Stories pouring forth about Saudi women fleeing abuse carry with them several myths. The most recent story revolves around two Saudi sisters, Reem and Rawan, trapped in Hong Kong for almost six months. The young women planned, plotted and saved to escape daily abuse, including beatings by their two brothers and father. At the time of their escape, their 10-year-old brother was also being indoctrinated into beating his older sisters.
Myth #1: Islam is the Blame
The first myth that is often carried downstream with these stories is that Islam is responsible for the horrendous and abusive treatment that ranges from beatings, imprisonment and crushing devastation of a full and exploratory life.
Quranic scripture includes a passage that arguably justifies minor beatings under consideration. While I don’t at all support that passage and have always challenged the passage without excuse, there is a pretty considerable leap to be made by saying that Islam allows for beating women freely. It does not. Nor does it allow for enslaving and imprisoning women. Consider that some of the most respected women in Islamic history include businesswomen and warriors – non of whom I’m sure were segregated from being contributing members of their community.
Among the cultural barnacles underneath the belly of the faith is this idea that women are to be protected as if they’re some fragile flowers withering under the slightest strain or pressure. While these ideas, which come from multiple influences, justify limiting a women’s options, they also call for women to be treated with gloves — velvet gloves, not boxing gloves. Respect, not repression.
As we all know, a culture that allows for regression of faith paired with un-evolved tribalism in which men hold all the power, is going to mutate into a type of civilization in which power holders become power abusers. That is the case in any dynamic where one group holds the power in a traditional sense while another group holds none. Think of classic studies between those playing the role of jailor and those playing the role of prisoners; it’s a condition ripe for abuse that does feel (become) enslavement.
The issue with women being beaten has to do with power, not faith.
Myth #2: This Only Happens in Other Countries
No, it happens everywhere. When we talk about “those poor women over there,” remember there are women over here too who deal with the same because culture migrates as well.
If immigrants coming into Western countries haven’t challenged or had their misogynistic views challenged, they burden their daughters with those safe views and trap them in parallel environments.
It happens everywhere.
BBC World Service recently aired a segment with short interviews with Pakistani women who shared what it’s like being a woman there. In a bold and candid set of exchanges, the women mentioned the day-to-day oppressive misogyny they face.
As a Pakistani woman who grew up in the West, my life experience was no different than any of those women. I had the same experience because the world outside my home was America, but the world behind closed doors was Pakistan.
We need to remember that there are women in the West who need our help, just as there are women in the East. We may not be able to help every Saudi woman fleeing, but we can be aware of someone closer to home who might need the same kind of support.