Imagine a life where, as a woman, you cannot leave the house without accompaniment by a male relative, or where you can be bartered off as payment for a family debt. Where the length of the stick your husband can beat you with is prescribed by law, or in the case that you are raped, you may well be stoned to death. These and many more startling things happen to women every day in Muslim countries around the world. In this eye opening non-fiction compilation, Ida Lichter has brought to us the voices of women subjugated by their culture and religion. In their own words, they share their public and private thoughts and accomplishments in their efforts to release the stranglehold of subjugation that hangs darkly from Muslim women’s necks. We learn about the oppression of women in Afghanistan, where those who chose not to marry the men selected by their families are at risk of honor killings, and about the rights that are withheld from women for educational advancement. We share in the horror of Algerian women who are kidnapped, made sexual slaves and are then murdered, and hear of marriages taking place between elderly men and children in Bahrain. From Syria to Nigeria, Pakistan to Kuwait, the plight of Muslim women unfolds in all its terrifying realities.
What I read here shocked and horrified me. I don’t think many Western women consider themselves in relation to our Muslim sisters who suffer these abuses every day. As I read and learned, I began to see that the women who had chosen to fight these regimes and attitudes were not only courageous but instilled with a love for the women of their culture that far outstripped anything that the men, even those of the same family, could claim to have. As one of the reformers reflects, it’s not really about women’s rights, it’s about human rights. As far as I could see, the Muslim women who are suffering each day under oppression and cruelty aren’t granted even the most basic human rights. I was stunned to learn that the traditional head-to-toe covering of Muslim women can lead to vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight and this can cause softening of the bones. It was also disheartening to hear that women were engaging in acts of self-immolation to escape their terrible existences and choices. Child rape and kidnapping are common against Muslim women, where they’re held in such low esteem that it takes the voices of two women to equal that of one man in a court of law.
But the book doesn’t only deal with the oppression of Muslim women, because most of its story lies in the acts of the women reformers who are constantly speaking out in order for the world to be informed and to manifest changes. Often these women are targeted for death or imprisoned and tortured for speaking out. Countless have had to go into hiding and a few sleep in the same dwelling only two or three nights at a time. A few have been killed by bombs or cut down in a hail of bullets. When they succeed in having laws changed to protect other Muslim women, the changes seem to magically disappear from finished documents or are ignored altogether. The religious leaders of their communities speak out against them, turning them into social pariahs running not only from their community, but from those who want to see them killed. Many have had fatwas placed upon their heads. The avarice that rains down on them continually is life altering and severe.
But stunningly, they continue to lead, to resist, to fight, and to speak. When one avenue is closed to them, they move onwards to another. They create foundations such as RAWA ( The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and start grassroots magazines like Zanan (meaning “women” in Farsi) that grow to be widely read and influential. They fight the gender injustice through journalism and win awards and accolades from all over the world. They take heart in every small advancement and cherish their hope for Muslim women in their breast every day. Through every situation and every attack of violence, they persist in letting their countries and the rest of the world know that Muslim women’s voices will be heard. They live in the hope that the female children of the Muslim nations will one day rise up and take their place beside the men, in equality. They spearhead and chair organizations for women and children’s rights and they travel far and wide to educate and engage other nations in the things they so passionately fight for. They are courageous and uplifting, and inspire the rest of the world to join with them in understanding and reform.
While I was reading this book I was by turns sickened and awed. The no-nonsense presentation of the material made such a deep impression on me that at times it produced an awed fascination at the risks these women take everyday. This is more of a reference book than one you would read cover to cover, but as I browsed through it, I found I couldn't keep myself from stopping throughout each section to read more about these amazing women. Coming from a mindset that was ignorant of a lot of these issues, I urge other readers to pick up this book and explore not only a topic that deserves the most serious attention, but to share in the wonder of the women who make it their life’s missions to thwart the oppression of Muslim women.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.