Sunday, May 25

Childless by choice ... dream or nightmare?

From the day a girl learns to play, she is given dolls. Most girls will pretend the dolls are their "babies". They will pretend to feed them, and care for them. They lull them to sleep and kiss them good night.. They will pretend to be mothers. Most girls will love interacting with new babies, holding them, helping grown ups take care of them... by looking at these girls, one would think that motherhood comes naturally to females in general. The concept is taken and generalized... and becomes the norm, and the expectation of every adult woman. Any woman who dares think differently is not tolerated. As girls get older they are taught that motherhood is the most important role a woman could have. They go to school and get an education, but they are taught that children and motherhood come first, career comes second, if at all. Many are told that a career in something to fall back on just in case you never get married, or your husband for some reason is incapacitated and cannot work, so you can be the "backup" breadwinner until he recovers. Many girls spend all of their premarital life looking forward to the day when they will be mothers.... others will marry only to have children, the husband has a secondary role in their equation. To top it all off, religion dictates that a woman's "role" is child bearing and caring for the family.... This may seem like a traditional way of thinking... a no brainer.. really isn't this what all women want??

The answer to this question is yes, and no. Yes, because most, but not all women want to have children. There are no real statistics to verify this statement, but if you look at countries where having a child is not a necessity, it is not uncommon to see a woman who has decided not have kids. They are women who are childless by choice. They would rather go to the movies than spend the weekend feeding and changing diapers. They would rather spend time with their significant other, enjoying each others company, rather than fighting about whose turn it is to put the kids to bed, or fix a big healthy dinner, or change a dirty diaper. They would rather get a good night sleep rather than be up all night with a child with a fever. They would rather spend all their energy advancing their careers, rather than spending it dealing with issues relating to caring for kids. They would rather save their money for retirement and for fancy houses, great vacations and expensive cars rather than saving it for a child's education. Is this right? Is this wrong? No one can judge, it is an individual choice. If this is how these women want to spend their life, it is their prerogative. They make a decision, and go through with it, and whatever consequences there are, they bear them, because this is their choice. The other kind of woman is someone who wants to dedicate her life to her family and children. She enjoys caring for dependant children that are her own. She is happy to sing her baby to sleep. Saving money for a child's future gives her a purpose in life. It doesn't matter if her spouse does not do his share of the house work, or refuses to change the baby. Having this baby and caring for it is the joy of her life and the purpose of her existence. Nothing compares to the feeling of tiny hands around her neck giving her a good night hug and a kiss. When she is with her kids, her career is secondary, and whether it exists or not, is not an issue, as long as she has a happy healthy family. She is not concerned about the future if for example she gets divorced or her spouse dies.For this woman, this is her choice, and whatever consequences come of it, they are hers, because it was her decision to live life in this manner. Other women can combine both options together... this is also their choice, and if it results in lack of sleep or excessive stress, or being drained all the time from too much responsibility, they will be happy because they have both a career and a family. Again a choice they made. In this day and age, do women in our Egyptian society have this choice? Can an Egyptian woman decide not to have kids? Will she be ostracized by society for making this decision? What about women who cannot have children?? How can these women cope in such a society?

For an Egyptian woman, life after marriage changes dramatically. From day one of her marriage, she is asked if she is pregnant. If the answer is no, the question will be repeated on each subsequent visit, every phone call, every chance meeting in the street. Parents will ask, in laws will ask, siblings will ask. Friends, neighbors, distant relations, and even colleagues at work. Everyone who knows that she is recently married will ask if she is pregnant, and if she says no, they will ask so when do you plan to get pregnant? The pressure to reproduce is relentless. Delaying child bearing for a year or two will be frowned upon. She will be pressured to have a baby immediately or else. She is "advised" by concerned family members that if she does not have a child as soon as possible, her husband will run off with the next available woman. She is "threatened" by her in laws that if she does not produce the next heir... preferably a male baby, they will get their son a second wife. Religion will be mentioned in every conversation. Her God-given "role" has to be fulfilled as soon as possible.... she is told it is her duty.. it is why God created her. For many women, there is no way around it.... they will try to get pregnant as quickly as possible to please everyone.... and to fulfill the role society demands. Most of the time, one child is never enough... soon after her first child, the relentless nagging and social pressure will begin again to force her to have more and more children.. how these children will be supported is not their concern.... God will provide for the kids, so there is no need for her to look at her finances to see if she and her spouse can afford to take care of a new child. The only way an Egyptian woman can be childless by choice is if she never marries.... which puts a whole new stigma on her.... she will forever be "spinster" a reject, never a part of society.... never accepted for who she is... and constantly reminded that she is nothing without a man. Most women will avoid this stigma if they can.

