THE WOMEN OF THE MIDDLE EAST
Arguably one of the worst places in the world to be a woman is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where deep-rooted inequality deprives millions of women of their basic rights and freedoms.
Abuse and mistreatment of women is widespread, and the impact of this abuse extends far beyond the individual women themselves. Children are left emotionally-scarred, families become dysfunctional, and communities are broken as shame creates barriers of fear and isolation.
An estimated 30% of MENA women have experienced physical violence by intimate partners at some point in their lives.
An estimated 91% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Egypt have been subjected to FGM.
10% to 45% of husbands surveyed in Morocco, Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon admitted to having beaten their wives
(IMAGES Survey 2017)
Maggie is an award-winning filmmaker, and producer of SAT-7 women’s programme, Needle and New Thread.
I always felt that discrimination against women was something that happened to other people, not to me. Belonging to an educated, middle-class Christian family in Egypt, I believed that other women were marginalised, but of course we were not. But all it took was a bit of curiosity to make me notice that the threads of discrimination were woven throughout our lives – and even very, very close to home.
My first eye-opener came at university. An Egyptian activist came to speak to my class about female genital mutilation (FGM). I hadn’t heard of this practice before. We assumed she was talking about practices that happen to other people, far away from us – illiterate people in villages. She assertively said, “I bet you someone in this room has been circumcised.” We shook our heads – but to my surprise, a few hands timidly came up!
I went home afterwards and asked my mother and grandmother: did this happen to you? “No,” my grandmother said. “Everyone did it to their daughters, but my father refused.” Somehow my great-grandfather was convinced that this was unnecessary and unacceptable. And because of him, my grandmother, her sister, and consequently my mother and I were spared this horrible and inhumane practice.
Lack of choice
More questions came up with other women, and lots of stories arose: early marriage, FGM, lack of choice. My grandfather’s watching the news took precedence over my grandma watching a movie. It wasn’t even a matter of discussion. His schedule, when he had lunch, the hour of his siesta – all his preferences took priority over my grandmother’s. That was simply how things were in most Egyptian homes.
I don’t know what my grandmothers would have done differently, if they had been given more choices. But I do know what my great-grandfather – who refused to circumcise his daughters – did differently, and how much it impacted generations and lives, down to my own. I do know the power and impact that one enlightened person can make in a family.
Through Needle and New Thread, I hope to see more men and women who can stand up and say, “This injustice stops here.” We pray that we will notice when other people are not smiling and that we will ask why. Every week, we create a platform for more stories to be told and more voices to be heard. Ultimately, we hope that more of these voices will be ones ringing with laughter.
MAGGIE MORGAN, SAT-7 PRODUCER
The short movie 'A Dress' is wonderful. Unfortunately, these ideas and traditions are not only in Egypt but in all Arab countries. I am experiencing it, as I can’t go out by myself because of harassment.
KAREMA from EGYPT
I used to feel that I was meant to be submissive to men because God made me a woman and that my only role was to serve my husband and children. But now, after watching this programme on SAT-7, I realise that God sees me with the same value as a man, as an equal, and that I have a purpose on this earth just like men. I understand now the worth that I have in the eyes of my beloved Jesus.”
Overcoming the odds
Raised by a single mother in Egypt, Sue Ellen Hassouna overcame the odds to become a successful lawyer in a male-dominated profession and society. She credits her success to her mother, and now she supports younger women in their careers.
My goal is to change society’s perspective on women and fight the prejudice they face on a daily basis – both in Egypt and around the world. I want to use my position and influence to make a stand
Fighting for equality
From the moment I chose to study law until today, I’ve seen a lot of prejudice against women, especially in the field of law. I used to get disapproving looks from my male colleagues in courtrooms. I’ve faced stereotyping, judgmental attitudes, and disrespect. I had to fight to be taken seriously in my profession. Even though I achieved high grades at university, large corporations rejected me when I applied for jobs as a fresh graduate. There was a sense that they couldn’t trust a woman lawyer with the job.
After getting rejected from 13 companies, I vowed to work hard until the companies that rejected me would instead seek to employ me. Now, I’m the head of the legal department of a large corporation and have set up a scholarship for young women who want to become lawyers.
Inspired and inspiring
My mother is my inspiration, and the one behind my success, which is why I named the scholarship after her. I was raised by a single mother – she’s a fighter, had strong principles, and taught us right from wrong. She is my role model and my support. When I chose to study law, everyone ridiculed me and put me down because I was shy and quiet as a young girl. But my mother believed in me. Even after I finished university and couldn’t find work, she helped me further my studies. I owe it all to her. No one can be successful without the help of others. That’s what inspired me to create a scholarship for young women lawyers.
