World View: Women in the Arab world challenging their oppressors

Hijab mannequins photo courtesy of stock.xchng

by Michael Carin

Two recent stories involving young Saudi women have sent an unmistakable message. We are learning that the Arab world can expect a grim reckoning. The event is long overdue.

The girls now growing out of teenhood in many Mideast countries are not going to accept the institutional bondage suffered by their mothers and grandmothers. Exposed to western values and equipped with modern technology, they have begun a gender revolution. The struggle will be bitter.

It is already that, and worse.

A few months ago the bodies of two sisters, Rotana Farea, 23, and Tala Farea, 16, washed up on the banks of the Hudson River in New York. Their fully clothed corpses were duct-taped together, but bore no evidence of trauma.

The coroner determined their cause of death to be suicide by drowning. The motive of the girls? Having breathed the air of freedom and equality for several years in the West, they feared and loathed the prospect of returning home to Saudi Arabia.

Try to imagine for a moment the extent to which the sisters must have abhorred that very idea. Rather than endure the guardianship system of their country (whereby women must seek the approval of a male relative to conduct basic aspects of life and career), they chose death over patriarchy. As
a sign of defiance, they ended their lives in a manner almost too gruesome to contemplate.

Now consider the story of Rahaf Al-Qunun. A girl of eighteen, she fled from her parents while on holiday and sparked headlines around the world when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room. She was intent on escaping the customs and constraints of her country. Orchestrating her mastery of social media, she brought widespread attention to her plight and was soon welcomed to Canada as a refugee.

Ms. Al-Qunun’s boldness did not materialize out of thin air. The martyrdom of the Farea sisters did not occur in a vacuum. Their actions took place in the context of a march toward gender equality that is opening new paths everywhere in the world.

The march draws fuel from irrepressible social media that penetrate even the bleakest corners of patriarchy. This is not a phenomenon that can be halted or appeased.

Sooner than we think, governing structures still bound by benighted beliefs will be abolished.  We can regard the drastic acts taken by three Saudi girls as meaningful steps signalling the extinction of gender oppression in the Arab world. Their stories reflect more than a mere awakening of their generation. They represent the lighting of matches to set medieval practices ablaze.

Michael Carin’s novel Churchill at Munich is available at The Senior Times office for $9.95. Call 514-484-5033 to reserve a copy.

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