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Once Shunned as ‘Drivers,’ Saudi Women Who Fought Ban now Celebrate

They were arrested, suspended from jobs, shunned by relatives and denounced by clerics as loose women out to destroy society. Their offense? They did what many in Saudi Arabia considered unthinkable: getting in cars and driving.

Their protest in 1990 against the kingdom’s ban on women driving failed, and the women paid dearly for it, with the stigma of being “drivers” clinging to them for years.

So last month, when King Salman announced that the ban on women driving would be lifted next June, few were happier than the first women to demonstrate for that right — almost three decades ago.

“I’d thought maybe I’d die before I saw it,” said Nourah Alghanem, who had helped plan the protest. Now she’s 61 and retired with five grandchildren. “What’s important is that our kingdom entered the 21st century — finally!”

Video

The backlash against the 47 women who protested illustrates how deeply the driving ban was embedded in Saudi Arabia’s conservative society, reinforced by the state and its religious apparatus.

But since then, globalization, social media, economic pressures and leadership changes finally created the conditions for the ban to end.

These are dizzying days in Saudi Arabia.

Car makers are now targeting advertisements toward Saudi women, and a women’s university is planning a driving school.

And the changes are not only related to the prospect of so many new drivers on the kingdom’s highways. At a public celebration last month, crowds of men and women danced together as a D.J. played music. An end to the ban on cinemas is expected soon.

But in 1990, when the four dozen women took an extraordinary risk by fighting the driving ban, conditions in the kingdom were notably different.

“I’d thought maybe I’d die before I saw it,” said Nourah Alghanem, who helped plan the 1990 protest against the driving ban, which is being lifted next year.CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Controlling Women

At the time of the protest, Ms. Alghanem was 34, with a high school degree, a husband, four children and a job at an elementary school.

“I didn’t have anything interesting in my life,” she recalled.

At the time, Saudi women were severely restricted. The culture was highly patriarchal, and clerics, thanks to their alliance with the royal family, had tremendous power to defend the kingdom against what they considered to be corrupting influences.

Much of that meant controlling women, and they saw the driving ban as necessary to prevent adultery and other social ills.

“Allowing women to drive contributes to the downfall of the society,” the kingdom’s top cleric at the time wrote in a fatwa that was removed recently from a government website. “This is well known.”

Women who chafed under the ban saw an opportunity when Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi strongman, invaded Kuwait in 1990. American forces flooded the kingdom, including American servicewomen who drove military vehicles. Kuwaiti women who had fled the invasion also drove.

Ms. Alghanem took note.

“I saw that we as Saudi women were powerless,” she said.

She invited other women to her home to discuss the issue, and they later decided to take action. They sent a letter to Salman — at the time the governor of Riyadh Province — telling him that they planned to drive.

They never heard back, they said, so on Nov. 6, 1990, they met near a supermarket in Riyadh, piled into 14 cars piloted by women with valid foreign licenses and drove around town.

They were social outliers, backed by no political party, and other Saudi women did not rush to join them. Many came from affluent families and had studied abroad. They included teachers, professors, a social worker, a photographer and a dentist.

Most were married with children; at least two were pregnant. One woman joined late, with her two daughters, one of whom was breast-feeding. Some had defied their male relatives to show up. Supportive husbands and brothers dropped off others at the meeting place.

Word spread, and the women were stopped by both the traffic police and the religious police, some of whom furiously banged on the cars.

“‘I want to dig a hole to bury you all!’” Fawziah al-Bakr, an education professor, recalled one man shouting at her. “They were thinking that we were going to destroy this country.”

They were taken to the police station and released around dawn, after they and their male relatives signed pledges that the women would not drive again.

Photo

“It is not just driving a car, it is driving a life,” said Asma Alaboudi, a school social worker who participated in the 1990 protest. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Furious Backlash

The next morning, Asma Alaboudi, a school social worker who had participated, overheard her colleagues saying that the women at the protest had burned their clothes, worn bikinis and danced in the streets — all grave acts that had not happened.

Soon, the women’s names were distributed, inflaming public anger.

King Fahd issued a decree suspending those who had government jobs, and preachers excoriated them during Friday prayers.

“At that point, the society revolted,” Ms. Bakr recalled.

Monera Alnahedh, who later became an international development worker, said her father quit praying at his local mosque after the preacher said the women had been inseminated by 10 men.

Officials from the Interior Ministry came to the home of Madeha Alajroush, a photographer, to confiscate and destroy all her negatives — 15 years of work.

“That was a way of punishing me,” she said.