The consequences of this peer pressure on women seems trivial when compared to the consequences suffered by women who cannot reproduce. These unfortunate women will have to sustain tremendous amounts of societal pressure, and they will have no way out. Explaining intimate details about her very private medical dilemma as painful as that will be for her, will only bring about looks of pity, and gossip behind her back. Some will even offer to find a new wife for her husband, so the man can have a family, totally oblivious to the feelings of the woman. It is as if she does not exist, and her infertility is a crime that requires she be punished for it. A very good read that discusses the dynamics of the cultural impact of infertility on Egyptian women is "Infertility and Patriarchy: The Cultural Politics of Gender and Family Life in Egypt by Marcia Claire Inhorn".

A close look at infertile couples in Egypt will show that the blame is usually placed on the woman's shoulders. Many men will refuse to be tested and will feel that being tested for infertility is an insult to their "manhood". Then the husband's family will blame the woman even if she is not at fault, and threats of divorce or a second wife will be constantly thrown in the woman's face. Lack of reproductive education in our society, and the stigma associated with educating youngsters about their bodies are contributing factors to the many misconceptions prevalent in Egyptian society. The image that comes to the minds of most Egyptians when sex education is mentioned is pornography. This is why most parents are so adamant about preventing their children from learning, or from being taught a course about sex education in the school curriculum. Parents also have many issues regarding this matter. It is often an awkward subject to discuss with teenage children, so many parents avoid it all together, also not all parents have all the answers, since they themselves never received the proper education. If only parents are informed that sex education is about Reproduction, how it works, and how the human body functions, they would understand why this is an important part of education that needs to be included in school curricula, and that it is in no way shameful or embarrassing, and it will not teach children bad behaviour. It will teach them information that will help them function as adults, and will answer questions that they already have, which will otherwise be answered by peers who don't have the proper information as well... hence all the misinformation circulating in society. In the previously mentioned book, the author interviewed Egyptian men who believed that a man deposits a fetus (rather than sperms) in a woman's body, and these men were shocked that women produced eggs, and actually thought that it was a ridiculous idea, because women are not like chickens!!!! One informant went as far as saying that if a woman does not produce children, then the man is feeding her for nothing!!! Another form of unacceptable women objectification. The point of view of women is not any better. Many feel inadequate, and unable to fulfill the role they spent their entire life preparing for. These women live in constant fear that their life as they know it will end because they have "defaulted" in an unforgivable way. They know in their hearts that they can wake up one morning and find that their husband decided to marry another woman, they may wake up one day to find themselves alone, while the man they spent years with has gone and started another family. He laughs and goes out, and sleeps with another woman. He has a life to live... but not the woman. Her inability to conceive is unacceptable. Many women in this situation will end up with depression, and some even contemplate suicide.... There are no support groups for these women, and the nagging society they live in is unforgiving. Even if this is through no fault of their own. I believe that if being childless by choice were acceptable in society, women who suffer from infertility would be less ostracized and less liable for devastation of their family life. Why not encourage careers for girls? Why do we hammer into their brains from the time they open their eyes that they need to be mothers? Why not give them something besides motherhood to look forward to?? The need for motherhood comes naturally to most people, so why are we reinforcing it at the expense of all other options in life? Why is a successful man without children accepted by society, but a successful woman without children ostracized? Encourage your daughters to be talented in music, art, science.... anything she likes.... let them have a life besides being mothers.... let grown women have the choice to be mothers... Why make it a necessity? why is it an order done under societal pressure? When will we be able to see "career women" who are childless by choice?? Why do people feel the need to dictate other people's lives and choices? Why ostracize someone for their ability or inability to reproduce? Just live, and let live. Let Egyptian women be Free!!!

