It’s much easier to gain an understanding of gender inequality when you’re living it. While that means that most of us can understand the prejudice faced by women in the United States, it is much harder to grasp gender inequality across the globe. This week brought to light for me that while the struggles faced by women overseas are great, what the media shows isn’t always an accurate reflection. The burqa for example, commonly seen as a sign of the subjugation of Afghan women under the Taliban (Abu-Lughod 785), surprises many outsiders with its seemingly unknown meaning.
While it is undeniable that many women are mistreated in Islam, Afghanistan and other third-world countries, most generalizations made are from researchers discovering cases of ‘powerless’ groups of women in order to prove the general argument that women as a group are indeed powerless (Mohanty 66). It takes many by surprise that such a powerful condescending symbol for these women is not immediately thrown off their bodies since the “newly-constituted Afghanistan” (The Thong Vs. The Veil) rising from their freedom from the Taliban. What these people don’t know is that the local status accompanying the burqa is of respectable women coming from solid families, as opposed to poor families that must make a living with street selling (Abu-Loghod 786). What’s even more shocking is that there are more women aiding in Iran’s parliament than there are women serving in our own U.S. Congress (The Thong Vs. The Veil). And while Hillary Clinton is doing everything in her power to become our first female U.S. President, many Muslim nations have already had female Presidents and Prime Ministers (The Thong Vs. The Veil).
Just to be clear, I am by no means discrediting the uphill battle of women in third-world countries. Bemba men are obtaining legal rights over women as soon as they reach puberty (Mohanty 69), genital mutilation exists solely to disfigure the sexual pleasures of women (Mohanty 66), and Indian women are faking a political agreement based on organizing against police brutality against women (Bohanty 77). There are so many horrifying events happening to women in underprivileged countries every day, but that does not mean that the oppression or livelihood of women in third-world countries are all the same. Catholic nuns are almost entirely veiled, yet they are perceived much differently from Muslim women who are veiled (The Thong Vs. The Veil). We cannot assume the lives of women overseas by the way they dress, and we cannot group all women of third-world countries together. The oppression of women overseas should not be overlooked, but it should also not be falsely presumed based on the idea of an ‘average third-world woman’ (Mohanty 65).
Abu-Lughod, L. (2002). Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 783-790. doi:10.1525/aa.2002.104.3.783
Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
The Thong Vs. The Veil. (2001, November 26). Retrieved June 26, 2016, from http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=491