Some friends and relatives shunned the women.

“It was a very, very scary environment,” Ms. Alajroush said.

Photo

Monera Alnahedh, who became an international development worker, said her father quit praying at his local mosque after the preacher said the protesting women had been inseminated by 10 men. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

‘A Decade of Silence’

The harsh response from the state and society buried the issue of women driving.

“It was a very heavy blow on the women who drove, and it was perceived by the society as a very heavy blow,” said Ms. Alnahedh, the development worker. “There was a decade of silence.”

The suspended women struggled to find work, with some choosing to pursue advanced degrees.

About two years later, a princess intervened with the king, who returned them to their jobs and paid some of their lost wages.

Many of the 47 faded into private life, while others looked for ways to help women at girls’ schools, women’s universities and in programs for abused women and children.

After she participated in the protest, officials from the Interior Ministry came to the home of Madeha Alajroush, a photographer, to confiscate and destroy all her negatives, 15 years of work, as punishment. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

Slowly, society changed.

University enrollment for both women and men rose, and in 2005, King Abdullah created a scholarship program that sent hundreds of thousands of young Saudis, including many women, abroad, broadening their perspectives.

He added women to the Shura Council, an advisory body, and social media spread among the kingdom’s youth, giving them freedom online that they lacked in real life.

The internet eroded the monopoly Saudi clerics had on religious interpretation, and many Saudis realized how differently Islam was practiced in other countries.

The government allowed women to work in new jobs, making their daily commute an issue.

Younger activists started to revive the struggle to let women drive.

In 2011, Manal al-Sherif posted a video of herself driving online and was detained. In 2013, dozens of Saudi women drove to protest the ban.

In 2014, Loujain Hathloul tried to cross the border from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia in her car and was jailed for 73 days.

Few of the women who had driven in 1990 joined the new protests, but they cheered the younger women.

“We were very angry,” Ms. Alajroush, the photographer, said of Ms. Hathloul’s detention. “But inside of me, I thought that was a big step forward because finally we were taken seriously.”

Photo

Fawziah al-Bakr, a professor, with her son, Motaz Alyahya, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She was one of the 47 women who took to the road in 1990 to demand the right to drive.CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

‘Driving a Life’

In 2015, Salman became king, and he empowered his young son, Mohammed bin Salman, who is now crown prince.

As the price of oil sank, sapping the economy, the crown prince laid out a sweeping plan to reform the economy, including increasing women’s participation in the work force.

Other steps followed. Women voted and ran for seats on local councils in 2015 for the first time, and some won. Public schools were told to offer physical education for girls, which clerics had argued threatened their femininity.

Then late last month, Ms. Alghanem, who had held the first meeting on the driving ban in 1990, was playing cards when her phone suddenly began overflowing with messages, she said.

Her husband called, shouting, “Congratulations!” and told her the ban was being lifted.

Ms. Alghanem — who had merely ridden along in 1990 and still cannot drive — now plans to learn.

“I must get a license and drive,” she said.

The government has played down any role the women activists played in prompting the decision, and some of the women say security officials have told them in phone calls to keep quiet.

The Information Ministry denied such calls were being made.

Many Saudis argue that the women exacerbated the issue by provoking the conservatives. In the kingdom, they argue, rights are given by the ruler, not publicly demanded by the people.

A woman parking her car in a town in Saudi Arabia owned by the oil company Aramco. In this so-called “mini-America,” woman are allowed to drive. CreditTasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

“It is natural that they are happy that they have been given their legal right that they had demanded before,” Prince Abdulrahman bin Musaid, a businessman, wrote on Twitter. But he called the idea that the women’s “struggle” had influenced the decision “a great fantasy.”

The women believe the government will not acknowledge them so as not to encourage other activists.

Many restrictions on women remain, including so-called guardianship laws that give Saudi men power over their female relatives on certain matters. But the original protesters are overjoyed that their daughters and granddaughters will have freer lives than they did, thanks to the automobile.

“That I am driving means that I know where I am going, when I’m coming back and what I’m doing,” said Ms. Alaboudi, the social worker.

“It is not just driving a car,” she said, “it is driving a life.”

Correction: October 7, 2017 
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified a Saudi woman who took to the road in 1990 to demand the right to drive. She is Meshael al-Bakr, not Fawziah, who is her sister.
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Gloria Steinem’s novel recommendation for how to fix American gun laws goes viral

This impossible mission of raising a baby to adulthood

It is impossible for me to contemplate that a baby can be raised to adulthood.

It is done every second around the world, and more frequently in impoverished States with scores of babies for each couple.