Women in Egypt face many financial and cultural constraints which prevent them pursuing proper education or professional careers. I want to prove that these doors should not be closed to women and we should help them overcome financial and cultural obstacles. The chance to invest in young hopeful women and help them succeed is a great reward for my efforts.
SUE ELLEN HASSOUNA, EGYPT
Approximately 80% of women in the MENA are not in work and most of them are stay-at-home mothers
In Iran, over 60% of university students are female, and marriage rates are falling, as more women are pursuing higher education rather than marrying and losing their independence
(IMAGES Survey 2017)
1in 5 girls in the MENA are married off before the age of 18.
I've had a devestating past, considered as nothing before others; I saw no value in myself. But today I have value because of the cross of my Lord, Jesus Christ, and His love."
Melis* is a SAT-7 TÜRK team member. She ensures that viewers are kept up to date with Christian news from Turkey and abroad. She is also expecting her first baby. Here, Melis shares her insights as a soon-to-be mother.
My husband and I hadn’t planned to have a baby this year, but it was God’s timing. The Lord says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8). Similarly, the fears we have for our child are not from Him, but our hopes belong to God.
Being pregnant and knowing that I’m already a mother is an extraordinary feeling. I can’t describe it. The most exciting thing was to hear her heartbeat on the ultrasound for the first time. I think when I hold her in my arms, I will fully know it in my heart.
Having children in these days of uncertainty is a serious thing. We have no idea what will happen, or what kind of world she will live in. Uncertainty scares me. On the other hand, she will be surrounded by people that will protect and love her. Istanbul is more expensive than other parts of Turkey, especially for healthcare and accommodation. However, there are better schools here which means more opportunities for our child in the future.
I want to work until I’m old – I love my job! But I recognise this is a controversial topic in Turkey. Some mothers in the workplace are put under pressure to quit and be at home with their children. It’s complicated and often multi-faceted. Some women don’t have high enough incomes to pay for caregivers, or they have moved away from their extended family and don’t have support. I consider myself very lucky – we share an apartment with my parents.
A woman’s place?
Many Middle Eastern countries place the value of a woman on whether she can have children, and how many. The same mindset exists in some areas of Turkey – women are expected to serve their husbands and elders but aren’t seen as equals. However, I do think women are generally more valued in our time. More women can work, travel to experience different cultures, and have more educational opportunities. I want to encourage women to pursue change. If a woman is inspired and empowered, she can change the world.
“We should pray for the lives of Turkish women every day. I hope old thought patterns continue to change, so that future generations, including my daughter, will flourish."
*Name changed for security, image for illustration
My husband had been mistreating me, beating me and drinking, and I was forced to leave him. I went to stay with my mother ready to file a divorce. I asked sister Mitra (a SAT-7 Viewer Support team member) to get in touch with me. We spoke, she gave me some good advice and we prayed together that the fear of the Lord would come upon my husband. A week later my husband came to me a changed man and in humility, he promised to work on his weaknesses. Never has he before shown awareness of his mistakes or shown any brokenness. I can see every day that he is trying to improve his behaviour. I thank God for you that during those difficult days you were standing alongside us. I am so happy that I am able to share the good news of what the Lord has been doing.
Parastoo is the Iranian presenter of SAT-7 PARS show, A Girl’s World.
All the girls watching A Girl’s World are like my own children – we have a special connection and bond, even though it’s not face-to-face. I do feel somewhat like a spiritual mother to these children; I’m giving them everyday advice, listening to them, and encouraging them on the right path in life. I hope to be a positive influence in their lives as they grow up and find their identity as young women.
Even some of the parents ask me for parenting advice, which surprises me! I am young and unmarried and without children, but it shows that they trust us [SAT-7] and value our opinion.
Encouraging girls to find their purpose
I am passionate about encouraging young girls to love themselves the way they are. We are all unique – each of us has a different purpose on this earth. However, it takes time for young girls to realise this truth and love themselves. Of course, they will know this when they understand how much God loves them and their identity as God’s daughters.
In the Middle East, women’s voices and opinions can often be ignored. However, women in the Bible also lived in an unequal society but they were still used powerfully by God, and part of changing history. We tell the stories of these inspiring women
from the Bible to encourage our young viewers.
Change the world!
I want young Persian girls to know that they can do big things – even if they grow up in a part of the world where women have less rights. I want them to know they can be successful, they can make their dreams a reality, and they can change the world!
PARASTOO, SAT-7 PRESENTER