Middle east: the terrorized half of our society

The undeclared war on women continues to victimize women worldwide on a daily basis; the Middle East is no exception. Women in our region are amongst the most oppressed and terrorized in the world. The Islamic law upheld in many Middle Eastern countries has turned women into slaves with invisible chains.

In Iraqi Kurdistan in April 2007, Dua Khalil Aswad - 17 years old at the time - was brutally stoned to death in front of a crowd of over 1000 cheering men. Her only crime was falling in love with a man from a different religion.

In Saudi Arabia in March 2006, a woman was abducted with a friend and was raped by 7 men. In October, the men were sentenced to 2-3 years in prison, but the woman herself was sentenced to 90 lashes. Saudi Arabian Islamic law forbids a woman to meet with a man to whom she is not related. The woman and her solicitor appealed the sentence; the men's sentences were increased from 2 to 9 years in prison, but the woman's sentence was also increased as a result to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison.

This is the price of reporting rape in Saudi Arabia. The judge disbarred the woman's solicitor, and the solicitor may now be suspended for 3 years from practicing his profession. In a country were it seems that to merely be a woman is a crime, women are doomed to live a life of subordination to laws drawn up by men, for men and designed to keep women in their place.

In Sudan, an English teacher was about to face a 6 month imprisonment and 40 lashes in public simply because her students named a teddy-bear "Mohamed".

Laws based on religious obscurantism and superstitions are applied even to people who do not follow the official state religion. In southern Iraq, Islamist gangsters have been forcing all women to cover themselves and wear the veil - including Christian women.

In Iran, women continue to be stoned to death according to Islamic Sharia Law; so far hundreds of them have been brutally stoned to death or executed publicly.

These were just few examples of the sort of treatment that women face at the hands of the patriarchical theocratic forces ruling many Middle Eastern societies.

Those of us who have first hand experience and are actually real victims of these religious laws know what it means to be a woman in the Middle East. We have gone through systematic terrorization since our childhood. We have been taught how to behave, act, obey, and finally submit ourselves to the will of men in our family, and of course to the will of "God".

We have been taught that whatever we do or think could bring "shame" to our family's "honour".

We are the "shameful", the "guilty", "filthy", "sinful" and unwanted objects of this patriarchal world. In order to make a space in which to live we have to give up on our dignities, pride, freedom and indeed all our rights; even the right to life.

I challenge those who justify the killing, abuse, and oppression of women on the basis that they are part of Middle Eastern "culture". But I am also here to challenge those who say these things are not part of Islam.

I am here to say that yes, what is happening to women is because of political Islam in all its forms, in power and in opposition. Religious laws are not simply a matter of "culture"; they are barbaric and inhumane practices which are used deliberately to repress women and segregate them from the rest of the world.

We, the women of the world, need to make it clear that women's rights are universal. They transcend culture, religion, nation, border and tradition. Our struggle for freedom and equality is global and must engage all women, regardless of their background. We need to fight the influence of religion in public life and the religious laws that - in the Middle East and throughout the world - help perpetuate the oppression of half the world's population.

Our struggle for universal rights, dignity and freedom will not be compromised.


Houzan Mahmoud is the Abroad Representative of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq

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