Sherif Samir, writing from Egypt
In the past year, during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, when the darkness of fanatical Muslims beset Egypt, and when it seemed that the spirit of resistance was fading, and people were giving up, I was observing women, wondering how the new situation was affecting their looks, their clothes, and their make-up, and I kept hope as long as women kept wearing tight pants, and lipstick, as long as I saw girls and boys walking together and laughing out loud “Fanatical groups will never own the heart of Egypt,” I thought to myself, “as long as women in tights are guarding the spirit of life.” And I was right.
You know that women are half of the human race, and they can change the future by raising a free new generation. Now you might be saying “Nonsense” – women in the west wear hot shorts but people there are still suffering under capitalism. Right, but remember, I’m Egyptian. The majority of women here are told to cover all their bodies all the time. Many are treated as though they are nothing but a piece of meat, and taught that they hold the honour of men between their legs. Religion sees women as a threat, dictatorship sees women as a threat, and parents see their daughters as a threat. Husbands see their wives as threat, and treat them as property with support from religion, law, and masculine society. They see in women a dangerous revolutionary potential. Sadly, almost 99%of Egyptian women face this oppression.
You see the point here? Women have got to realise how important and effective a free woman is. The reality now is, however, a sad one: many women ironically defend the misogynous values of masculine society. Even educated women still expect to be owned by men and to cultivate in their children the same beliefs that oppress women today. That’s how women are supposed to be in a devout Islamic country. So, I’m looking up to Egyptian women, wanting them to revolt, to change their destiny and thereby help change the world.
Dr Hakim, writing from Afghanistan
Once, her eyeliners darker than usual, she complained indignantly about a girl who had misquoted her, “ei…ei…either she..she goes, or I go!”
She works hard, weighing out the synthetic wool which 60 Afghan ladies use to make winter duvets. Her movements are more determined than that of most men. She is as ready to agree as she is to disagree.
One afternoon in Afghanistan, where music was once banned, she attended a music program. Two professional Afghan singers were invited, a Hazara and a Pashtun, both male. There were about 20 girls and just as many boys in the medium-sized, L-shaped room, the singers at the corner, and the girls on rows of duvets placed on the short arm of the L.
“Would anyone in the audience like to sing?”
Heads turned away. Eyes gazed down. Then…”Me!” she gestured. Her mouth wasn’t smiling. Her face was looking quite serious.
She took the microphone. A Pashtun music enthusiast, a drummer boy, sat down near her with the Afghan drum, the ‘dol’.
From outside, like a cloak, conservative public opinion seemed to weigh down on the roof, and to push against the windows : Patriarchs ask, “ A girl singing?”. The religious council delivers an edict stating that women are second to men. Over the airwaves, a conservative American militarist proclaims, as if in jest, that the most powerful army in the world is here to protect the rights of Afghan women like her, while more than 2500 women had committed suicide in a year.
She took the microphone, which was larger than her hand. Her eyelids were half-drawn, in momentary meditation, with a slight rhythm swaying in her neck.
She took the microphone…
The room paid attention. The audience hesitated. The ‘dol’ and the ‘dambura’ (an Afghan two-stringed, banjo-like instrument) were played by two men, as accompaniment.
With a scattering of tone-deaf notes, but with no stammers, she sang!
It appeared to me that the whole world broke out clapping.