ve heard too many stories of couples who genuinely loved each other and couldn’t get married because their families didn’t approve – and, legally, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. A ‘bad’ marriage was prevented because the parents were an obstacle that the couple could not overcome.

There’s the question of whether or not you’re allowed to fall in love, and there’s the bigger question of whether or not you’re allowed to learn. University is one of the biggest ‘decisions’ a person is supposed to make. But when your options are narrowed down to AUK, KU, and GUST, you don’t have much to look forward to. If you talk to high school Kuwaiti students who are considering one of those three universities, most of them will tell you they’re having a hard time deciding because “they all have such nice campuses”. The education level is hardly ever taken into consideration if we’re talking about a typical Kuwaiti high school student. The other day I was actually surprised to hear one of my peers saying that she had ruled out one of those three universities because “girls smoke in public there!” so the princess felt like she wouldn’t be comfortable there.

Too many girls aren’t given the option of studying abroad, at a prestigious university that can provide them with the opportunity of an eye-opening academic and personal experience. And, once again, without daddy’s approval, there’s no way in hell that can happen for them. Let’s also not forget, a certain university in K-Town has different GPA requirements for both genders 😉 that way, 18 year old girls who didn’t do well enough to get into university can simply find a husband and make more Kuwaitis for the country. It also encourages young men to aim for a minimum GPA – what incentive would they have to do any better?

It makes no sense to me. The youth is robbed of so many basic rights, yet they’re also the biggest fans of this clever system. So long as they’re paid, fed, and given pretty clothes and cars, no one complains. I can only hope that soon enough their eyes will be opened, because when we’re no longer ‘living the dream’, it’s the youth who’s going to have to save the country.

There is No Normal.

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Reshaping what society perceives to be an obstacle into an opportunity, Aimee Mullins is a ground-breaking runner born without shins. In this video, she talks about how our languages have not come up with proper terms to fit humane perceptions, and how society’s perception of success (walking unscathed, unmarked, unharmed) can no longer be applied. Inaccurate terminology and improper definitions of these terminologies, in Aimee’s opinion, are keeping us from evolving.

Thank you Hayat for sharing this with me :*