Selahattin Demirtas, who is the co-leader of the ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (HDP) in Turkey, will be stepping down from his position. This comes after a recent HDP party meeting where a letter from Demirtas was read out before the congress. It is a heavy blow to the Kurdish party, which is the third largest and youngest Turkish party in government.
Since its founding in 2012, the primarily left-leaning party has been a welcome breath of fresh air in Turkish politics. Fighting for Kurdish rights, secularism and desiring to re-establish a democratic Turkey, HDP’s presence in government is in stark contrast to the Justice and Developments Party’s (AKP), which has ruled the country since 2002. Selahattin Demirtas was elected co-leader of HDP in 2014, along with Figen Yuksekdag, and both have fought passionately in Turkish parliament against the various injustices that have been wrought by AKP rule.
Prior to the formation of the HDP out of the ‘Peoples’ Democratic Congress’ (HDK), the Kurdish movement in Turkey had been largely framed by the war between the ‘Kurdistan Worker’s party’ (PKK) and the Turkish State. The PKK has been engaging in an armed struggle against the Turkish state since 1984, where the organisation prior to this had been a civil rights movement (it was founded in 1978). This war brought Kurdish issues to the forefront and started a discussion in the 90’s over the ‘Kurdish question’ – a term that has since referred to conversations over Kurdish rights, homeland and so forth.
When the PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been jailed in isolation on Imrali island since his capture by the Turkish ‘National Intelligence Organisation’ (MIT) in 1999, was contacted by AKP government in 2013 to discuss a solution to the conflict, HDP MP’s took part in negotiations. Turkish state media has since framed such engagements between HDP and PKK as being indicative of a partnership between the two. Accusing HDP of being a political wing to the PKK, these outlets’ (Daily Sabah etc.) contrived a narrative of events that would be later used by AKP as justification to jail HDP members.
Upon the election of Demirtas to party co-leadership in 2014, the Rojava revolution had been in full swing in Syria and a revitalisation of the Kurdish movement in the Middle East had taken hold. However, this revitalisation did not come without its challenges. Another group in Iraq and Syria had emerged out of the instability and chaos. The ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS) had emerged and grown exponentially. Its growth had brought with it great suffering and bloodshed, and was now on the doorstep of a small Kurdish city in northern Syria called, ‘Kobane’.
The besieging of Kobane at hands of Islamic State militants created a huge outcry in Turkey. Thousands of Kurds in the country protested the inaction of the new president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. In Diyarbakir (Kurdish capital of Bakur) and places like Mursitpinar, Kurds vocalised their support for fellow Syrian Kurds. During the siege of Kobanî, Turkish forces watched from a distance and closed the border between Syria and Turkey, forcing hundreds of fleeing civilians from Kobanî to return. A charismatic Demirtas was one of most vocal proponents for intervention to stop ISIS’ siege and one of biggest critics of Erdogan’s lack of action.
Soon after ISIS besieged Kobani, the US delivered the necessary assistance in the form of airstrikes that helped break the siege. This led to a victory for the ‘People’s Protection Units’ (YPG) who had been holding out against ISIS for months. After this victory, Demirtas became an increasingly pernicious thorn in Erdogan’s side. As the young HDP leader did not stop his criticisms of the president in parliament. These criticisms would culminate in his arrest in November of 2016.
When a military coup was foiled by AKP in 2016, Erdogan blamed the coup’s orchestration on Fethullah Gulen and his organisation, ‘The Gulen movement’. The president used the failed coup attempt as a pretext to arrest thousands of individuals, whether they be Gulenists or not. I have mentioned in my writing before that this was the spark that consolidated Erdogan’s, ‘Republic of Fear’. Thousands of members of government, education, law and rival parties were arrested on terrorism charges, as ErdoÄŸan unleashed a purge on the country.
In a speech that was delivered before the Turkish parliament in 2016 Demirtas highlighted the power that Erdogan had been given from the foiled coup and his abuse of that power. However, for Demirtas and for many other HDP members’ comments, many – including Demirtas – were arrested. Arrested without trial, the HDP leader and members of the party have since remained in jail ever since.
The new year of 2018 brought with it striking news for Kurds and supporters of HDP in Turkey, as before a recent HDP party meeting and regarding future party elections for February 11th, a letter was read from Demirtas that stated that he would be stepping down from party leadership. This comes as a sad development, but an understandable one, as the party’s main leadership is behind bars and cannot effectively run the party well in this state. Such a development has brought with it concerns for the future.
