Headscarves and Hymens Book Summary By Mona Eltahawy

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Headscarves and Hymens is an in-depth look at the harsh realities for women in the Arab world, as told through personal accounts and stories of female activists.

The book uncovers a wide range of oppressive practices that these women face, from child marriage to virginity tests, demonstrating how crucial it is to bring about meaningful social change.

The narrative dives even deeper into the consequences of these injustices and calls for a sexual revolution in Islamic nations, empowering women across the globe with hope and strength.

Written by renowned Human Rights activist Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves and Hymens is stirring, discerning narrative that illuminates both the darkness and light of life among Arab women.

Headscarves and Hymens Book

Book Name: Headscarves and Hymens (Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution)

Author(s): Mona Eltahawy

Rating: 3.7/5

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Mona Eltahawy is an accomplished Egyptian-American journalist and author who has lived and worked in New York City for many years.

As an experienced journalist, she has reported on both the current events in her native land of Egypt and the general Muslim society and politics of the Middle East.

She is most known for her first book, Headscarves and Hymens, which expands upon her 2012 Foreign Affairs article entitled ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ This book delved further into issues regarding gender inequality amongst primarily Muslim women and spurred conversation across the world.

The Reality Of Women’s Rights In The Arab World: A Deeper Look Behind The Veil

Arab World

In reading Headscarves and Hymens: An Insiders Tale of the Arab World by Mona Eltahawy, it becomes abundantly clear that women in Arab countries are facing a systemic oppression.

This oppression is perpetuated and justified by religious beliefs and customs.

Women in Arab countries have been relegated to second-class citizens due to laws put into effect by male-dominated societies.

From the veil being used as a way to repress and control women, to female genital mutilation being considered a “ceremony” and Saudi Arabian women facing punishment for not wearing veils—it’s no wonder why there is a need for an emerging feminist movement rising up to liberate their sisters from these oppressive structures.

As readers, we need to open our eyes to what’s really happening in these countries—to the reality of the suffering of countless mothers, daughters and sisters who are fighting an uphill battle for their rights, safety and dignity every day.

Let us stand alongside them as an act of solidarity; raise our voices with theirs so that together, we may help create meaningful change in the dangerous world of gender disparities in Arab countries.

The Subjugation Of Arab Women: The Movements, Laws And Attitudes Underpinning A Misogynistic Culture

Many Arab women are living in oppressive and hostile environments, where misogyny is rampant.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, ultra-conservative interpretations of Islamic religion have led to unequal rights for women, systematic discrimination and a culture that heavily controls them.

This is true among religious groups such as Salafi or Sunni sects of Islam, political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or Shiite militias in Iraq, as well as in countries which supposedly promote progressive family policies in the West.

The severe impact this has had on day-to-day life for many women across these regions is startling.

For example, laws which are supposed to protect families fail to prevent abhorrent practices like child marriage, marital rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence.

In Egypt an example of this was shown when a court declared it acceptable for a man to beat his wife if he had “good intentions”.

In 2013 Yemen saw conflicts concerning the Prophet Mohammed’s second wife who was only a child when they wed arise leading to tragic consequences including an eight year old dying from internal bleeding caused by her husband raping her on their wedding night.

This type of inequality between both sexes can be seen through The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report; no Arab country qualified in the top 100 countries committed to closing the gender gap with Morocco being 129th and Yemen listed at#127 .

Understandably due to these shocking statistics it is difficult not be aware of what everyday life is like for many Arab women surrounded by hostile and misogynistic environment.

Breaking The Silence: Standing Up For Arab Women’S Rights In A Culture Of Obedience

When it comes to misogynistic behavior, there is often a deafening silence from both Arab women and Western liberals.

Arab women are often brought up in a culture where obedience is rewarded, so they don’t know how to express their feelings towards male oppressors.

Furthermore, they risk facing repercussions from their communities if they raise their voices against the culture’s norms.

Similarly, Western liberals are reluctant to directly criticize what is seen as misogyny due to their beliefs in respecting other ways of life.

This lack of voice can be detrimental for Arab women struggling for equality – it’s comparable to the situation American women of color had to deal with when trying to fight sexism in their community, despite the fear that they were hurting friends and family around them.

In 2012 an article was published in Foreign Policy which criticized Westerners for tacitly supporting the conservative aspects of Arab societies and not speaking out against oppression towards women.

But despite these odds time and time again courageous Arab feminists have used their voices to fight for justice and female rights – something we should remember when facing our own struggles today.

Uncovering The Realities Behind The Veil: Examining The Choices That Women In Arab Countries Have And Do Not Have Regarding Veiling

Arab Countries

When it comes to headscarves worn by Arab women, there are a variety of reasons why they might choose to cover their heads and faces.

The hijab, which covers only the head and chest, or the niqab, which also covers the face, can be religious symbols or symbols of protected modesty.

Some women wear a veil as a way to gain freedom in conservative Islamic societies that may repress female autonomy; others wear them out of fear of sexual harassment on crowded streets.

