In this issue of 9 May 2021, Watani publishes coverage of a recent initiative launched by the Coptic Orthodox Church to protect women against violence; Watani International had covered that topic in its 25 April 2021 issue.
The Church’s initiative places it in a pioneering position that tackles Egypt’s social problems, and confirms its national, fully aware role not just as a Christian spiritual institution but also as one that is aware of society’s ailments and has input towards curing them.
The Church’s initiative is expressed in three declarations that stress zero tolerance of all forms of violence against women; protection against female genital mutilation (FGM); and women’s right to family planning excluding abortion. Given that these issues are crucial and rank high on the government’s agenda, it was no surprise that the National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the European Union Delegation and the United Nations Population Fund would participate in the initiative.
The initiative is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, I remain concerned about the root cause of the problems of women and girls in our society and their suffering from cradle to grave, the only reason being that they were born female. This shoulders them with a gruesome legacy of injustice that invariably pushes them to a rank lower than men and boys, doomed to be forever followers with their basic legitimate rights usurped. But the shocking truth I see, which I definitely do not evoke to acquit males from the injustice meted to females, is that women themselves are responsible for much of the injustice inflicted upon them. As mothers, women handle the upbringing, education, and discipline of the family; instilling the roots, fundamentals and rules that both men and women carry onto society. No school, university, church, mosque or even the law can undo harm instilled by home upbringing.
To make my point clear, I will here present a few forms of this day to day injustice. To start with, it is the mother who initiates discrimination against girls by displaying unashamed, unconcealed preference of sons over daughters. No surprise then that boys grow up believing they are better, while girls are reared to submit to that “reality”. Mothers give boys free rein to move about freely outside the home, while girls’ movements are strictly restricted. Girls in the family are taught and required to serve their brothers who are totally relieved of household duty. This pedagogy might have been excusable over a century ago when the social norm restricted women to their homes and deprived them of education and work which were then seen as superfluous. Today, however, such inequality is inexcusable with society offering women proper schooling and education, and requiring them to work and shoulder responsibilities and burdens alongside men. I will forever remain proud that I was brought up by a mother, herself a full time homemaker, who instilled in my three sisters and myself, the only son, the principle that “there is no difference between a boy and a girl”. The principle received my father’s blessing and was anchored by him being a role model of full collaboration in all household burdens and child responsibility. He did this with grace and a good heart, saying that his years as a Boy Scout had taught him to handle all and every responsibility.
Another serious aspect of inequality between men and women shows on preparation for marriage. More often than not, the mother instils in her daughter disastrous misconceptions, all under the nose of her sons. She says a wife should be the loyal servant of her husband, obeying all his requests and needs; the “man of the house” is to be obeyed; the woman is a follower who always comes second. Let alone the silent crime of refraining from talking to her daughter about the intimate relation of marriage under the pretext that it is shameful to do so, and might even feel proud that her son in law finds out that her daughter “knows nothing”. We are all aware of the gruesome repercussions of this situation. Thankfully, the Church years ago stepped in and set up courses to prepare couples for marriage and family. In fact, many of our fellow Muslims express admiration of these courses, and wish that there would be similar courses for Muslim couples contemplating marriage.
The right to work represents another discrimination against women. It is common for mothers to teach their daughters that work outside the home is a luxury they should abandon if asked to do so by their husbands. They misguide them into thinking that if the husband is financially able to provide all the family’s needs, he has the right to require a stay-at-home wife, and never mind her right to work or self fulfilment. The entire community pays the price in loss of the added value of the work and creativity of women, only to satisfy the vanity of men.
Equality in inheritance is also a major issue where home upbringing is pivotal. I will not bring up here the inequality regarding inheritance shares between men and women lest I am accused of questioning religious fundamentals; according to Islamic sharia, a man gets double the share of a woman in inheritance. What I focus on here is the fact that many families place the inheritance shares of their women in custody of the men in the family, under the pretext of protecting them against being usurped by “strangers”; this especially applies to real estate inheritance. More often than not, the women end up not even getting their legitimate shares.
These are but some forms of violence that women are subjected to inside the family, sponsored by mothers who nurture an outdated culture. What we actually need goes beyond the Church’s initiatives, and extends to the fundamentals of education which produce “offending” boys and “victimised” girls. I recall a quote by sociologist and human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim: “Even if all men agree to give women their rights, it would be the utmost affront to women. Because men are not to give or withhold women’s rights which should be granted and safeguarded by society; women represent half the society, and the society should protect them.” This is really the essence of women’s rights and violence against women in its wider scope.
7 May 2021