Debates over the Kurdish Question have resurfaced in Turkey, as Erdogan’s incursion in Syria in 2016 (operation Euphrates Shield) to stop YPG, which Ankara considers to be a Syrian PKK branch, and increasing crackdowns in the country have brought forth a discussion over the place of Kurds in the Middle East. Whether AKP has meant for this or not, there are large numbers of Kurds, both in Turkey and out of it, that do not trust the Turkish government. There are still Kurds who do not identify as Turks within the country and the banning of Kurdish terms in parliament does not help the AKP to convince Kurds of the fairness of the government to them.
The length of imprisonment for some HDP members, if the pro-AKP justice system is anything to go off, looks to be quite long. For Kurds, the major parties beside HDP, such as CHP and MHP, do not fight for Kurdish rights. Each of the major parties either has a Kemalist, Turkish Nationalist or Islamist ideology that have each been historically rooted in anti-Kurdish sentiment. As a result, there are many Kurds who do not feel that the government represents their interests and have supported HDP as a result, because they feel it to be an avenue for representation.
What is evident is that the country is in a precarious position, as increasing opposition towards Erdogan’s government coupled with a failing foreign policy, repressive policies and creeping Islamist decrees have put a lot of the country on edge. Regardless of what may happen and what can be speculated for the future, what is known now is that many Kurds desire a change in how the government treats them. It is up to the government of Turkey to heed their calls.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson (05/01/2018)
Original piece on the Region website can be found here: https://theregion.org/article/12375-homage-to-demirtas-as-he-steps-down-more-leaders-will-rise
Stories of those forcefully taken from their homes by ISIS’ militants and sold into slavery are just haunting reminders of the tyranny that Daesh (ISIS) has wrought on so many, during its seizure of power in Iraq and Syria. Yazidi women were some of the worst effected by ISIS, as many witnessed their families butchered, homes destroyed and children taken. Having to undergo emotional, psychological and physical trauma through rape, beatings and abuse that is too graphic to mention in detail is unimaginable, yet there were thousands who experienced this — one being Nadia Murad.
Nadia Murad speaking at the UN.
When parts of Shingal (another name for it is ‘Sinjar’) — a district located in the North of Iraq and home to a large proportion of Yazidis — were taken by ISIS’ militants in August 2014, the world witnessed a brutal and bloody campaign of slaughter. Those Yazidis who had not yet fled to the Shingal mountains by the time ISIS arrived, and who instead became trapped in villages at the bottom of its slopes, bore the brunt of ISIS’ brutality. In villages like Kocho, men were forced to either convert — as Yazidis are considered to be pagans by ISIS — or be executed. Many refused ISIS’ demands to convert, resulting in hundreds of Yazidi men being butchered and thousands of women, some as young as twelve and taken from their schools, being forced into slavery. Nadia Murad was one of these women who was captured. Nadia was just nineteen, when she witnessed her brothers butchered before her eyes and was sold off into sex slavery. Taken to Mosul, Nadia endured three months of horror before luckily escaping. She has since gone on to speak out about the injustices of ISIS and the need to bring ISIS’ militants to trial.
Nadia returned to her village in Kocho in Late May, 2017 — just after it was liberated by Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU), a collection of a majority Shiite militias backed by the Abadi government of Iraq (1). It is evident that years of trauma and horror at the hands of ISIS, especially when family and friends were taken, executed and sold, came flooding back to Nadia, as upon returning she cried out in agony around the ruins of desolate buildings in the village. For many of the young taken by ISIS, the trauma still stings and such experiences that Nadia has faced will not be forgotten any time soon. Since 2016, Nadia has been the UN’s goodwill ambassador.
Nadia’s story, which has been documented in a ‘Time’s’ article from 2015 (2), also highlights the barbarity of ISIS and the suffering experienced by those sold into sex slavery. For example, Nadia recalls how some women would throw battery acid on their face, just to avoid being picked by militants for sex. Women enslaved are treated as objects to be used and abused, where militants share and trade them amongst one another. This sex slavery network, where militants buy, sell and gift sex slaves to other militants between Iraq and Syria, is very popular — narcotics comes close too. After being captured and interviewed, a wife of an ISIS militant — wives are treated differently to sex slaves, as these wives came to the caliphate voluntarily — explains how this operation works below(3).
