After Mona Altahawi’s Foreign Policy article was published, critics flooded social media websites with their rebuttals. While the Guardian’s Nesrine Malek stressed important points about the wider context of discrimination, it was the men who were especially angry on Twitter. Anger was specifically directed at her general statement: all men hate women. Well, as Malek says, it is really not that simple. Reality lays bear a complex society where women are systematically abused and deprived of their basic rights.
Reading Mona’s article, specifically the part on my country Yemen, I recalled the tragic story of my friend’s cousin. Her suffering occupies my mind whenever I encounter the phrase “women‘s rights”. The coalescence of women, men and tradition in her story offers insight into the life of Yemeni women, and maybe one might make your mind up about who really hates us.
My friend’s cousin was a very calm girl who barely talks; we met at my friend’s home, she had this angelic smile; her character, both calm and acquiescent, was widely admired in our society.
After her father died, she moved with her mother to her brother’s house, the male guardian. Her brother forced her to quit school at 6th grade. It was too far and his male pride cannot allow her to walk alone. There would have been many alternative solutions, namely walking with her female schoolmates, but he was either careless to think of one, or his male pride was more precious than his sister’s education.
Following her deprivation from education, she spent her whole days at her brother’s home, where daily tiring chores defined her life. In spite of her services, the brother’s wife disliked her presence and wanted her out of the house at any cost. The fastest route was a hastened arranged marriage. They gave her to the first man, a complete stranger, who she had no time to meet, like, let alone dislike or reject.
On the first night of marriage, worried and scared after learning that losing virginity hurts; she found no comfort in her husband who cared less to calm her down or even to give her time to know him. In Islam, we are taught that the prophet emphasized to men the importance of being gentle and calming to their wives before intercourse. Yet this man was just in a hurry to prove to his family and hers his manhood. Both of their families were waiting outside to see the blood-stained white cloth as proof of his masculinity and his bride’s virginity. When he approached her, her anxiety increased and she helplessly tried to stop him. She knew well that resisting her husband makes her “a bad wife” who will be doomed to hell. Nevertheless, she failed to control her body, unready for this imposed sexual relation. He met her continuous resistance with aggression; he violently raped her because he could not keep the families waiting outside any longer. She lost a lot of blood; he left her bleeding to take the cloth outside and hand it in to his waiting mother. The mother, in turn, was not satisfied; she entered the room and started squeezing the girl’s stomach for blood. It was tradition, everybody believed. Her blood and pain were his honor.
The following day, she was still bleeding, so they had to take her to the doctor, a woman, who was surprised at the check up. She said that the girl was all torn up; it was clearly rape and not a usual first marital night. The doctor, however, was no different. She ignored my friend’s cousin, only spoke to her husband, and wrote her a prescription.
Her wounds never healed. Days passed and whenever her husband approached her, she would throw up. She hated him and sex. Four months passed, nothing changed, and he never tried to be intimate without sexual intentions. He was just angry because of her refusal. Sex was after all the reason behind his marriage in the first place. So he decided to divorce her.
Today, she remains a divorced woman, back to living a maid’s life at her brother’s house. Her chances of getting married again are very low. But her brother is even stricter about leaving the house, now that she lost her precious virginity, a much needed proof for decency in case of doubt.
Who hates women? Is it men? Women? The whole society? Or who?
It is a paternalistic society where men, women and tradition are complicit.
Hind Aleryani is a Yemeni social media activist, writer, blogger, and democracy advocate. Organizer of "No Qat" campaign series, she is currently based in Beirut and working for SocialEyez as a political analyst.