“The Reasoning, Existence and Hope for Women’s Rights in the Middle East” The Middle East is notorious for holding women to a lower social status than men. Middle Eastern women have not been allowed to flourish as individuals for hundreds and thousands of years. In her detailed journal on women in the Middle East, Haleh Afshar explains, “For too long, the analytical parameters for understanding citizenship, identity and the processes of war and migration have been set up by men” ( 237).
Either these women rebel or protest against the discrimination, or they are forced to look from the bottom up at society. A Thousand Splendid Suns, written by Khaled Hosseini, narrates the lives of two Afghan women named Mariam and Laila who are forced to feel the harsh wrath of a society that disregards women’s rights. They are forced to persevere in a society that decides who they marry and keeps them hidden from the public eye. Disrespect against women like this would make one wonder why this type of behavior is accepted in the Middle East.
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Some would point the finger at the Islam religion, as “99% of Afghans are considered to be Muslim” (Kolhatkar 173). Many misconceptions are made on the Islam religion because of the treatment of women in Afghanistan, but really the religion is not to blame. Nowhere in the Islam sacred writings does it promote placing women on a lower social status. Muslim men who have misled Afghans into believing this treatment of women is embedded in their religion are the ones to blame.
The hope for Muslim women is diminutive in a male dominated society, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making progress. The Islamic Feminist group has made enormous steps, “With help from Islamic Feminist groups and protests, Afghanistan is slowly working towards a community where men and women are equal” (Kolhatkar 82). Afghanistan is a country that has been wrongly convinced the Islam religion puts women at a lower social standard, but the feminist support in the Middle East is working quickly to repair the problem.
Before Islam existed in the Middle East, “a woman’s status largely revolved around her role as a mother, daughter, or sister” (Mernissi 43), and women were under constant supervision of a male guardian. Women were almost considered to be property instead of human beings. Women weren’t considered valuable because they couldn’t contribute to the family’s wealth or status. When boys were born, they were appreciated, and expected to carry on their family’s tradition. When girls were born, they were just expected to marry off when they got old enough.
These things started to change with the beginning of Islam. Initial teachings of the religion included ways of improving living conditions for women and giving them similar rights as men. The Qur’an, which is the sacred book of Islam, addressed many women’s rights such as, “the right to own property, seek an education, keep maiden names, ask for a man’s hand in marriage, refuse marriage, get divorced, and inherit property” (Crocco 110). Women’s rights were also promoted through the stories of Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, who was described as a very independent woman who was educated and free-willed.
During the first Islam years it was not uncommon for men to sometimes lend a hand around the house by helping to clean or sew. This gender equality did not last long though, as “Muslim men came to interpret the sacred texts in ways that were negative for Muslim women as a means of consolidating their power over women” (Mernissi 67). The Muslim society quickly started to disregard any rights the Qur’an had granted the Muslim women. Similar to pre-Islam Middle East, women were once again treated more like property than human beings.
Women were forced into situations they didn’t belong in and men were the rulers of them. Before Mariam entered her forced marriage she imagined the situation, “She pictured herself living there, in Kabul, at the other end of that unimaginable distance, living in a stranger’s house where she would have to concede to his moods and his issued demands” (Hosseini 45). Like all the women living in Afghanistan at the time, Mariam wasn’t receiving the rights the sacred book of Islam once lived by. It was not the religion that was mistreating the women, it was the men. Today, many Muslim women do not have the opportunity to enjoy the rights once considered theirs by their religion” (Afshar 434). Muslim women began taking steps towards equality as, “feminists effectively inserted a note of reality that reflects the lived experiences of women who experience and participate in very different ways in these processes, including defining their own identities” (Afshar 238). Muslim feminist groups were formed when the Afghans were being controlled by the Taliban and were forced to abide by their laws.
Some Taliban laws did not support the aid of any woman in Afghanistan, “a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan prohibited women from receiving medical attention from males” (Crocco 110), which left hundreds of women to suffer in unsanitary, run-down clinics. When Laila was finally ready to give birth to Zalmai, she was turned down by the hospital they first arrived at. The Taliban hospital guard yelled down to the group of rejected patients, “This hospital no longer treats women” (Hosseini 254).
Some people living in Afghanistan knew this mistreatment of women was wrong and formed groups to protest it. Feminist groups like Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan fought against women’s medical rights, and Amnesty International groups supported any race or gender that was looked down upon in the Middle East. The success of these feminist groups was surprising to most, as the majority of the women involved had little to no education. The rise in women activists started to make Afghan women realize they deserved more. More Iranian women than ever before are conscious of, and concerned about their rights” (Keddie 433). Afghan activists not only wanted to repair Afghanistan for their family and friends, but wanted to make sure future Afghans would live in a safe, free society. Many Afghan people began to feel like it was their duty to help rebuild and repair Afghanistan. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Laila and Tariq grow deeply involved with improving the orphanage Aziza was forced to live in. They wanted to correct the past mistakes Afghanistan had made.
A Thousand Splendid Suns narrates just one struggle of two women in Afghanistan, but should trigger the reader to realize the millions of women who faced the same hardships. When researching such issues it’s instinctive to look for reasoning. It’s not fair to claim that reasoning is the Islam religion, when really the Islam religion promotes equality. Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns along with doing proper research can make one realize how frustrating and miserable it would have been to be Mariam or Laila.
It would also make one realize how brave and strong a woman must be to persevere through the hard times and stand up for what is right. Living in a torn down and battered Afghanistan society, some Afghans risked their lives to protest and rally against the mistakes of their culture. Scribbled on the orphanage classroom doorway which Aziza once attended is the poem, “Joseph shall return to Canaan, grieve not, Hovels shall return to rose gardens, grieve not. If a flood should arrive, to drown all that’s alive, Noah is your guide in the typhoon’s eye, grieve not” (Hosseini 365).
The poem symbolizes even when everything seems wrong and broken; there is still hope through God. Women in the Middle East are stripped of their individualism because of some misinterpretations of the Islam religion, but that doesn’t mean the hope is gone for any improvement. WORKS CITED Crocco, Margaret S. , Nadia Pervez, and Meredith Katz. “At the Crossroads of the World: Women of the Middle East. ” Social Studies 100. 3 (2009): 107-114. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 14 Apr. 2010. Afshar, Haleh. “Women, wars, citizenship, migration, and identity: Some illustrations from the Middle East. Journal of Development Studies 43. 2 (2007): 237-244. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 14 Apr. 2010. Kolhatkar, Sonali , and James Ingalls. Bleeding Afghanistan. Toronto, ON: Seven Stories Press, 2006. Print. Keddie, Nikki R. “Women in the Middle East: Progress and Backlash. ” Current History 107. 713 (2008): 432-438. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 14 Apr. 2010. Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York City: Penguin Group, 2007. Print. Mernissi, Fatima. The Forgotten Queens of Islam. 1st. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Print.