Another Yazidi woman that was taken into slavery by ISIS was Nihad Alawsi (4). She was just fifteen, when militants abducted her. In slavery, Nihad was beaten, raped by multiple men and forced to have a child — to describe her experiences as, ‘going through hell’ would not come close to reality. This woman was beaten, raped repeatedly and verbally abused by her ‘owners’. Nihad is scarred, both physically and mentally, and has developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over what she had to go through in those months of captivity, but she is not the only one. Many Yazidi women who have been liberated from ISIS have shown signs of trauma and now have to undergo serious psychological treatment (5). This only further highlights the impact that ISIS has had on the psyche of people, especially the Yazidi community.
Put simply, ISIS committed a genocide in Shingal through its deliberate targeting of Yazidis for slaughter and its mass enslavement of Yazidi women(6). Targeted for their identity, Yazidis who managed to escape ISIS’ clutches are still dealing with the trauma. Some, like Nadia Murad, have decided to help other victims and raise awareness of what happened at Shingal. Others, however, have decided to take up arms and take the fight to ISIS. Joining the Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) in Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) and those in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), Yazidi fighters now are the ones on the hunt. There still remain many more of their fellow friends and family trapped by ISIS, in places like Raqqa — Syria. These fighters desire now simply to help liberate those they care for. And they are not the only ones.
In 2014, it took a concerted effort from multiple forces, such as the Peshmerga, Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the United states, to prevent further slaughter in Shingal region. Those Yazidis who fled to the Shingal mountains, out of fear for their family’s safety, had help provided to them by the PKK who brought arms and training to Yazidis that had escaped ISIS during this period. These Yazidi fighters formed with The Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ) for self-defence and brought the fight back to ISIS. These units have since gone on to cooperate with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their fight against ISIS in Syria.
Sinjar Resistance Units arriving at the Raqqa front.
Nearly three years on since the Yazidi genocide took place in Shingal, when the world watched ISIS expansion in Iraq, and the Yazidi community is slowly returning to the region. However, ISIS is far from defeated, but the forces that are bringing it closer to its death are made up of those who care for others. Those forces fighting against Daesh intend to oust its presence from their homes and liberate those held captive — to turn back the years of tyranny. There are Yazidis who fight with SDF that want to free their sisters from slavery. And it is that struggle that will be won, but only through unity, support and determination. As for those Yazidis and many other women who have been liberated, it is clear that serious help will have to be given to them, especially psychological help. This will all happen in time, but until then, we can only fight till its over.
Written By Anthony Avice Du Buisson (27/07/2017)
Original version can be found at Areo Magazine here: https://areomagazine.com/2017/07/30/nadia-murad-and-yazidi-sex-slavery-under-isis/
When during human developments, current establishments prove to be unjustified and tyrannical to the requests of human dignity and rights – when these bodies only wish to subjugate, steal and dictate humankind – the individuals within a society most oppressed have the eternal right to dissent against, and revolt against, these establishments. Moreover, for those who wish to spectate to this injustice against human dignity, may it be known that those who are spectators of injustice are unknowing accomplices to tyranny. One must take a stand when the moment demands it. One must speak up to break the silence that comes from fear and inaction.
History shows that in every epoch, there are those who are willing to go against what a society deems ‘moral’, ‘traditional’ or—more condescendingly— ‘normal’ in pursuit of their own identity. Leading lives that inspire others to follow a similar course of action—from Rosa Luxemburg to Mona Eltahawy. These individuals do not choose their paths out of joy but rather out of a desire to escape what is around them and to seek out or ‘create’ a better realm. Often doing so as part of a minority, these individuals nonetheless fight fiercely for dignity, autonomy, identity and other values that make for a better humanity. However, this journey is not easy and many face serious penalties for even daring to take the road less travelled. No better examples of the cost for dissenting then in those societies that depart from human dignity and rights, such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
One of the largest kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (abbreviated ‘KSA’) lays claim to many things; notably, Islam’s holiest sites—Mecca and Medina—and oil reserves that span across its large desert. For these many things, however, KSA also is home to an archaic system of laws that gets its reinforcement from culture, tradition and religion. Those who disobey or dissent from these laws have serious punishments to face, from imprisonment and lashings to execution via public beheading. (Dare to criticise the government and you will find yourself taken away by police, as was the case for blogger Raif Badawi who posted commentaries on Saudi Society and was sentenced to a thousand lashes and imprisonment in 2012. He remains in prison to this day, despite his wife Ensaf Haidar’s activism.) These laws reach all aspects of Saudi society and benefit those few who are wealthy and powerful. However, what is notable is the way tradition and religion play a large part in Saudi society, as both extend to the private sphere and defy the roles of men and women. Women’s role being the worse within Saudi Society, as is evident with the Male Guardianship system.
