I am in Istanbul on a religious bank holiday and the tourist sites throng with Turks and Arabs. The women all have their heads covered, some in full niqab made more sinister still with designer sunglasses. I feel oppressed and alienated.

This modesty imposed for centuries by patriarchal societies, is to protect men from their sexual desires. Whatever the historical and cultural reasons this is absolutely unacceptable to me. Is showing your hair really so inflammatory? Why can't men take responsibility for their sexual desires?

There is no hope for female equality. Millions and millions of women throughout the Middle East, across half of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan remain second class citizens, often aborted, killed at birth, uneducated, valueless and in some societies victims of gender apartheid.
Yet as mothers, as the givers of life, we should be honoured and respected.

How many of those Istanbul tourists were genitally mutilated? (Ironically recent anatomical research shows the clitoris to be much larger and more extensive than we knew. The will never cut it all out.)
What is it about female sexual pleasure that is so threatening that it has to be literally excised? Does the fear and hatred of women come from the power of their sexuality, which should be shared and celebrated, not repressed and controlled?

Rape as a weapon of war, honor killings, sex trafficking, punishment of rape victims, sexual assaults, sexual abuse, these should be the true feminist struggles. We do not realise how privileged we are to be born into Western societies.

It starts with education, not just for girls but for boys and men. There is no shame in information. Is it impossible to bring about change in attitudes and behaviour? The odds are against us, the numbers are too great. There will be no uprising, no revolution. The indoctrination goes too wide and too deep.

Women will continue to walk behind the donkey, carrying their burdens on their covered heads, a baby strapped to their backs, another in their bellies, while the men ride on ahead, totally confident in their entitlement and supremacy.

I despair.

Every time I see a headscarf I want to shout "You don't have to cover up in order to protect men, let the men take responsibility for their sexual desires!"
(This is at the core of French secularism and why the veil is banned in Holland and Belgium.)

PS. There are two very moving films that illustrate the battles women have to fight for the smallest privilege. One is "The source", set in an isolated village in the depths of Morocco. The women have to climb up a mountain to carry water down to the village. They ask for a pipe and a well and when their demands are not met, they go on a sex strike, with unforeseen consequences.

The other is a Saudi Arabian film called "Wajda" about a girl in puberty who wants her own bicycle and goes to amazing lengths to get one despite all the obstacles put in her way. You know that any day now she will have to wear the niqab and her bicycle days will be over. She won't be allowed to drive a car either.


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