Friday, May 9

The Victimization of Egyptian Women and Children

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Somethings are just beyond belief! And I seriously wish that what Egypt has been witnessing lately is just one long bad dream. Don't know what to do if this nightmare doesn't end. Excuse my sad, or rather depressed, tone.. but I am extremely shocked, and on many levels.

Let's start with the child rights laws, which have been the subjects of many debates in Egypt lately. This led to some amendments and now the articles are being discussed once more, faced by huge resistance led by.. of course you know who.. the Muslim Brotherhood! Unfortunately, now that they have occupied 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament, they can object to such laws.. not only so, but the huge media controls they own, as well as those that surrender to their influence, enables them to disfigure anything they object to, and represent it in the most horrible attire to the masses who have come to consider them as their trusted source of information and ready made judgements.

Why am I writing about child rights? Well, there are a number of laws that mainly target the rights of a female child. Pardon me, I feel stupid when I call them rights.. let's say discontinuing violations against young girls, from FGM to early marriages. But that is not the only reason.

I don't know how to explain it to those of you who are not familiar with the Egyptian society (or Arab societies in general), yet let me try. Women here, in spite of of their utter vulnerability, are expected to bear full responsibility of their children. This responsibility may or may not include the financial one. Yet, even if the financial aspect is included, a woman is not supposed to take credit for it.. as opposed to the man, who is automatically perceived of as the bread earner, the hero who toils to provide for his family.

Take this as an example. A typical Egyptian mother is supposed to get as many children as her husband wants. She doesn't have a say in this. This is a man's decision to make. If he asks for more kids, his wish must be granted, or else.. and this "else" includes horrible options.. needless to say, all of which are totally controlled by the man, for he can decide to divorce his wife or desert her or have a second wife. So, to make a story short, that's why a woman has to keep producing babies into this world until her husband decides that he's had enough.

Then, she becomes responsible for nourishing those kids, upbringing them alone (just like a single mom) looking after their health, taking them to school, helping with their homework (if she is educated|), besides her regular chores of course, and satisfying her husband in every possible way. Which means, that basically this woman never gets a chance to have any time for herself.

Now, what if she is married to a cruel man.. or worse, a psycho.. which is not a rare case? He has the right to beat her and her children as severely as he wishes. No criminal charges can be directed against him, unless one of them dies as a result of this beating. And yes, it is allowed in our legal system. And yes, you guessed it right, because some crazy sadistic men have claimed that this is an authorized tool for disciplining a man's wife and children in Islam! Which is absolutely not true.

This woman, even if she has a job, is never encouraged to leave her husband. Even if you are married to a psycho or a drug addict, society expects you to stay in this marriage for the sake of "the children". Black comedy.. but true.. she is stuck with this psycho and her children have to pay the price, until either this man dies a natural death, or one of them ends up being murdered. Then this man is put to jail and the other members of the family, who are already ruined by then, can continue their lives without neither upsetting the society nor being tortured by the father (being in prison).

At last, in the year 2008, and for the first time, new laws are being endorsed to protect child rights in Egypt. Those laws include:

1- Prohibiting the practice of FGM and considering it a criminal act which deserves to be punished by law. ( Yes, up till now FGM is not considered a criminal act. It is prohibited at public hospitals, and the ministry of health forbids any registered doctors from doing the procedure. But there can be no charges against those who break the rule. 2 girls have recently lost their lives while undergoing FGM, and those who operated on them were not charged with anything.)
Bedour, lost her life while undergoing FGM

2- Considering severe beating of a child by his/her parents to be a violation against child rights, and therefore authorities will have the right to place charges against the parent in case of severe injuries and causing disabilities.