Slavery still exists, and it comes in a variety of different shapes and forms: The Male Guardianship system is one. Male Guardianship is a system within Saudi Society that requires women to have a male ‘guardian’, which is usually a male relative who must accompany and give permission to a woman for her to be allowed to do tasks. From wanting to travel abroad to wanting to seek an education or even medical help, under Saudi law a woman is required to have a Guardian who can grant permission. Furthermore, if a woman should be involved in a domestic abusive relationship with their guardian, then the guardian’s rights supersede those of the woman—under Saudi law. This means that should a woman complain to Saudi authorities of abuse by her guardian, the word of the guardian is listened to first. The Male Guardianship system is geared to favour Male Guardians. Denying autonomy, financial independence, identity and rights for women, Male Guardianship eclipses the life of a Saudi Woman and denies her a future by herself. It is a system that makes women slaves.
Moreover, the quality of a woman’s life depends entirely on her Guardian. There are guardians who are liberal in their approach and allow women to travel abroad, seek an apartment or work. However, and what must be noted, is that just because the quality of a woman’s life may be good in some parts in KSA, it does not negate the negative experiences of women who depart from said ‘good experience’. In other words, just because some slaves are treated better than others, does not deny what happens to the majority of slaves and the reality of slavery. As for every one woman in Saudi Arabia that benefits, there are at least ten others who do not. This must be recognised, as there are always apologists and PR spokes people that Saudi Government is more than happy to prop up, who will deny this and who will state how ‘nice’ women are treated in KSA. Others will justify the treatment of women by appeals to analogies, often along the lines of claiming Saudi women are ‘queens’ who must be protected. Even though queens are treated better than Saudi women are—having their own autonomy, as well as subjects to command—analogies like the ‘queen analogy’ persist and the privileged stories of some Saudi women continue to be perpetuated, unknowingly at times, by writers.
Mona El-Naggar, an Egyptian writer based in New York, wrote an article in The New York Times called, ‘I live a Lie: Saudi Women Speak Up’ in October of 2016 about the experiences of Saudi Women in KSA. In it are many powerful stories but one story stands out. Meeting a group of privileged Saudi students in Washington Square Park, Mona asked them about their experiences under the system. What was their response? “We don’t need to abolish male guardianship. We need to teach men how to be better guardians.” This is a slap to the face of those struggling under the system. By including this story, Mona unknowingly has undermined the piece she seeks to make. (Audiences tend to think that a problem is not as big as it is when there are two sides to it.) Many Saudi girls have escaped from their home nation, many desiring ‘to feel the air on their faces’. One example of those who have escaped Saudi Arabia is Moudi, previously known by the online pseudonym, ‘Sinner’.
Using ‘Twitter’ to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women, as Twitter is just one of the few sites not banned in KSA, Moudhi—like many Saudi girls—sought to give both fellow Saudi women and foreign audiences a window into the life of a woman in KSA. In real life a law student studying in the USA, Moudhi wore a mask to protect herself from both her family and the system. (Saudi Law, especially when it comes to studying abroad, can send back Saudi girls on scholarships for even daring to criticise KSA.) After a long time of contemplation, Moudhi took off her mask and voiced public criticisms of the Male Guardianship system. Despite the psychological abuse that follows her, both by her own family and Saudi males, Moudhi continues to raise a voice for Saudi Women. Stories like Moudhi’s are not to be taken lightly, as they emphasise what individuals can do and must undergo when speaking truth to power.
[Writer’s note: More stories will be touched upon later within this essay. However, there are a few stories attached in the appendix.]
Picture: Moudhi, normal face and wearing a veil
History of Oppression
Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s, just like most countries in the Middle East during that time, from Egypt to Syria, underwent radical shifts in culture as more of its populace experimented with art and discussed new ideas, such as whether the ban on women driving — imposed in 1957 — should be lifted (what should be noted is that women can drive in non-public areas and only if their guardians allow it; however, they are not allowed to drive on public highways). But these shifts in culture did not come without hostile reactions.
