Monday, 14 July 2008


i read deborah's latest post and this one from chandni*, and was reminded of an incident that happened to me in saudi arabia a couple of years ago. i went there for the hajj, and it was a deeply spiritual and moving experience. but as with all things, there are the good moments and the not-so-good moments.

the hajj involves many rituals, but mostly a lot of contemplation and prayer. people will pray for for forgiveness of sins, for health and happiness. they pray for their parents, their children and other family members. they pray for food for the hungry, health for the sick, shelter for the homeless, peace and prosperity for those at war. i prayed for all of those things. but i also spent a lot of time praying for all the women of the world. here's the reason why.

during our trip, we spent about 10 days in the city of medinah. one of the must-do things to do their is to visit the famous date market, where you will find many varieties of dates. there is one particular variety of date which is about triple the price of the others, and is highly sought after.

i went to visit the market with my father and brother. the stalls are usually owned by locals but run by migrants. one particular shop we stopped at was being run by a pakistani fellow. he was really helpful and friendly, and my dad got into a conversation with him about the various types of dates. he asked the shopworker what justified the high price for that variety of dates i mentioned above. my dad said the costs for planting, maintaining and harvesting that variety would be the same as for any other variety, so why charge more?

the pakistani fellow, bless his soul, replied that the difference between raising this variety of dates and any other variety was the same as the difference between raising a boy and a girl. just as you put extra care and attention towards raising boys, so did the farmers take extra care in raising this variety of dates.

i just remember standing there listening to this in a kind of shock. i felt sick, not just because it was contrary to all the principles of my religion, but because of the practical implications. it brought to the front of my mind the truths that i already knew: that in so many families girls get lower quality of food than boys, they get medical attention much later than boys, they get much less access to education than boys. they even get much less love from their parents than boys. and in millions of cases, they don't even get to be born.

imagine living your life knowing always that you are a burden and not a joy. that is the reality that so many girls face. from the age that they are old enough to understand anything, they understand this. it's a truth that is constant for so many across the world, irrespective of religion, race, nationality.

those words of his stayed with me throughout the trip. and so i prayed for all those little girls, and the women that they would become. it was as if i could feel their pain. maybe i could, because in a way it was my own.

*hat tip: 6oth carnival of feminists


Anna McM said...

You really have to wonder what that kind of upbringing would do to a girl psychologically, and how it would affect the kind of choices she made about relationships and stuff in her adulthood...

stargazer said...

many of these girls are probably not making choices about relationships. they marry the person chosen for them and make the best of it.

Anna McM said...

I was thinking about the sort of choices they might make if their relationships became abusive, for example. It seems like a lifetime of being raised inferior would predispose a woman to put up with some pretty awful treatment.

Anonymous said...

A couple I know had a semi-arranged marriage. Now at nearly 80 the wife has left with bitter accusations of long term abuse. People who know them are surprised as the woman was known to "wear the pants" and on occasion be violent. Now appears this was reactionary. I find this very sad - and scary.

stargazer said...

i don't think arranged marriages as such lead to abuse. will write a longer post on that some day. but it's more the way they are brought up and the way that society is structured, along with the high level of shame and blame attached to divorce that would lead to the situation you describe, anon.

anna, one thing i've found that is wierd/sad/? is that these women have a different set of expectations. often when these expectations are met or exceeded, they're actually quite happy. whereas to us, it looks like they are living a terrible life. i find it difficult to reconcile sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Stargazer - I agree. The couple referred to were not of a culture where arranged marraige is common (that I know of) and both came from complex family siatuations where women "put up and shut up". It just scares me that it took to that age to end

Julie said...

I agree, that would totally screw with your head. And really we don't have to go too far back in human history to find a time when most cultures devalued girls and women in the same way.