Monday, April 11, 2011

Veils, Dictators, and Virginity Tests

Women occupy spaces around the world that threaten their freedom, dignity and autonomy:


A law in France banning women's veils went into effect today, upholding the country's extreme secular attitude. Rumors suggest President Sarkozy was also hoping to boost his approval ratings-- which sank even lower, with anti-Islamic regulations.

Face-covering garments are now punishable by a $217 fine and "citizen lessons" focusing on human dignity. Exceptions will be made for welding masks, mortorcycle helmets and other non-religious necessities.

France is home to a significant Muslim population and many women are already protesting the inconsistent regulations, blatantly biased against Islam. While other European countries have attempted to ban veils in schools or government buildings, little is done to enforce these looser restrictions.

But is there not an obvious, paternal hypocrisy in oppressing veiled women to save them from being oppressed? While the state cannot mandate cultural or relgious values, can it force people to give them up?


A few weeks ago, the media met Eman al-Obeidi; the woman who burst into their Tripoli hotel room, claiming she had been raped by Gadhafi's militia.

According to CNN reports, "her face was heavily bruised. So were her legs. She displayed blood on her right inner thigh." She was pulled away by hotel employees-- later revealed to be government agents.

Gadhafi's men attempted to discredit her, claiming she was drunk, mentally unstable, and a prostitute. Last week, Anderson Cooper inteviewed al-Obeidi, who explained she is still in danger.

Captured at a check-point and held in captivity for days, she was tortured by the same troops meant to protect the Libyan people. After al-Obeidi escaped, she ran to American journalists-- who she believed would be more helpful than the authorities.

"I know I could even die, but there's something we are trying to tell the world," she said.

Once intercepted and interrogated by Gadhafi's secret police, al-Obeidi was released, only to be kidnapped and beaten again. She is constantly monitored and threatened daily.

The Libyan media denounced her for being unpatriotic and a traitor. The men she identified as her rapists are threatening to sue her for slander.

In her "conservative" Muslim society, "there's no mercy for women who have been raped." But al-Obeidi and her family are more "moderate," condemning Gadhafi's corruption and abuse of power.

She said she will keep talking, despite her fear, because she has nothing left to lose.


While Egypt's revolution was celebrated as a victory against dictators, Amnesty International is investigating more human rights violations the army committed against citizens.

Several women arrested by army officers while protesting in Tahrir Square last month confessed they were beaten, strip searched, and given "virginity tests" to verify allegations that they were prostitutes.

Viginity tests are degrading and sexist, not to mention scientifically impossible. Because the word "virginity" is not an actual medical term, there is no possible way for a "doctor" to prove whether a woman has participated in vaginal sexual intercourse. But proof is never really an issue-- the results of these bogus inspections are predetermined.

Male soldiers also took pictures of the women while they were naked. Moving from one prision to the next, the protesters were tortured and receieved electric shocks while detained by the Egyptian military.

As Amnesty International asserted, men and women should be allowed to participate in their government and activism without unlawful imprisonment or gendered abuse. Needless to say, when men are arrested in Egypt, no one administers "virginity tests."

Onlookers are concerned Egypt may have traded Mubarak for a military dictatorship.

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