But when it comes down to it, many Arab women don’t really have much choice in whether or not they will veil themselves – at least not without facing serious consequences such as public shaming from family members or punishment from morality police in countries like Saudi Arabia.

This is especially true for those who do not have economic privilege and are thus much more vulnerable to these forms of oppression.

So although veiling can offer a sense of protection for some women, ultimately someone else’s beliefs about what is respectable should never determine what any woman wears on her own body – no matter where she lives.

The Cruel Reality Of Female Genital Mutilation In The Arab World

Arab women have long been expected to cover their heads and bodies, and Arabian society takes this expectation a step further when it comes to sex and virginity.

In many circles, the hymen has been seen as a symbol of female virginity and an indication of a woman’s honor.

As such, families and clerics often go to great lengths to ensure that a girl’s hymen remains intact until her wedding night.

To “protect” Arab girls from sexual exploration before marriage, some societies resort to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

FGM is the partial or complete removal of exterior genitalia in an attempt to reduce a girl’s sex drive and thus maintain her purity until she is married.

Sadly, mothers willingly bring their daughters to such ceremonies even though there is no mention of FGM in either the Quran or the Bible.

Unfortunately, FGM comes with plenty of dangerous side effects including infections, infertility, complications during childbirth and occasionally death.

This practice continues to be viewed as a violation of human rights by organizations such as the U.N.

and The World Health Organization (WHO).

The Epidemic Of Gender-Based Violence In The Arab World

Arab women face relentless sexual harassment and physical abuse both in the public and at home.

A 2013 United Nations study showed that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women reported experiencing sexual harassment, ranging from unsolicited touching to verbal attacks.

Women like Dalal, a 16-year-old Jordanian girl, are even forced into marriage with their rapist as an avoidant measure of avoiding punishment or social stigma.

On top of this, law enforcement often present a threat to Arab women’s safety.

In Egypt, they conduct “virginity tests” which are essentially rape in disguise.

12 other women were sexually assaulted by security forces right after taking part in a legal rights demonstration in 2011–leaving the author with a broken arm and hand–adding onto the danger of being out in the open for Arab ladies.

Compounded with religious laws like Sharia, which only protect men; or nationwide laws put into place but not enforced, such as Iraq’s 3 year maximum sentencing for murdering wives instead of life sentences unlike other places; or even clerics who encourage men to discipline wives without leaving marks in UAE serve as further evidence that no issue is ever resolved when it comes to protecting Arab women and their safety either at home or out on the streets.

Arab Women Prove They’re Ready For Change With Online Protests

Online Protests

Arab feminists are at the forefront of a movement that is using the power of the internet to reach out and connect with women across their region.

They are leading the charge in bringing meaningful change to their communities and nations.

In Saudi Arabia, where domestic issues have been handed to state clerics, a 2008 online campaign was launched by activist Wajeha al-Huwaider to protest the country’s ban on female participation in sports.

Her call-to-action was met with positive responses and, by 2012, two female members joined Saudi’s Olympic team.

Then, in 2011, another Saudi woman named Manal al-Sharif courageously posted a video of herself driving a car – an action strictly forbidden by law – which got her jailed for nine days but also sparked an online protest that included 12 other women posting videos of themselves driving cars too.

These online protests show beyond any doubt that Arab women are ready for meaningful change and not just asking for it but demanding it as well.

This is evidence that the internet is truly a powerful platform for social reform.

Arab Women’S Activism: Shining A Light On Sexual Violence And Standing Up For Equal Rights

Sadly, even during liberating revolutionary movements, women have had to face yet another form of oppressive violence: sexual violence.

This was seen in the Arab world during the Arab Spring of 2010 and 2011, when women found themselves being subjected to rape and torture at the hands of authority figures and fellow protesters.

In Syria for example, women who took part in protests against President Bashar al-Assad were raped and tortured by his loyalists; a similar story occurred in Egypt when women held demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak.

Moreover, when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was inaugurated as president back in 2014 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a woman was gang-raped there!

It sadly took some harrowing realities before changes could be made – such as pressure from powerful entities like HarassMap and Tahrir Bodyguard – before these issues began to be addressed.

But despite all these adversities, Arab women continue to fight for their rights and social change that seeks not only liberation but also an end to sexual violence that disproportionately affects them.

One way in which gradual change can happen is through sex education being taught in these regions.

Teaching people about the harms of repressive laws such as those which punish extramarital sex and allow rapists to marry their victims may indeed initiate positive change.

Additionally everyone has a part to play; speaking up is still important today if we are ever going to get rid of this misogynistic status quo!

Wrap Up

Headscarves and Hymens offers a poignant summary of the oppression faced by Arab women on a daily basis.

Not only do they suffer horrific abuse and repression but many are unable to claim their own rights, which is why Westerners must stand with them in solidarity.

Mona Eltahawy’s book speaks of strength, resilience, and determination to create a better future for all women in the Middle East.

By demanding equal rights and challenging patriarchal societies, these brave women can make lasting change and be given the freedom that has been too often denied to them.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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