Ever since its formation as a kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia — initially under the leadership of King Abdulaziz — had to deal with trying to synthesize both the non-religious and religious sectors of its nation. Prior to its formation, Al Saud monarchy had a close relationship with the ulema — a religious body of clerics. The ulema adhered to a more orthodox version of Islam, “Wahhabism,” and helped the conquest of Al Saud monarchy over most of the Arabian Peninsula throughout the mid-18th through the early 20th century. This bond between religion and the state (theocracy) helped to create the kingdom, as the government claimed its religious legitimacy from the Wahhabi clerics in turn for the clerics being able to propagate the “Tawhid” doctrine — monotheism (an intertwining of religion and politics was crucial in maintaining KSA’s legitimacy).
This changed when British imperialistic ventures in the Middle East proved to be an obstacle for the Saudi government, forcing the drawing of strict borders with surrounding nations. KSA had to cut concessions to the ulema and instead pursue secular goals: non-religious national security and foreign policy goals. This muddled the relations between religion and the state. While more technological and secular influences made their way into the country from western nations, and a “modernization” of the country began to take root, Mullahs and clerics condemned this “westernization” of Saudi Arabia in their mosques. However, these mullahs dared not delegitimize the royal family, and when Al Saud monarchy called upon religious justifications for its proposed state policies, clerics did not dare refuse (this “contradiction” remains, as clerics “criticize” policy in theory, but legitimize it in practice for the state — highlighting something worth note: the power of the monarch). After the abolishment of slavery in 1962, pushed by Prince Faisalbin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in conjunction with international pressure from the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s growing internal struggles and changes led to the abdication of King Saud and the appointment of his successor — King Faisal.
King Faisal introduced “radical” policies in the 60s and 70s to Saudi Society that would alter its structure. Through the pushing away of Wahhabi draconian rules and condemnations, Faisal was able to allow women the ability to seek an education and allowed for the creation of Saudi television — policies that cemented Faisal as a “reformer king.” This angered a great deal of Wahhabi clerics and religious fanatics, who saw these policies as a “perversion” by the West on Saudi society. These clerics were not alone in their attitudes to westernization, as religious fanatics throughout the Middle East grew increasingly angry at their governments “capitulation” to Western influences — seeing their nations step away from “pure” Islam. However, in 1975, Faisal’s reign ended with assassination by his deranged nephew — Faisal bin Musaid. After King Khalid’s ascent to the throne to fill void left by Faisal, KSA found itself amidst turbulent political winds, as nations surrounding it were grew involved in its internal struggles, from Iran to Iraq. These winds engulfed Saudi Arabic in 1979 with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Armed with guns smuggled in via coffins, a group of insurgents stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca and declared that Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam) and demanded King Khalid step down. Allegedly receiving word from Allah while in prison, Juhayman al-Otaybi, the religious activist who led the attack on the mosque, believed Saudi Arabia had lost its way and saw it as an imperative to not only rid the country of “western perversion,” but to also bring it back to a “purer” form of Islam. Otaybi and his brother-in-law, Qahtani, gathered a group of a few hundred devotees to enter Mecca’s holiest Mosque during the hajj (pilgrimage). Taking hostages, Otaybi demanded King Khalid step down. This “mahdist” group occupied the mosque for nearly two weeks. It was quelled when French and Pakistani forces, scrambled together by the royal family in desperation to secure KSA’s legitimacy, stormed the Mosque, killed Qahtani and captured Otaybi.
However, King Khalid had to seek a “fatwa” (religious decree) beforehand from the ulema to allow those forces to be given access to the mosque to remove the insurgents. The ulema sought the opportunity to push for an amending of relations between the state and religion. In turn for allowing access to the Grand Mosque, it demanded more power to affect policies, which it received after the recapture of the Grand Mosque. This increase in power meant that the Monarch gave Wahhabi clerics more decision making abilities and agreed to help export its religious ideology (Wahhabism) globally in the following decades.
With the reforging of the alliance between state and religion, Saudi Arabia started to reverse the modernization that had gripped it in the 60s and 70s. The ulema began to impose stricter Islamic law (Sharia) upon the country: censoring media, enforcing greater restrictions on women and banning things like alcohol. Forcing women to cover up, either with an abaya or with hijab, KSA ended its liberal experimentation and started to enforce traditional roles upon Saudi women. King Khalid’s successor, King Fahd, allowed for the formation of the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices” (CPVPV), which intended to maintain these laws. It did this through the Religious police who were given greater reign to enforce dress codes, sex segregation (aptly denoted by some as “sex apartheid”), and the Male Guardianship system. If a woman was seen in public unaccompanied by her Guardian, then the religious police could take her and lock her up in a “care home,” a prison for women. In the education system, more schools were forced to teach religious studies. In this way, the ulema regained Saudi Arabia’s status as an Islamic nation and ensured “Islamic values” were spread to its populace — orthodox values as opposed to liberal ones. This “Wahhabi” imposition on Saudi society did not come without its resistance.