The fact that many human babies got to live passed 5 years blow my mind

Sure, it is the grand parents, mainly grand-mothers who sustain this impossible mission, when still around and the couple is close by.

What about couples who decided to start their journey far away from their original community? What about the single family, single for many reasons, individual, civil war, natural calamities, collateral damage…?

What of father working overseas in “greener pastures” in order to sent some money to the toiling mother, and barely visiting the family, except to making the mother pregnant again?

Can we call him a “father”? How about an employee, in public or private institutions, hired to maintain the procreation process, but never playing any role is raising the babies?

Has any father ever spent an entire week, just to observe and participate fully in taking care of the babies? An entire week totally focused in the upbringing of the children?

It is impossible to raise babies to adulthood.

It is far easier to believe in the existence of an abstract God: it does Not engage sustained frustration and labor.

Just believing of the possible of raising babies is beyond my mental and emotional capabilities: it is too rough, too down to earth, to irrational to contemplate.

This every second task of maintaining and sustaining a baby’s life.

The other impossible fact of life is how an adult person manages to get so upset with his parents that he leave them and never show up for years.

Worst, this impossible word to utter “Thank you for raising me

This “adult person” must be totally brainless Not to appreciate what it took to raise him to adulthood. And give him a chance to live his life.

It used to be the community responsibility to raising kids, by varied forma of organization and sets of values and myths.

And you find organizations coming down on women and girls contemplating to abort. Those girls who had to participate in raising younger siblings, this impossible foul mission that all eau de cologne will never get rid of its stench for a lifetime

Who is raising the kids nowadays? Schools for part of the day, but for the remaining of the day and night?

Mothers are No fools. It is Not the occasional stupid smile of the baby that can substitute to the toil of every second.

Boobs, where are the boobs cries the baby.

That’s all that count for the baby. And the other members and relatives can live their illusions that the mother is fulfilled and in a state of grace

How mother manages to recharge enough when given a few minutes of reprieve? That’s the main question that biologists have to focus their research upon.

 

 

 

“Burkini”? Swimming suits covering most of body banned in many beaches

Ghada El Yafi updated her status.

Je sais que ceux qui me connaissent savent à quel point je suis pour la laïcité, la sécularité.

Mais j’estime que cette campagne contre ce qu’ils ont appelé le “burkini” est une campagne inspirée par le sentiment de suprématie, de domination, de supériorité, de racisme.

Je défend le port du bikini à la plage, certes je défend la liberté des femmes dans les milieux islamistes fermés qui, sous prétexte de religion, se permettent d’abuser de leurs droits envers leurs épouse, soeur, fille et même mère.

Le problème des femmes arrivées en Occident est dramatique. Elles ne l’ont jamais choisi. Elles arrivent dans un monde dans lequel on leur demande subitement de changer leurs habitudes, leurs croyances, leur manière de vivre!

Ont-elles choisi de quitter leurs pays ou sont-ce les circonstances qui les y ont forcées? Dans le cas de la Syrie par exemple, auraient-elles subi de leur plein gré ces voyages de la désolation avec la traversée de mers en y laissant leurs proches enfants, parents, personnes aimées, ou est-ce la guerre qui les y a forcées?

Une guerre entièrement organisée par l’Occident à des fins politiques que je ne veux pas évoquer ici.

La terre ou qu’elle soit est la terre de Dieu. Les hommes qui se l’ont appropriée ne l’ont fait que par le fruit de hasard et ensuite en raison de la rapacité, de l’avidité et du fait d’une priorité arbitraire.

Pour ce qui est de la guerre, que ces combattants étrangers se retirent des pays où ils prétendent combattre pour l’Islam. Que les occidentaux, français inclus, cessent de leur prêter main forte.

Que les grandes puissances respectent les lois de Nations-Unies, et ces femmes avec leurs familles seraient les premières à vouloir rentrer chez elles.

Assez de “polémiquer” autour du “Burkini” qui n’est qu’une manière d’exprimer un racisme, un chauvinisme, ou simplement un ressentiment de ce qui ne nous ressemble pas.

Imaginez un peu un monde monomorphe, qui aimerait y vivre? Il serait des plus plats, des plus ennuyeux et les gens y inventeraient des zizanies pour se distraire.

Mais soyons sérieux. Dans un pays qui sacralise l’égalité et la liberté, le voilà qui commence à les restreindre. Pourquoi? parce que la propagande anti-Islam ainsi que le terrorisme -entretenu, bien-entendu- de Al-Qaida et succursales, a fait long feu?

