Trigger Warning: Mentions of rape, sexual assault, and violence, child sexual abuse, and marriage, police violence
Half of humanity remains shackled by the patriarchy’s chains, which have permeated each culture, respectively. Across the Middle East, ultra-conservative norms about gender contribute to profound oppression and human rights violations. The following are true stories of some of the most heinous violence cases against women in Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
ZAHRA AL-AZZO OF SYRIA
Zahra Al-Azzo was born in the village of Nashweh in 1990 in Bashar Al-Assad‘s Syria. Her family was part of the Bagara tribe, and Zahra lived a perfectly ordinary life alongside her nine siblings. Zahra’s father became an alcoholic and had an affair, leading to one of her brothers assuming the family’s financial care. Zahra learned about her father’s affair with one of her father’s so-called “friends,” Tayseer. He then proceeded to threaten Zahra, saying that he would reveal her father’s affair if she did not go to his house with them.
The punishment for being an adulterer or mistress death in the name of honor by the tribe. To protect her father, she left with Tasyeer. She was kidnapped by Tasyeer and taken to Damascus, where she was raped repeatedly in an apartment. After an anonymous tip to the police, she was taken to the police station. She was forced to submit to a so-called “virginity test,” which is used to determine if women still have their hymens intact if they are unmarried women. This dehumanizing procedure is practiced in various Middle Eastern and North African countries. It’s used in Syria with women who come in contact with the law. As a result of the absence of her hymen and because she was underage, she was sent to a women’s prison because there are no women’s shelters in Syria. It was too dangerous to send her back to her family.
If her family became aware that she was no longer a virgin, they would honor kill (femicide) to protect her family’s reputation. Her brother found her in prison and told her that she could restore her family’s honor if she married her cousin Fawaz. Fawaz wanted to make sure that Zahra wouldn’t be harmed if she left the institution to marry him. Thus, he waited many months before getting her father to authorize her release. After she was released, she married Fawaz. After a month of being married, Zahra’s brother, Faiez, said that he had visited her. Faiez honor killed her sister shortly after Fawaz left for work.
MASOUMEH OF JORDAN
Masoumeh was dragged out of a car’s trunk in a white dress with her hands bound up. Two large men were escorting her into a hole in the ground. She was receiving her punishment for “tempting a man” into adultery. By doing so, she had insulted her father’s honor. Masoumeh was nine, and he was twenty-five. She was lowered to the ground as she was sobbing. As she entered the hole, the men and women of the village began stoning her death.
2002 MECCA SCHOOL FIRE
In Mecca’s all-girls school, some eight hundred schoolgirls were crammed into a school designed for two hundred students. As they were all female students, they removed their hijabs inside the school. It is prohibited in Saudi Arabia for girls who have reached puberty not to wear the hijab in public. A fire started inside the school, and there were no emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and the main doors were locked. Saudi morality police forbid firefighters from entering the building to rescue the schoolgirls because they didn’t have their headscarves. They argued it was sinful to interact with unveiled girls. Seventeen schoolgirls died, and fifty-two others were injured.
RAWAN OF YEMEN
Rawan was an eight-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced into a marriage with a forty-five-year-old man. She died of internal bleeding after her new “husband” penetrated her so aggressively. More than 52% of Yemeni girls are married off before they turn eighteen.
After reading these devastating stories, we must ask ourselves why honor is tied to a woman’s virginity. How can an entire family’s reputation be linked to the existence or lack of their daughter’s hymens? Why are little girls being punished for men assaulting or raping or harassing them? Some women and girls experience what Zahra, Masoumeh, Rawan, and the schoolgirls lived through today. What is being done to help them? Suppose we continue to turn a blind eye to violence against women, not only in the Middle East but internationally. What differentiates us from our oppressors?
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy
Inside an Honor Killing by Lene Wold
Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World