On International Women’s Day, our top 10 picks for women’s rights stories
“They said, ‘You are a savage and dangerous woman.’ I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous” — Nawal El Saadawi.
MASIH SADAT – EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
On this important day, we celebrate. We celebrate the progress brought about by the blood, sweat, and tears of valorous individuals worldwide. We stand in solidarity. With the bold voices who at this very moment are speaking up and acting against the powers determined to maintain the unjust systems that have robbed too many of their rights and freedoms for too long. And we continue the fight. For we are far from our goal.
From the very beginning, The Turban Times has had as one of its key objectives to bring to light women’s rights issues and empower local voices in the regions that we cover. It was one of the reasons that we launched the magazine and remains still today a dominant element of our media project, materialized particularly in our Women in Focus section. As Editor-in-Chief, I will continue to work to keep this important focus.
Though our magazine is still young and our archives therefore still limited, in honour of International Women’s Day 2019 we’ve decided to list our top picks for stories from our Women in Focus section that our bloggers, writers, and partners have produced since our launch in 2016.
So without further ado, here is our top 10 list. Happy International Women’s Day!
10 – Meet Saudi’s badass woman who wants to beat the stereotypes
She is a badass female activist who, in spite of the many challenges and restrictions contained in the conservative society, chose to do business in the middle of the Saudi capital city, Riyadh. She is a norm breaker and a stubborn businesswoman who paved her way into the Saudi entrepreneurial market and fought the men of her hometown, every inch of the way.
Those are the words best used to describe Saudi entrepreneur and provocateur, Thara Sudairy, who our writer Souha Al-Mersal got the chance to talk to in Amman. Thara was just 25 when she decided to start one of the few entrepreneurial ventures driven by a woman in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and thereby also challenging the stereotypical images of women in the Middle East.
9 – The Omani village that’s empowering women through entrepreneurship
Just across the road from the serene looking green domed mosque on Sidab Road, there is a quaint little house. Its door is painted a calm blue and a blue sign indicates that you have reached the community centre of ‘Sidab Women’.
Sidab Women’s Sewing Group was founded in 2004 by Badriya Al Siyabi. Badriya grew up in Sidab, but spent time living in the US as a young adult. While there, she experienced community centres and the positive impact they can have in terms of personal growth and empowerment. Back in Oman, Badriya decided to set up Sidab Women’s Sewing Group to empower the women of her village and provide them with a means to an independent income.
Our Gulf Editor Tone Delin Indrelid writes about the Sidab Women Community House and how it’s making a positive, sustainable impact on local women’s lives.
8 – Meet three of North Africa’s leading women’s rights activists
What is it like to be a feminist in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, and what kind of challenges and prospects do the women deal with in these North African countries?
The Turban Times editors Hanan Chemlali and Masih Sadat sat down with three of the leading women’s rights activists in the region, Amel Fahmy, Fatima Outaleb, and Mounira Hammami, and had a talk about their experiences, stands, and visions.
7 – Labour Day in Lebanon: This is how domestic workers celebrated
Day off for Labour Day? Not for your maid.
Lebanon’s domestic workers – the majority female – come under the Kafala system; an active (but questionably legal) sponsorship system used across the Gulf and Middle Eastern states, which effectively enslaves domestic workers to their employers, making them vulnerable to horrific abuses.
“It is clear that these girls are to Lebanon, what oil is to the Gulf. The vast scale of the abuse leaves a dark stain on the self-proclaimed most liberal country in the Middle East,” writes Sarah L. Page in her article about Lebanon’s domestic workers.
6 – How to make feminist art in a cultural crossfire
“I was wondering why I remained so calm while Noor got sick in her stomach about the situation. Maybe it was simply because Ramlet el Baida was not my beach, Lebanon was not my society, and the harassment was not my problem. I was no more than a tourist who could watch and then leave. Noor on the contrary was living in the middle of it and had no way of escape. What we witnessed on the beach brought her in a discussion with herself over the rights and wrongs of her own society. As she later told me: “When I was in the space, I thought, ‘is it my fault?’ Am I provoking them? Am I doing something wrong? Because the majority thinks different than me. It was just us against all of these guys. But when I got myself out of the situation, I realized that they were wrong to do this.”
