Wednesday, December 12, 2007

To be a man...

As a part of my current internship, I was given a tall stack of research and policy reports that have been written about the status and progress of women in this country and the Arab world. I haven't read them all that carefully, as they are really quite repetitive and, really, they don't say a whole lot that I didn't already know. Plus, my Arabic is still not what it should be, and about half of the reports were written in Arabic, so that's a bit of a chore.

But yesterday I was working my way through a report on the status of violence against women and women's human rights here in 2004 when I stumbled upon an interesting statistic:

28% of women surveyed wish they had been born male.

The authors added the stipulation that they think it would be more, but likely many of the respondents mistook the question to be asking whether they were happy with what God made them, so they may have assumed that to have said they wished they were male would have been a rejection of God.

So at least 28% of women in this country wish they had been born male?

I found that to be such a shocking statement (I'd never really thought about which gender I'd prefer - being a woman has always seemed to simply be a part of who I am, not better not worse than being a man), that I shared it with with the three women in the room with me (who are from this country). Well, immediately, the senior-most of them said, "Well, I wish I were a man."

So I naturally replied, chin hanging on my chest, "Really?"

And she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that she has often wished she were a man.

There is one way in which I will always be a five-year-old: I can't help but ask why. Ever. (Well, unless it seems so incredibly inappropriate that I try to stay quiet and stare at the person in a questioning way that makes it obvious I want to know why; it usually works.) So I asked her why.

She explained to me how everything falls on her. She is the one who needs to make sure her children are fed and that they go to school. She is the one who worries if her son is sick or if her daughter is pestered at school. There are some men who really look out for their wives and families even if hers doesn't; but even so, a woman doesn't have a choice. It all falls on her.

It seemed to me that she was saying that she wishes that she had a choice to not care. So I responded by suggesting that this was because she had the heart of a mother, because it was her heart - not her gender - that kept her plugging away even when a man might give up and just live his life for himself.

But as the conversation went on, as we talked about other rather shameful topics regarding women in this society that are generally kept secret and avoided at all costs... she kept coming back to specific issues facing women. For example, if a marriage is bad - and I mean real bad - a woman doesn't really have a recourse. If her family will help her out, then that's good. Otherwise, what choice does a woman have than to suffer? In cases like these, she says, who could blame a woman for choosing something that is so against her religion... like having an abortion?

Yes, it is right to believe in God, she said, but who's to blame if we fear life?

So... I shouldn't be surprised to hear that sex-change surgeries are actually not uncommon in this region. And I should be encouraged that there are currently a number of projects and discussions underway to provide services, including vocational training, for battered women. It's a new concept that a woman might be able to provide for herself and her children by herself, but an exciting concept it is.

The next day, I asked her directly what she thinks are the biggest needs of the woman in this country, to improve her lot in life. She talked about material and emotional assistance, including training and networking. But what it came down to was: respect.

1 comment:

tony said...

Well the quarter is over and I can now catch up on your posts. Sounds like you've been having interesting interactions over there. It seems like things are very thought provoking over there. I hope things find you well as the holiday season is upon us. As for myself I'm finishing grading the some exams so they ought to be fun. The interpretation of the Civil Rights Movement for the students seems to be more incorrect than ever. Talk about driving your instructor MAD!

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