Pakistan Bans Article On Muslim Women And Sexuality
NEW DELHI: Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning Egyptian-American journalist and campaigner for women’s rights, recently wrote an article titled “Sex talk for Muslim women” for the opinion section of the international New York Times.
In Pakistan’s newspaper version of the New York Times -- published as a section in the Express Tribune -- the article was replaced by a blank space.
Eltahawy has slammed the censorship, saying the ban exposed the extent of the country’s discrimination against women. Speaking to AFP she said that the decision to ban her article was an example of how Pakistan’s authorities think a woman “who claims ownership over her body is dangerous … and must be silenced”.
A source in the Express Tribune told AFP that the newspaper “can’t afford to publish such controversial articles about Islam”.
Pakistan is known to be a deeply conservative society, that denies women basic rights and where violence against women is pervasive in the garb of so-called honour killings and other social evils. Just last week, a teenage girl was drugged and strangled before her body was set on fire in a mini bus on the orders of the village's tribal council in Abbotabad. The girl’s crime: helping one of her friends elope.
According to Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, about 1100 women were killed by relatives in the country in the last year alone.
The widespread problem gained international attention after a documentary on the subject won an Oscar this year. In February, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's film, “A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness” won in the best documentary short category.
Eltahawy drew a parallel with Chinoy, citing the backlash the director faced within Pakistan after winning the Academy Award. “So many Pakistanis attacked her for making Pakistan ‘look bad’ and not enough attacked what is actually making Pakistan look bad: men who are ready to kill women for daring to believe they have the right to consent and agency over their bodies.”
Eltahawy said the censorship showed “a woman who disobeys and who openly claims sexual liberation and pleasure is dangerous and must be silenced” and added that she wasn’t aware of her article being censored in any country other than Pakistan. Defending her right to talk openly on sexuality, she said, “sex is happening, but shrouded in taboo and shame … As women of colour and women of faith, we need to see women who look like us. Sex positivity isn’t the domain just of white feminism.”
Excerpts from the article:
“I am not a cleric, and I am not here to argue over what religion says about sex. I am an Egyptian, Muslim woman who waited until she was 29 to have sex and has been making up for lost time. My upbringing and faith taught me that I should abstain until I married. I obeyed this until I could not find anyone I wanted to marry and grew impatient. I have come to regret that it took my younger self so long to rebel and experience something that gives me so much pleasure…”
“We barely acknowledge the sexual straitjacket we force upon women. When it comes to women, especially Muslim women in the Middle East, the story seems to begin and end with the debate about the veil. Always the veil. As if we don’t exist unless it’s to express a position on the veil....”
“It has not been easy for my parents to hear their daughter talk so frankly about sex, but it has opened up a world of other women’s experiences. In many non-Western countries, speaking about such things is scorned as “white” or “Western” behavior. But when sex is surrounded by silence and taboo, it is the most vulnerable who are hurt, especially girls and sexual minorities…”
“But the issue of sex affects all women, not just those with money or a college degree. Sometimes, I hear the argument that women in the Middle East have enough to worry about simply struggling with literacy and employment. To which my response is: So because someone is poor or can’t read, she shouldn’t have consent and agency, the right to enjoy sex and her own body?...”
“My revolution has been to develop from a 29-year-old virgin to the 49-year-old woman who now declares, on any platform I get: It is I who own my body. Not the state, the mosque, the street or my family. And it is my right to have sex whenever, and with whomever, I choose…”