A second installment of “looking at where we’re making progress and where we’re losing ground” takes us to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Where we’re making progress:
The bravery, the sheer bravery is amazing! I’m referring to the gutsy, life-on-the-line decision by a 40-year-old housewife who has declared herself a candidate for the Pakistani Parliament. Badam Zari lives in the deeply conservative tribal region of her country that borders Afghanistan, but she wants “to reach the assembly to become a voice for women, especially those living in the tribal areas.”
Most EVE in Ms. Zari’s part of the world are not allowed education, rarely hold a job, and must strictly adhere to rules about covering every inch of their skin in public. But, despite these restrictions and social attitudes she is claiming her right to run for public office. Even if that will almost certainly bring her under personal and physical attack from Islamic militants who vehemently oppose any changes that threaten their stranglehold on society. This is especially true where she lives – a poor, isolated region in northwest Pakistan controlled by Pashtun tribesmen who follow an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Ms. Zari announced her decision at a news conference in Khar this week with only her eyes visible through the covering wrapped around her head and her body. I am truly humbled by her courage! (1)
Where we’re losing ground:
It’s such a simple thing. To get in a car and drive somewhere – work, a movie, a friend’s house. But in one of the richest nations in the world it is still taboo for EVE to drive, and they are accosted and punished if they try. This was made very clear to Manal al-Sharif when she defied the taboo and drove around Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 2011 while a friend recorded the event for YouTube.
This act of defiance brought her great personal satisfaction and a first ever award for Creative Dissent from the Oslo Freedom Forum. But it also brought death threats, arrest, and the need to leave her home country. The second time Ms. Al-Sharif drove her car she was stopped and surrounded by members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – the Saudi morality police. She was released after six hours, but rearrested the next day and held for a week until her father pleaded for a pardon and pledged that his daughter would never drive in the kingdom again.
These morality police hold great sway in Saudi Arabia and have the power to punish anyone they think is violating social customs. This was made horrendously clear to Saudi citizens when 15 young girls died in a schoolhouse fire because the morality police prevented their rescue saying they were improperly dressed. An appalling example of how no injustice is too ghastly if it protects the Manplan status quo.
Ms. Al-Sharif was pushed out of her job as a computer-security consultant, and now lives in Dubai with her second husband. But she must revisit the fear and uncertainty every weekend when she travels to Saudi Arabia to see her 7-year-old son. Her ex-husband will not allow the boy to travel outside the kingdom, so she is subjected to surveillance and monitoring whenever she goes to visit him. Such a simple thing. (2)
(1) The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida, April 2, 2013
(2) Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal, New York, New York, March 23-24, 20113