A small pocket of dissenters willing to raise their voices against tyranny and defy state law began to speak out over the years. This was the case in Riyadh in 1990, when a couple dozen women drove cars throughout Saudi Arabia’s capital. Knowing the risks perfectly well, these women took their guardians’ cars and drove them — in defiance of the law. Paying with the loss of their passports and jail time, such a demonstration only showed the desire of women to have rights and a sheer desperation of the Saudi government to keep its legitimacy through force. This spirit of protest from Saudi women continues on even in the 21st century.
Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008
Moving to end the Male Guardianship system
The movement has blossomed with the advent of the internet and social media as more women gain access to platforms that allow them to voice their experiences under the Male Guardianship system. Despite KSA banning certain social media sites and apps, such as Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp, sites like Twitter and Instagram remain, providing a venue for women to write and share videos of what life is like in the KSA.
While there are many women who adopt pseudonyms to protect their identity from Saudi authorities, there are a brave few who choose to come out publicly — despite the costs and personal risk. Saudi women activists like Wajeha Huwaider, a woman who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving a car in Riyadh in 2008, and Manal al-Sharif, a woman who launched the “Women2Drive” campaign that sought to teach Saudi women to drive in 2011, both have been in the public eye and have protested the ban on women drivers. Aziza Yousef is another activist who is involved in the highlighting of women’s rights abuses in KSA. Emphasizing a couple cases in 2014 (one where a woman died on campus in Riyadh after not being given access to paramedics, all because of not having a male guardian), Aziza sought to petition the Shura Council with other activists to demand an end to male control over women. These activists seek to highlight the grave human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is guilty of and have inspired many Saudi women to take up a new mantra. A mantra that has since gone on to define a movement: “I am my own Guardian.”
‘“When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end. This is my wish. My name is Aisha. I am just another woman who lives in KSA.“-Aisha
[Writer’s note: full story, as well as many others that I have received, will be attached in the appendix of this essay.]
[Aisha’s story attached at the bottom of this essay]
In mid-2016, Saudi women took to Twitter to start a movement to end Male Guardianship. Tweeting under various hashtags, such as #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, #TogetherToEndMaleGaurdianship and #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه (abolish the Male Guardianship system), Saudi Women started to raise awareness of the harrowing experiences that occur regularly in KSA. Many of these women, which included activists like Hala Al Dosari, posted videos and their stories of oppression, and demanded an end to Male Guardianship and Saudi women’s liberation.
#سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه is the Arabic hashtag that many Saudis use to voice their concerns. Some of the stories included in this tag are horrifying and provide a glimpse into the lives of Saudi women. Many of these stories include domestic abuse cases where the male guardian has subjected his daughters and wives to torture, psychological manipulation, and rape — and has gotten away with it! Human Rights Watch wrote an excellent piece in July 2016 called Boxed In which highlighted many experiences from Saudi women.
Exposing the injustice and discrimination of the system, the movement to end Male Guardianship has, broadly speaking, three goals, which many of those involved would agree with:
- Abolish the Male Guardianship System.
- End the ban on Women driving.
- Acknowledge human rights for women.
However, in order to achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia needs to acknowledge how it abuses its own people. The Saudi government is reluctant to do this and at times denies its oppressive treatment of women. This is evident with it saying one thing to United Nations Human Rights Council but doing another within the kingdom. It is a sad state of affairs when KSA is Chair of the Human Rights Council of the UN. Prior to the current King Salman, King Abdullah had made small concessions to international pressure to give women greater rights. Electing thirty female members to the Shura Council, more as a publicity stunt than anything else, Abdullah had made slow progressions.
Within the movement, there are both non-Saudis and Saudis alike who do their part to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women. Those who are against the movement claim it has a “Western agenda” in mind, because of the involvement of Western individuals. This rationale follows the same conspiratorial mindset of those who claimed that Otaybi’s zealots, such as the Ayatollah of Iran, were “CIA-backed agents.”