Gardons à l’esprit qu’il a été utilisé par les USA pour servir ses causes mais a dérivé par la suite et n’est plus l’enfant obéissant qu’il était.

Pourquoi l’accoutrement de ces femmes qui déplaît (aux libanais, encore plus qu’aux français, toujours plus royalistes que le roi!) les dérange-t-il, au point de vouloir faire des lois à leur encontre?

Laissez donc la liberté vestimentaire à chacun dans l’espace public. Mais vous, européens, aidez donc vos dirigeants à arrêter leur ingérence dans les guerres si loin de chez vous, que la paix s’installe enfin, et toutes ces femmes “ridicules” seraient les premières à vouloir rentrer chez elles.

En attendant, il n’est pas inutile d’avoir un peu de compassion.
Boost indisponible

A few stories of regret?

There was a French girl student in my class of Physics/Chemistry at the university. We spent 2 years in that program and I don’t recall I have ever talked to her.

She was slim, slightly red-headed, hair cut a la garcon, rather flat-chested and elegant in her sober attire and wore the same flat shoes. I think she was pretty. It would have taken a forceful determination from any girl then to take the initiative and lead me to utter a few sentences.

Another regret. She occasionally paid her grandmother visits, from the other part of the continent. I occasionally wrote her letters in the name of her mentally handicapped grand mother.

One of the letter included a convoluted sentence that she picked up as a confession of love. And it was.
A couple of weeks later she showed up. She went jogging and rubbed her feet with lotion. She then asked me to go for a walk. She wanted a verbal confirmation.

I was in a rot with my PhD dissertation and lacked the spirit for such kinds of conversation. I couldn’t master enough craziness to blurt out: ” I find you a lovely, natural and compassionate woman. Take me with you…”
I didn’t see her again: I moved out to another old lady house whose son wanted someone to live with.

Another regret. It was winter of 1976. A Friday, and about 8:30 pm.  Alone, I am to watch a foreign movie, shown by the University Film Club at the Microbiology department.

She showed up with her girlfriend. She is blonde, blue/green eyed, not tall, not skinny.For my candid eyes, just the perfect beauty. I cowered. I should have made haste, join her, and say: “Fair lady, have a good look at my face.

A couple of days later, returning from the library at midnight, I saw her “studying” with my roommate. I had to piss badly and as I emerged, she was gone.

Another regret: When I first saw her I was mesmerized. She was wearing boots and a white shirt and looked gorgeous and stunning. I had to meet her in West Hollywood to convey her sister salutation who had a Lebanese boyfriend. She kept asking me about my friend, as if I was a mere messenger. She never knew that she made me walk on air the entire encounter

Note 1: I barely recollect a regret Not involving a beautiful girl whom I failed to engage with. The first lesson in classrooms for adolescent of both sex should be “how to engage a girl you think you like” and save a lifetime of accumulated regrets.

Note 2: You may read a detailed account of these regrets and much more in my category Auto-biography

 

Iranian Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani,

First Woman to Win the Fields Medal,

Dies at 40 of breast cancer in the U.S.

Mirzakhani was revered for her Fields Medal-winning work on complex geometry dynamical systems and paving an illustrious path for women in mathematics

“This is a great honor,” she was quoted as saying in 2014. “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians.”

 

Maryam Mirzakhani at a press conference after the awards ceremony for the Fields Medals
Maryam Mirzakhani at a press conference after the awards ceremony for the Fields Medals at the International Congress of Mathematicians 2014 in Seoul on August 13, 2014.

Maryam Mirzakhani, Iranian-born mathematician and the first woman to receive the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, has died in the U.S.

The Fields Medal was established in 1936, and Mirzakhani became both the first woman and first Iranian to receive the award for her work on complex geometry and dynamical systems in 2014.

The distinguished prize, often nicknamed as the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics,” is only awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under 40. 

“A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart… gone far too soon,” her friend, NASA scientist Firouz Naderi, posted on Instagram

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran and lived there until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University, later taking a professorship at Stanford University.

She had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, she said, but instead pursued her enthusiasm for solving mathematical problems.

“It is fun – it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case. I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path,” she said after receiving the Fields Medal.

Girls Wouldn’t Need Rape Whistles If Our Sons Weren’t So Entitled

Author: T-Ann Pierce

We NEED to have a talk about sex, entitlement, and rape culture.

With shock and awe, this election cycle has brought the topic of rape into our living rooms — and it’s about time.

It’s about time the subject of rape comes out of the closet. We’ve been pussyfooting around the topic for far too long and our sons and daughters deserve more from us.