3- Raising the age of marriage for females to 18, and any female under this age can not have a legal marriage certificate. (Early marriages are usually arranged by the parents who wish to get rid of the responsibility of their daughters or force them to marry for money.)

4-Giving a mother the right to register her child on her name in cases of illegal children, where the father refuses to give his name to his own child outside marriage. (Currently, there are 120,000 cases of illegal children in Egyptian courts. By law, even if a DNA test relates a child to his parent, the man can still refuse to give his name to his child, as long as there is no official marriage certificate bonding him with the mother. Moreover, a man cannot be forced to take a DNA test in those cases. If he refuses to take it, then nothing can be done.)

Now, imagine this.. The MB objects to all those laws saying the following:

1- FGM should be left as a matter of choice. If parents wish to preserve the "chastity" of their daughters through this procedure, then it is their way of protecting her and deciding what is good for her! Therefore, they claim, by closing the legal doors, they will still do it (as if this is a matter of fact that we have to live with) even if they resort to unprofessional physicians, nurses or "hala' elseha" or "daya".

2- The Muslim Brotherhood considers corporal punishment ban "imported from west", saying that it is an authorized method of disciplining children according to Islam, and building on the hadith "Order your children to pray at the age of seven, beat them for it at the age of ten, and let males and females take separate beds." (The hadith didn't mean to beat a child until death. Severe beating is prohibited in all cases, while minor rebuking back at that time before any other methods of parenting or discipline were introduced was permitted in the case of reminding a kid to pray.). Then the other hadith, which they present in the worst version I've ever seen is "Play with them (your children) for seven (years), beat them for seven, befriend them for seven, and then let them be." Now, this hadith, if it is a real one (I've never seen it anywhere except on their websites) was never said with the verb "beat" edrabohom, but the versions I saw before either had the verb "discipline" adebohom or "educate" 3alemohom in its place. It does not make sense at all when you relate it to what we know about how prophet Muhammed brought up his children, besides the crazy and brutal message behind it. Seriously, those people are cursing their religion!

3- Again, as always, they like the idea of kids getting married. Don't know what those sick people are thinking! And they keep making pathetic excuses for it. How can a girl under 18 be responsible for a family, for God's sake? What are they benefiting by causing more men to rape kids in the name of a legal marriage? Yes, this is rape. Straight and inhuman rape, no matter what the papers say. How come a kid who can not even have a bank account or a driving license be able to get married??!! If I can't be responsible for some money bills or a car made of metal, how come I am allowed to be responsible for a family and raise children while I am legally a child? Who on earth would want a girl under this age to get married? and for what purpose? This is way too much!

4- Yeah, the usual talk. Leave the illegal children in the streets. We have one million homeless children in the streets?.. so what? Let them double or triple.. not a problem. But a child can never have the name of his/her mother. A child whose father is an animal must pay for it for a lifetime. But the animal has to be protected, because he's a man. Now that's a heavenly privilege that no one can touch. He is the god on earth. He chooses whether to give his children a life or execute them. A child whose father is unwilling to give him a name, can never have a life. The god on earth has decided his fate.. so leave the kid to meet it.

Yeah.. yeah. Great macho men! So, this is religion, huh? We are supposed to buy this, aren't we? So, Islam for you is a religion that rewards sadists, psychos and brutal men, while it punishes women and children, the scum of earth, right? Now, let me see this clearly. According to you, we are worshiping a sick man in the sky.. for this being you are claiming to talk on behalf of can never be a deity of any kind.. he can not raise to the level of the human even! What a bunch of psychos you are! I bet that the devil himself has got more ethics than you do.

Take a look at what the MB makes of this here.
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde