The Plight of Women in the Middle East - Zahra Hussain

The brutal assassination of Zahra Hussain, vice President of the Movement for Justice party, in Pakistan on the eve of an election, is only a re-run of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007.  Intelligent, educated, committed women are not welcome in Pakistan's murky political world.

In the past 50 years the position of women in society in the Middle East has worsened rather than improved as a more fundamentalist and male-centred interpretation of Islam has taken hold.  We in the west often complain about the existence of the Glass Ceiling which limits our progress, but in the middle east the only ceiling women are likely to see is the ceiling of their own home, and they are less and less likely to get an education.  Last year a 14 year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in Pakistan for campaigning for education for girls.

Members of the Afghan Parliament debating a presidential decree that has protected women from domestic violence and children from forced marriage, refused to support its passage into law, which means that when President Kharzai goes (and he will) women and girls will no longer have that protection. That there was opposition to the decree from women shouldn't surprise anyone who has worked for the feminist cause.  In Afghanistan, women were told by men, and Mullahs, that they could no longer consider themselves Muslims if they supported the vote.

How we in the west fight the 'war on terror' affects the plight of women - and our record isn't good.  In Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan (to name only 3 countries) their lives are more difficult - and when we condone corrupt and brutal regimes in return for oil, or political support, we also condone their actions towards women and children. War - any kind of war - is always hardest on families, as powerful men (and sadly it is usually men) fight for power.  Somewhere, somehow, this has to stop. We have to make it possible for women to speak out without risking their lives. 

These are the things I worry about when I wake up in the night.  But it's four am, so I'd better put my soap box away and go back to bed!


  1. The capacity of people to hate and dominate is endlessly distressing.


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