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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Suffer the Little Girls.

I'm rather pleased to see that the UAE is formally addressing the incidence of child rape and molestation and has proposed this 12 step initiative:

12 Recommendations by International Women’s Forum

  1. Provide sex education in schools
  2. Parents should delete ‘sex taboo’ from their dictionary
  3. Inform children about what is good and what is bad
  4. Awareness campaigns to tell people about the dangers of sexual harassment
  5. School sociologists should play a more effective role in supervising and controlling pupils’ behaviour and problems.
  6. There should not be gender segregation in the primary level to establish a natural communication between boys and girls
  7. Mothers should not leave their children alone with maids
  8. Grandmothers’ experience has a great role in raising children’s awareness about life’s dangers
  9. Children should wear decent clothes when going out
  10. Daughters should be with their mothers when interacting with outsiders and mothers must have an open communication with daughters
  11. Girls should have their private rooms at home
  12. Children should live their childhood to the maximum, by keeping them busy with activities

I agree that gender segregation at the primary level impedes the kids' abilities to form appropriate relationships with the opposite gender. Making something forbidden even in a context that's innocent is going to lead to misconceptions, the seeding of prejudices, and the creation of a taboo that never should have existed in the first place. I basically think points 1-6 are fairly easily done and reasonable.

I'm guessing since this was drawn up by the International Women's Forum they focused more on what the women and girls can do and not so much on what needs to be done on the male side of things. That's understandable as we are better able to influence our abilities to protect ourselves than to influence the actions of perverts who may not even be in control of themselves.

The problem is that a dark cloud still pervades my thoughts... I think that as long as there is any indication that women are lesser citizens, boys will learn pretty early on that they have the upper hand and automatically view the opposite sex in an unfavorable light.

Now of course rape and molestation still takes place in countries where women, frankly, get more rights than men. I don't think the Middle East is some sort of breeding ground for rapists and child molesters, but it would be a little more respectful of the women and girls if they weren't constantly reminded of their second class position and if rape was finally seen as a crime of the rapist and not the victim. Let's consider what most Middle Eastern boys are exposed to right from the start:

He sees his sister not being allowed to do the same things he can do in a social context (ie. going out).
He sees how his sisters inherit a smaller share because they are female.
He sees very few female politicians.
He sees mostly female maids running around doing everyone's bidding.
He sees stories of honor killings where the men may face no consequences.
He sees news stories where victims of rape may be punished.
He sees a news story of little girl who gets raped and the rapist is left unpunished because she wore a "see-through dress".
He is taught that women who dress immodestly are deserving of whatever abuse they get. (Now I don't think little girls should be allowed to dress like Bratz dolls or anything, but if she wears a summer dress that may appear see-through if the sun shines through it, is that really an open invitation to a violent sex act? Seriously? Seriously. However, I really wish parents would pay more attention to what their kids wear in some cases... While it shouldn't be an excuse for men to molest them, it really doesn't do anything for her empowerment or self-esteem. Oh God. I said "empowerment". Am I really a bra-burning feminist? I hope not.) This also leads to the boy's understanding that a man isn't held accountable for his actions if the woman was clearly "asking for it". Come on. How patronizing is that to men? You can't control yourselves if you see a bit of leg? I give you more credit than that.
He sees his older sister not being allowed to travel alone or go to college abroad while his brother goes to Amsterdam for the the third time.
He sees that the testimony of two female witnesses is required in court because the word of one woman isn't enough.
He sees men who have the right to more than one wife because one may not be good enough, but women are not permitted the same right if her man is infertile or if she fears she may stray (both valid excuses for men to take a second wife).

So with all this and more, how can he not come to the conclusion that women's thoughts, feelings, and pain are worth less in society's eyes?

Luckily, I grew up with a lot of boys and men who respected their mothers and that respect extended to other women in their lives. All of the Arab, Indian, and Pakistani guys I hung out with were very respectful of women and I never felt that they thought any less of me. They were educated, had traveled, and hung out with women socially. I wish I'd thought to tell their mothers and fathers that they'd done a good job raising their sons!

Despite the negativity of this post, I do think they're doing a wonderful thing by pursuing this and I hope the results save at least one child from suffering.


iblisette said...

Indeed it is a step forward, but I am dismayed by some of the proposed steps, particularly the one on clothing.

Great analysis though - I wholeheartedly agree with you.

RandomGirl said...

Can you direct me to where I can get more information about the dress of younger girls in the UAE. Perhaps girls aged 5-15, and cultural norms on make-up, nailpolish, fancy dresses, etc?