There is an international presence within the movement, but what must not be forgotten is that the movement is for Saudi women’s liberation. Saudi women come first and their concerns for rights should be the focus of the movement. In a nation where a woman can have her entire life dictated by a male guardian, where this guardian can take away her rights to go to school or seek medical assistance and so on, it is imperative to raise awareness of her struggles and seek justice to end them.
The fight for Saudi women’s rights is just one of the many fights that exist in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, women undergo their own struggle against oppression, whether it be from the totalitarian forces of ISIS to the theocratic imams of Iran, each population battles for freedom. In these cases, there are those who have no personal stake in the issue, but choose to take the side of the victim and aid them in their struggle. These humans take up Bertrand Russell’s injunction to “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.”; refusing to be spectators of injustice and doing what they can to help; reminding those facing oppression to continue to raise their voices — as silence is what gives tyranny power.
The government of Saudi Arabia cannot ignore its populace’s voices forever.
Though it may try to, it will not win.
Saudi Women are too strong for that.
Never forget that.
Artwork: Ms Saffaa’s art for the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen movement
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (11/12/2016)
Original version can be found here for Areo Magazine: https://areomagazine.com/2016/12/13/a-kingdom-of-tears-male-guardianship-in-saudi-arabia/
-Aisha’s story: http://philosophyismagic.com/a-womans-struggle-aishas-story/
I do not care anymore for this life.
I have become empty inside, as a result of the abuse around me.
Everyone is against me and accuse me of doing sexual things that I have not done!
They make me out to be an oppressor, but it is they who support an oppressor!
When I was nine years old, my father sexually abused me. But I didn’t stay quiet, and I told my mother about what he did to me. It was the worst thing that I did, as he only became angrier and acted crazy. He expected me to be quiet, but I refused! Mother told me to tell her if anyone touched you inappropriately, then I had to always speak up. I never expected it to be my father!
As a result of me speaking up, he became very abusive to me. He would deliberately scare me and try to kill me, but my mother would stand in his way and she would threaten him that she would tell everybody about what he did to me. I was only a child and I would not sleep for some nights because I was afraid of him as he always threatens to kill me. He would tell me, “by god I will nail your head to the floor!” When we moved to another house I was relieved to find the room me and my sisters shared had a lock. I started locking the door each night but he would still threaten me that he would insert a gun from the window and shoot me from there. I spent nights sleeping in the corners of the room so the gun wouldn’t reach me. Why does he do this?
I want to understand why this happened to me? I’m a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, I was a ‘model’ girl. I did what I was supposed to do, from prayer to listen to my mother. As the years went on, he continue to deny me things. He tied to prevent me from going to school, but I would go each year and felt involved in a constant fight! Some days I was afraid he would see me and hit me infront of my friends. When I would come off the bus, he would slap me. Even my bus driver tried to stop him. These efforts were in vain, as he would continue to humiliate me and abuse me by telling how he wants to take me out of school.
He wouldn’t give me an allowance even. Everything I owned were hand me downs from my sisters and mother since I was a child. I used to wear my brother’s shoes at school because he was the only one who was close to my age at the time and I remember the girls in school would make fun of me since they were boys’ shoes. Even my name he put it in his company so he can prevent me from supporting myself (I never understood why he did this.) He refuses to support me and doesn’t allow me to support myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m always thinking about suicide, especially in the last couple of months. But I always think about my mother and my siblings and I don’t want to leave them alone.
He doesn’t even allow me to go to the hospital. I have asthma, and a many time I get severe attacks where I can’t breathe and my mother tells him take her to the hospital but he would say No, let her die. I want her to.
My father is just despicable. He’s the worst person ever.
He would lock me up in my room for days. My mother would bring me food from the window. Even the bathroom, I would only go when he’s not in the house and if he’s back I could never go in. I would avoid drinking anything so that I don’t need to go.
He’s always helping everyone, even some of his friends’ daughters so that one would believe us. When I call the police after he hits me they would ask me, what did you do? Then they would give me numbers to call none of which I get a response. So I lose hope.
When I called human rights, they called him and he lied to them and told them that he loves me and cares about what’s best for me and that he needs me at home and the worker believed him. He’s a liar. And when the worker called me again to make sure, my father threatened my mother, that if I don’t shut up he’s going to get an official form that proved I’m crazy and that they would take me forcibly to a mental institute.
By god everything I told you is nothing compared to what he’s done to me. I literally want to die. He’s not allowing me to live. He intervenes and prevent me from everything even what I wear. I dreamt of being a teacher. Or to just live a normal life like every other girl. God has gave him many things. He has many foundations under his name. Sometimes I feel that god is unjust. This oppressive man who’s stopping my life and future is just so blessed.
