Under the pretext of saving women

In the chapter „Feminist Insurrections and the Egyptian Revolution“ of his book, Paul Amar describes the unjust way in which women (and also men) have been treated by the Arab State Security. Women were sexually harassed and abused by baltagiyya, a group recruited by State Security to wreak havoc and discredit the protesters during the revolution. The apparent plan was to make the protestors look like a group of brutal, sexual predators. However, that image became less convincing when more and more women joined the protests, so instead of the men the women became the target for accusations and were presented as prostitutes.

While some groups like El-Nadeem made serious attempts to help (e.g. by providing medical treatment to victims of gendered or sexual attacks as well as actual sex-workers), others engaged in victim-blaming, such as Salafi organizations telling women to dress appropriately. Stricter laws on sexual harassment might have seemed like a good idea at first, but they could be misused by the police to arrest men for an innocent flirt and thereby lead to mass arrests under the pretext of sexual harassment.

The 2000 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security” has to be looked at with caution as well. It is meant to “legalize international armed interventions in response to rape, femicide, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and peacekeeping operations” (Amar, 2015, 204-205), but can easily serve as an excuse to intervene in foreign affairs.

Even though it is not completely comparable, I couldn’t help but think of the Cologne New Year’s Eve events when reading the article. The responses to those attacks featured equally preposterous advice (e.g. staying an arm length away from men), generalized accusations (e.g. migrant men being banned from a public swimming pool) and others thinking that they know better how to handle the situation (e.g. blaming the police for not handling the situation correctly or the government for having let so many migrants enter the country in the first place). That also extends to parties from other countries, just look at Donald Trump’s response on Twitter. If Trump ever became president of the United States, he could use the UNSCR 1325 to spread his Islamophobia across the globe by intervening under the pretext of saving women.

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My idea for a digital activism campaign is not fully developed yet, but it also targets women’s rights in the Arab world. However, it is important that the campaign would start within the Arab community and is not brought forth by strangers telling them how to live their lives. Arab women could work on raising awareness for their rights, but not target only men but also other Arab women who submitted to a mostly paternalistic society. This is a tricky issue since a lot of values and beliefs are rooted in Islam and it mustn’t be the goal to decry people’s religion. The campaign would try to prevent situations like the following examples from happening:

Woman dies because paramedics barred access to all female campus

Schoolgirls barred from escaping fire

Female ISIS members beat women to death for lifting niqap

Woman tortured for violating dress code

The campaign needs an anchor point and probably also a more narrow focus. As part of the campaign a video could be created that shows a variety of women (some fully veiled, some wearing a headscarf, maybe even some unveiled). First, they all state that they are Muslim or are shown praying or doing something else that clearly portrays them as Muslim and following the rules of the Quran. The message would then shift to expressing that the rules of the Quran stop where people’s lives are being harmed.

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Under the pretext of saving women