Fodder of the Bride
We’ve all heard of the abominable practice of FGM, or female genital mutilation, but yesterday’s Wall Street Journalacquainted us with an additional horror inflicted upon women in Arab countries: gavage. Not the force-feeding of geese, but the intentional fattening of teen-age girls–particularly in the African country of Mauritania–in order to heighten their appeal as prospective brides. The Journal’s Gautam Naik reports the childhood experience of one Mauritanian woman.
When she was 8, her mother began to force-feed her. [She] was required to consume a gallon of milk and porridge for lunch. She was awoken at midnight and given several more pints of milk followed by a pre-breakfast feeding at 6 a.m.
If she threw up, her mother forced her to eat the vomit. Stretch marks appeared on her body and the skin on her upper arm and her thighs tore under the pressure. If she balked at the feedings, her mother would squeeze her toes between two wooden sticks until the pain was unbearable.
According to the Journal, Mauritania is–blessedly–the only country where gavage is systematically applied. (So-called “fattening huts,” where women beef up before marriage are common in certain African tribal cultures in places like Nigeria) As the paper explains,
In a land that suffers from a constant shortage of food, plump women are assumed to both wealthy and more likely to bear children.
A 2001 survey of 7,000 adult women carried out by the Mauritanian government (which also countences slavery, we should note) indicated that some 22 percent had been force-fed when young; 15 percent said that their “skin split as a result of over-eating;” 20 percent had their toes or fingers broken to make them eat.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “most men in Mauritania are slim,” the Journal observes.
Interestingly, the paper quotes a 19 year-old Mauritanian law student who is “slender by Western standards.” Her dieting secret?
exposure to Western TV show and magazines convinced her it’s healthier to maintain a middling weight.
Television, it seems, is good for something.
Divorce, Egyptian style
From the Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram we learn that a newHuman Rights Watch (HRW) report indicates that women suffer great inequalities under Egypt’s divorce laws. According to Al-Ahram writer Gihan Shahine, the report notes that Egyptian males enjoy
unilateral and unconditional right to divorce. They do not even need to enter a courtroom in order to end their marriages.
Women, conversely, must either prove harm (supported by witnesses), or forfeit their financial rights in a kuhl, or “no-fault divorce.” Worse, they must take their case to court, navigating a generally hopeless course through complicated procedures and evidentiary requirements that the HRW report calls “inherently discriminatory.” As a result, the reports concludes, women
either remain in an unwanted marriage and possibly endure physical and psychological abuse, or beg their husbands to divorce them, giving up everything they own and cherish in return.
A woman who leaves her husband and files for divorce can find herself the subject of legal harassment from her spouse, in addition to being denied access to government assistance because she is still married. Even after divorce, the Egyptian government often fails to enforce court rulings on alimony and child support.
One root of the problem is the co-existence of secular statutes and Islamic law called shari’a–which is other way of saying that Egyptian women suffer the lack of separation between mosque and state. The Egyptian constitution, for example, contains provisions for gender equality, and the government has signed international treaties observing equal rights. By the same token, however, Article 60 of the criminal code states
The provisions of the penal code shall not apply to any deed committed in good faith, pursuant to a right determined by virtue of the shari’a.
Translation: in certain cases, if you’ve done something “in good faith” following Islamic law, it’s not a crime. And what are those certain cases where Allah gives you a “Get out of jail free” card? An Egyptian member of the HRW teams tells Shahine
The government has been very selective in terms of where it requires shari’a to be the root of the law and where it doesn’t. This is, of course, a problem, because most of the places where the government requiresshari’a…are those where women bear the main brunt of the effect.
Are we surprised?
Article 60, the HRW contends, is “used to justify domestic violence,” and creates a situation where Egyptian law actuallysanctions the “‘disciplining’ of ‘disobedient’ women.” (In case you’re concerned about what kind of physical punishmentshari’a allows, you’ll be relieved to know that it cannot be 1) severe; 2) directed at a woman’s face; and 3) aimed at a “fatal blow area.”) As the report quotes one male Cairo poltician, “A man has the right in shari’a to discipline his wife.”
Unfortunately, If statistics are any measure, the politician’s wife probably agrees. Noting a 1995 government survey, the HRW comments, “violence is so normalized in Egyptian society” that
nearly 86 percent of the women surveyed thought that husbands were justified in beating their wives under certain circumstances. On average, 70 percent of the women surveyed between the ages of 15 to 49 felt that husbands were justified in beating wives who refused sex. An estimated 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 29 surveyed by the National Population Center said that violence was justified if a woman “talked back” to their husbands; 65 percent said a beating was justified for talking to another man; 42 percent for spending too much money; 26 percent for burning dinner; and 50 percent for neglecting the children.
Many women whom HRW interviewed “endorsed domestic violence as a legitimate form of punishment for disobedience.” Perhaps it’s time we dust off the old Marxist notion of “false consciousness?”
Finally, the fact that America-based HRW would have the audacity to propose alternatives to Islamic law has enraged many Egyptians–especially since the group recently released a report on, Allah preserve us, homosexuality in Egypt. According to Shahine, critics have accused HRW of having a “hidden agenda” linked to “U.S. social reform plans for the Middle East (if only; HRW denies this). Not only that, but many conservative Muslims have denounced the report as–one guess–“anti-Islamic.”
Are we surprised?
More: Jamie Glazov at Frontpage Magazine tackles the volatile issue of feminism and Islam. Check it out here.
Posted by Steven Vincent