[Brief Note: Here is just one of the many stories that I receive from Saudi Women about Male Guardianship, which is a system that limits Women’s rights within Saudi Arabia. For security reasons, I have had to change the real name of this woman to ‘Aisha’, allowing her anonymity but also allowing her to speak about her story. Aisha’s story is just one of the many personal accounts of what women within KSA have to go through. This story will be included in a later article that I will post in November.]
“My name is Aisha.
I am a 23 years old Woman who comes from the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.
Before I tell of my experiences living here, I wish to say just one sentence and I want you to read this sentence carefully, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” Let me explain why it is a crime to be a Girl in KSA.
Since I was five years old, I knew what the difference was between a girl and a boy. You see, I have a brother. When I was five years old, I was arguing with my brother who was at the time three years old. The argument was over food. I told my brother to not throw food on the floor, unless he did not want to eat it—it is wrong to otherwise. However, my brother did not listen to me and continued to throw food on the floor. It was in that moment that my father entered the room, after hearing me arguing with my brother. He beat me with his hands. Why did he do this? Because my brother was a boy and can do what he wants, and I am a girl and have to respect whatever my brother does, even when he is wrong. I remember having to cry in my grandmother’s room after that; it was so wrong.
As I grew, I noticed more and more the differences in the way that my parents treated me, as opposed to how they treated my other sibling brothers. Boys could go out with their friends, but I could not. Boys could take money and go out freely, but I could not. Boys could sleep where they wanted, but I could not. I noticed that whenever my brothers went out with friends, they never had to be accompanied by my father. However, whenever I went out, I had to be accompanied by either my brothers or my father. I felt like a prisoner who had to be accompanied, 24/7, by guard—all for being born into the wrong sex. It is not my fault for being born a girl by my mother.
When I asked my mother about why my brothers could get to do more things than me, she told me that it was because they were better than me. In other words, boys are better than girls; brothers are better than daughters. She told me that I was nothing without a male. “Your brothers can drive and bring things that we need, but girls cannot.” I felt so much shame when she told me this. I felt that I was nothing. I felt that I was cursed. The very fact that my mother could say that as if it were nothing, made me feel so helpless.
As the years went on, more and more beatings occurred by my father, and even by my brothers. It was only when I graduated from high school that I decided to change this. I decided to do all that I can to be independent. To show my family that even if I am girl, I can do many things that boys can do. I can still be a successful person, even without their support. When I told them that I wanted to study medicine or nursing at college, they laughed at me. My father and mother did not believe that I could be successful at this. However, I did not care about them, because they mean nothing for me. I believed in myself. The next day, I registered into my local university; however, I still have to give my father all the money the university pays for me to allow me to study, because if I refuse, then he will not allow me to study and will beat me.
First year of nursing was so difficult. I had to learn English language, because my course was mainly taught in English. None of my parents are educated and my father did not allow me to have a private teacher, even when I offered to use my own money. He cared more about money than he does about me. However, despite the difficulties brought before me, I managed to persevere and I worked hard to learn English, as well as complete my nursing course. I did all things to achieve high grades and it paid off. For once, I felt so happy. I did achieve some form of small victory. I graduated from nursing college with very high grades and I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to get a scholarship, but my father said “no”. He said it so easily. I felt that I lost hope. I became pessimistic; all my dreams destroyed, because my Male guardian said “No”.
Now I feel, whenever I wake and whenever I sleep, as if my body does not have a soul. I cannot study, I cannot work, I cannot Marry, I cannot go to the hospital, I cannot pay anything, I cannot visit friends without a Male Guardian. I am a slave that is forced to be chained for life. Some of my friends have accepted this reality, but I do not want to accept it. I want to break my chains and break my bondage. I want to breathe freely. I want to be free. I want to live my own life; be my own person. All because I am a woman.
Now you know what I meant by, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end.
This is my wish.
My name is Aisha.
I am just another woman who lives in KSA.”
#StopEnslavingSaudiWomen is a social media movement that aims to raise awareness of the suffering of Saudi Women under the Male Guardianship system. The campaign aims at ending Oppressive laws towards women and granting them rights. Please be sure to raise awareness about the movement with friends, family members and others. Raising Awareness helps in the long run.
Story sent by: Aisha
Blurb written by: Anthony Avice Du Buisson