The topic of sex is messy. It makes us uncomfortable.

For many parents, the topic of sex is off limits or best handled in the most general terms.

Talking to our kids about sex fills us with dread because we don’t want to think about our kids being sexually active. Often when we are willing to talk to our kids about sex, we keep the conversation short and focus on the basic facts, safe sex and/or abstinence.

Our kids not only need our guidance, they crave it.

Our teens and twenty-somethings aren’t having more sex than past generations did, but there is a more casual approach to sex today.

When you combine parental silence about sexuality with a culture in which children are rewarded for simply showing up, and then add easy access to instant-streaming pornography meant for adult eyes only — you have just created the perfect Petri dish environment for breeding what feels like an epidemic of sexual assaults.

Throw in a President-elect who openly brags about his conquests and entitlements and it’s no wonder we are in a panic.

We all “know” that forcing a woman to have sex against her will is wrong. (Learned it was wrong was recent from laws)

We believe widespread rape acceptance seems to be a problem only in far off, under-developed countries. It’s not a problem here at home.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. A study conducted in 2014 found that appropriate intolerance for non-consensual sexual interaction isn’t nearly as clear-cut as we want to believe it is.

According to an article in New York Magazine, researcher Sarah Edwards from the University of North Dakota and her team asked college-aged men to fill out two versions of a similar survey:

“One asked them which sorts of behaviors they would engage in ‘if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.’ It included items that both used the word rape and that instead described the act of forcing someone to have sex against their will without using the r-word itself. Other survey items assessed the participants’ levels of hostility toward women, hypermasculinity … and attraction to sexual aggression.

Almost a third of the men (31.7 percent) said that in a consequence-free situation, they’d force a woman to have sexual intercourse, while 13.6 percent said they would rape a woman …

Edwards and her team found that the men who endorsed rape when the term was used had higher hostility toward women and more callous attitudes about sex … The researchers think that ‘men who endorse using force to obtain intercourse on survey items but deny rape on the same may not experience hostile affect in response to women, but might have dispositions more in line with benevolent sexism.’”

So basically, the same men who may champion women’s rights, who consider themselves highly evolved, may not see forcing themselves on a woman as rape.

In fact, it may actually become an interesting possibility — they just won’t call it ‘rape’ if they choose to do so.

So we teach our daughters the anti-rape rhetoric we all know by heart:

  • Rapists are not limited to the creepy predator profile we were warned about in our youth.
  • Rapists are more likely to be someone we know rather than a stranger in a dark alley.
  • Rape often takes place in ‘safe’ places: apartments, homes and cars of friends, even by a boyfriend.
  • More often than not, rapists look like the men we trust most. They look like fun-loving, ambitious twenty-somethings. They look like clean-cut students. They look like nice boys. They look like your son. They look like mine.

And still, nothing changes …

We continue to point our fingers in the wrong direction.

Fraternities, rap music, and video games do not make rapists. Wealth and privilege do not make rapists.

Poverty does not make rapists. Broken homes do not make rapists.

No matter how a woman dresses or acts and no matter how many sexual partners she’s had, she never invites rape.

It is not a woman’s responsibility to not be raped. (She shares the responsibility if she behaves irresponsibly)

We have to stop shifting blame to easy targets and instead wake up to recognize that vaccinating our boys against rape MUST start when they are young.

We need to remind ourselves raising a young man who won’t rape isn’t a one-shot deal.

It takes years of vigilant parenting to instill those lessons and set them firmly into place.

We simply cannot pat these boys on the back as they leave home at 18, tell them that “No means no” and assume we’ve done our jobs. ( And if she says Yes? Are the consequences totally the girl’s responsibility?)

Rape culture comes from entitlement.

Entitlement doesn’t come from wealth.

Entitlement is formed when someone is allowed to think they are the center of the world and their needs outweigh those of another — that they should be allowed what they want when they want it.

Entitlement comes when children are constantly indulged.

When they are told “No” and yet are able to whine, complain, throw tantrums, threaten and negotiate until they get what they want.

Entitlement is born when bullying and bad behavior are tolerated over time.

Enough is enough.

We cannot continue to stand by and let our daughters fall prey to men who feel entitled to their bodies.

A mother who allows her son to manipulate, disrespect and talk back to her says to him loud and clear that it is okay to disregard women.

Parents who are too exhausted to demand respect teach their sons that wearing someone down is an acceptable means to get what you want.

Parents, teachers and coaches who make excuses for boys contribute to the rape culture in this country.


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