This is a story about the creation of an art installation on sexual harassment, a Beirut artist struggling to get her message out right, and how I let myself harass on purpose by having bikini photos hung up in smartphones from the ceiling in an exhibition room.”
“During one taxi ride, the sermon was about how women should not leave the vicinity of their homes, they shouldn’t walk on streets, and ride bicycles. The preacher went to say that “true Muslim women” are like diamonds and by coming outside the house and walking or riding bicycles, they lower their value to that of street pebbles. He argued that nobody values and puts a street pebble on a ring as a jewel. I just held on through this taxi ride. When I reached my destination, I got off the taxi and as I was handing the cab ride fee to the driver, I gathered all the energy I could muster and politely told him that women are not diamonds or pebbles – we are living, breathing humans and we do not wish to be used as ring jewels or anything else.
I don’t feel safe in taxis. I can’t get used to the catcalls. Buses are overcrowded and prime location for groping. If you are not wealthy and don’t own a car, there is no safe transportation for you in Kabul. The harassment occurs regardless what you wear or who you are with.”
Number 5 on the list is a blog entry by an Afghan teacher who shares her reality as a woman in Kabul, published by our partner Free Women Writers.
4 – Meet the poet who created a safe space for emotions in Beirut
“It was such a cathartic moment,” Maysan tells. “I got up, and before reading my poem, I spoke about Borderline and the struggles it causes.”
The Borderline diagnosis is not broadly understood – neither among researchers nor in Lebanese society. It is often taken lightly, she explains. For this reason, Maysan was fearful that the audience would misunderstand her or perhaps label her as dramatic.
Yet, the reaction she received was support and acknowledgement.
The story of Maysan Nasser sharing her experiences with Borderline illustrates very well what ‘Sidewalk’ is: a space for sharing subjects which are otherwise silenced.
3 – The Housemaid’s Tale: “We need to make a good future. That’s why we come here”
““Some 250 million people are international migrants – people who leave their home countries for opportunity or safety,” states a recently published report from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), discussing why migration is a feminist issue. It goes on to point out that nearly half of these migrants are female, and that a large part of female economic migrants are employed as domestic workers.
The GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) all employ small armies of domestic workers. In Oman, the majority hail from South East Asian countries like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, and increasingly, women arrive from African countries.
The lives of domestic workers can be hard to learn about, as they spend much of their time behind closed doors, within the confines of the private domestic sphere. Sunita, a Sri Lankan woman in her mid-30s, agreed to share her migration story with me after knowing me for three years. I asked her how she came to work in Oman, what her motivations are, what she hopes to achieve and what her hopes and dreams for the future are.”
Our Gulf Editor Tone Delin Indrelid sits down with a domestic worker in Oman and discovers a story of strength and determination.
Fatima is standing in the center of the living room. The light brown hijab covers her hair and she is wearing her finest long black dress that makes the gold she is wearing shine even more. She seems shy, and when our eyes meet, she looks down and hides her smile. She is young and extremely beautiful. One of her siblings places a pink chair in the middle of the room where Fatima sits down. She is silently looking and awaiting. She has agreed to meet us and tell the story of her marriage.
This is the story of Fatima, whose childhood ended too early. Like many other young Syrian girls, she was married off by her parents at age 16. She got caught up in a situation she couldn’t control, abused and kept isolated by a young Syrian man and his family.
At first, it was challenging for Salwa to navigate through Gaza’s often rough streets with the red bus. In addition, she was met with many astonished, surprised stares from the conservative society. However, she has a strong sense of self-esteem and stuck with it. She believes that every new “phenomenon” is met with skepticism, but the people eventually get used to it and even accept it. She carries on driving and even sometimes gives explanatory talks.
At the age of 63, Salwa Srour became Gaza’s first female bus driver.
The Turban Times is a completely independent magazine, run by bloggers and journalists who believe strongly in the importance of the stories that we publish.
If our readers chipped in occasionally, with what they can afford, we would be able to continue telling important stories from the Middle East and North Africa region – and you would ultimately keep us financially and editorially independent.
Click here to contribute with a single donation or become a regular supporter: