Why is it that over 3 billion women or 49.9% of the world population are still considered a “minority”? In what indisputable universal text is it mentioned that women are to be degraded in a secondary position in society? Those are the circumstances and prevailing ideas that 11 million babies are born into every year. To those conditions of regular thriving times, add a pandemic, and you will slightly envision our world in this upcoming decade. Throughout history, women maintained the status of being a minority because of a new reason every time – all the way back to when democracy was born in 508 B.C in Athens wherein women were not considered citizens.
Before the arrival of Islamic culture in Arabia, female infanticide was a highly common practice in the 7th century. In fact, women were only gradually granted the right to vote from the 17th century until today. Although women were active participants in history, it is almost as if they lived in a parallel reality in which they are constantly victimized despite their dignity as human beings. Again, in 2020 and with the Covid-19 situation, reality left very little to the imagination, and women are still oppressed today.
When the built-in ideology in societies is oriented towards developing an oppressive behavior towards women or considering them inferior, then any situation is a great opportunity to express and actively exercise that. Gender specific violence is the implicit consequence of the Coronavirus outbreak. It is confinement for all “humans” but imprisonment for women. As staying at home became an obligatory safety measure for families, it is not so safe for women. On the contrary, they are put at a much higher risk of violence; as conjugal and domestic violence have significantly increased since the lockdown. On one hand, women and girls are put in a situation with no-escape, in homes of high-pressure concentration with an abusive partner. On the other hand, they are isolated from the resources that can help them report or overcome the abuse they are in, such as the police or legal authorities or even just leaving the house.
In times of emergencies, again, it is the survival of the fittest strategy that governs us, all parties are focusing on overcoming the pandemic or simply overcoming the day in good health. The weakest link in the chain are the “minorities”, amongst them women. The worsening economic situation does not help – it accumulates understandable stress and pressure on the entire family only to burst in the faces of women and girls through violence.
The frightening data recorded represents the tip of the iceberg. According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics: 15 million gender-based violence cases will increase every 3 months of lockdown. Additionally, the Human Rights watch pointed out violence against women in several countries, amongst them Brazil, South Africa, United Kingdom, China, France and Turkey. The Middle East is far from being exempted from this case. It is the limited access to help that is leading us to only hear about the extreme cases that no one can look away from, like the case of Baqir, an Iraqi woman tortured to death in the hands of her husband.
When will we, men and women, consider ourselves and others equal? When will all the “Najafs” have the needed support to come out and claim the intrinsic inviolable dignity that they already have? Why does change in any situation hinders women’s safety and rights almost instantaneously? And most importantly; why is 21 centuries worth of history still not enough for humanity to embrace human dignity at its optimum form?
Despite all of our differences in thoughts and ideologies, we should not have differences when it comes to understanding human dignity because none of us have the supremacy to give less or more dignity to a fellow human being. Understanding that dignity is an intrinsic value to all people despite their gender means changing the environment where women’s rights are only applicable in regular situations. Whereas it should be the case in any situation, pandemic or not, democracy or not, advanced state or not – women should be treated with nothing less than what they deserve.
To conclude, the situation about women cannot be changed institutionally if the mindset of the society still considers women minorities. Promoting educational and cultural programs, such as WYA’s, to raise awareness about human dignity is primordial because ignoring that hinders the progress of humanity as a whole.
Published: July 31, 2020
Written by Amani Hemmami, WYAME Online Intern from Algeria.