One of my very fabulous readers, and a woman whom I consider a trusted friend sent a very thoughtful, informed response to my last blog, Ikea – No Girls Allowed.

This was her response (edited);

I understand your indignation and admit I always feel a tad ‘miffed’ when I see women here with only their
eyes showing. Seems they reject the freedom even when in our culture, with opportunity to change. And it’s not
always their ‘man’ forcing them to that – to my surprise!
So I believe that we are judging the culture in Saudi by our standards, not by theirs. The point of those
already here still holding on to their custom for cover from head to foot  – shows that some can’t make the
grade of adopting different standards. They actually feel better in the traditional dress. Amazing, eh!?!
In their Muslim countries then, it’s a slight against their standards to take pictures of the women. I was very
surprised in Dubai when taking pictures of the lush array of goodies in one store to have a man come quietly
up to me, asking me not to continue as it was against their customs and could affront some of their female
patrons. 

Yes, wow!  So demanding Ikea use the photos of Saudi women when it’s adverse to Saudi culture
is basically demanding the country adopt our standards in their homeland.
I’m still amazed that the women are not more up in arms, along with their men, for the right to drive
their own cars without a male driver – but, there you have it….”

My friend makes a sound argument, but I stick by my rationale. My response was;

“Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I understand what you are saying, but my gut tells me that taking women’s images out of media sends a message of women being non-existent.
Surely there were many Canadian women comfortable with the status quo when they couldn’t vote or weren’t considered their own person under the law.

Now, thanks to women who fought for our right to choose to vote, to work,and to receive an education, we no longer feel marginalized (for the most part).
So, showing Saudi women in traditional dress in publications at least acknowledges their existence. I’ll stand by my opinion, and hope that in a gentle way we can honour those women, and support their very dangerous struggle for equality.”

I could go on about traditional language marginalizing women, the history of women’s rights in our own country, and the psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome. Whether or not these women are captives in their own culture/country/marriages is up for debate, but I’m sure my very wise readers,  you can make the intellectual jump I’m trying to get at.

Women who live in parts of the world where being born female means your life is not valued, still feel and think the same way as any other human being. They love their families and they work to give their children a better life. They do not want to jeopardize their families by speaking out.

These same women are at risk of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, simply because they are not considered independent human entities in the eyes of the law. We take for granted our secular laws, which make our country a haven for immigrants from across the globe.

The least we can do is ensure that women are not invisible in their own cultures. The most we can do is work diligently for human rights for everyone.

Despite my Irish temper, I try to keep this idea close to my heart when I’m working at any kind of social change, remembering that it takes a steady, unfaltering effort, over a long period of time;

“The highest goodness is like water. Water benefits all things and does not compete. It stays in the lowly places which others despise. Therefore it is near The Eternal.” ~Lau Tzu~

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