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I Am The Daughter of a Man

June 3, 2012

The main room in our SIT villa was filled with powerhouse women today. The first lecture came from Professor Rula Qawas, a self-proclaimed activist for Jordanian women’s liberation: “It is who I am. Damn it all to heck, I’m a feminist.” The charismatic speaker exploded into her talk almost immediately, building up to a point when the space felt more like a rally than a lesson.

The professor covered a lot of ground concerning women’s rights in the hour we had her for, but the part that captured my attention most was her explanation of the journey of a Middle Eastern woman’s life.

When the woman is born, she is the daughter of a man, Qawas said. She will marry, because she is expected to. If not, she would be considered a “spinster,” a responsibility to bear for her parents. The concern, aside from being a “hag,” would be the worry of where she would live if her parents died. She would have to live with her brother.

When the woman is married, she becomes the wife of a man. Qawas spoke of her sadness when she goes to weddings and the women say, “I am the wife of,” rather than their name.

“You have a name, you have an identity, tell me who you are,” she roared to our group of about 45 people.

When the woman gives birth to a son (Inshallah), she becomes the mother of a man. If she doesn’t have a son, her husband has a right to divorce her. Here in this patriarchal society, the family’s nationality is passed through the father. This creates a need for boys in the family, Qawas said.

“This is their journey.”

What struck me most about this wasn’t necessarily the journey Qawas described, but rather how similar it is to a woman’s journey in Kazakhstan. I listened to her speak and I couldn’t help but think back to my counterpart I taught with who just wanted to find a husband and have children. The school I taught English in was overflowing with young teachers who just wanted to be like everyone else: get married, have babies, have sons. My colleagues that were recently engaged, married or pregnant would walk with an air of accomplishment, as if they had achieved something.

In Kazakhstan, with my counterpart, Gulmira, to the left.

It was usually on these days my counterpart and I would go to a café, eat shashlik and she would tell me about how she worried she wouldn’t find someone. It broke my heart that a strong and intelligent woman like she would feel so inadequate just because she didn’t have a man and a son.

Qawas said that Arab women have a long road ahead in their fight for equality, but they are on the right track. I wonder if one day there will be an Arab Spring for women too.

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