Monday, August 17, 2009

Sisterhood of the non-Travelling Pants

It’s a normal sunny afternoon and a group of women are gathered in a local café enjoying coffee and friendly chatting when suddenly the doors of the café burst open. There’s confusion and shouting – armed men yelling and rounding people up! There’s panic and the women are wondering: has there been a murder or bomb scare? Is it a robbery? ……… No!

13 women, deemed to have broken Article 152 of the Sudanese law, which punishes anyone who "commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing", are arrested in an unusual raid by members of the Sudanese public order police force. Their crime? Wearing pants!

Of the thirteen women, ten pleaded guilty and were lashed two days after their arrest, while the other three opted to have the matter taken to court. Lubna Hussein has become the symbol for change in Sudan. Accused of indecency and violation of the Sudanese interpretation of Islamic dress code, Lubna, a journalist formerly employed by the United Nations, is currently on trial and banned from travelling out of her home town. Her immunity privileges expired once she resigned from the United Nations, making her vulnerable to prosecution. Sudanese police fired teargas and beat women protesting outside a court where Lubna was on trial, facing 40 lashes. Some of the women bravely wore trousers in solidarity with her.

Activists and lawyers say the implementation of the law is arbitrary and public order cases usually involve quick summary trials with sentences carried out shortly afterward. Lubna’s trial has been postponed until September 7.

Once again, Islamic regimes are shooting themselves in the foot. Do these countries deliberately develop media campaigns against themselves? If anything, they need to get new Public Relations officers and change their images. You would think that with Bashier facing war crimes charges in the ICC, his government would shy away from additional controversy and unwanted negative press. Lubna, of course, has made statements drawing attention to the situation in Darfur, and emphasising how much worse it might be for women from the south of Sudan.

As usual the issue will become how backward and old school Muslims are and Sudanese culture and social protocol will take a back seat. As usual Islam and Muslims on the whole will be blamed for the patriarchal interpretations of religion which homogenize with culture to form the Shariah laws practised locally. And as is becoming usual, Sarkozy is making it his personal vendetta against Islamic dress codes – does he really want all women to be prancing around with nothing more than floss to cover? Not everyone can be Carla!


Anonymous said...

I guess I'm not sure where you stand on this. Sure, culture and social protocol is important. I realize I'm a degenerate Westerner, but this feels all too familiar to me. I grew up in the States in a Christian school where girls had to wear dresses. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but it was all based on the idea that if you wore anything other than a dress, you were evil in God's eyes. Men had some rules, too, but they were much less strict. Always a gender double-standard with religion.

I also worked for a company where women were required to wear dresses, hose--very old-fashioned. If a woman wore pants, she was considered a lesbian or didn't know her "place" (ie-inferior to men). This was based more on cultural preferences in the region, but again, you can trace it all back to the particular brand of Christianity that flourished in that region.

Clothing preferences are fine, but they should never get you ostracized, humiliated or beaten. What no one wants to admit or recognize is that codes of dress always change. They're arbitrary. Men's clothing changes as does women's. What was once acceptable is now forbidden and vice versa. And so it will always be.

Azra said...

The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

There are too many crimes committed under the banner of Islam. I have to wonder when will it all end, if it will end at all?

On the other end of the spectrum...I find that people just dont understand the meaning of moderation. Islam is moderation. Yet most people fall into one of two spectrums, the fanatics or the 'liberals' ie. muslim by name only. I just dont get it.

Sid said...

Ugh. Not long ago men in South Africa attacked a woman who dared to wear a mini skirt in public. She wasn't Muslim and they guys at the taxi rank weren't Muslim either. This issue is sooo much bigger than religion. These men are simply using religion as an excuse.

The Dude said...

I agree that not everyone can be Carla, but I do believe that you should have the right to wear whatever you see fit - just try to use your own common sense to see what fits each occassion - like a woman walking around a shopping mall in a bathing suit, nothing wrong with that (specially if she looks good) but its just quite pointless and unless she wants it, it draws a lot of needless attention which is at times not the good kind...

I do agree with you though, the Islamic world is roundly shooting itself in the foot, the kneecap and soon the groin at the rate they are going - in that regard I found Turkey to be a great example of what a more modern Muslim country could be like. They may no be perfect but until about 2/3 years back when I had gone there, it was an amazing place!

I hope that the reporter mentioned gets through this alright and doesnt have to face those lashes for real, and serious respect and love for the women who risk literally life and limb to protest outside THAT court and in pants no less.

Maybe someday things will get better.
In the meantime, you should watch a movie I recently did called "Religulous", I loved it personally.


desert demons said...

Riverwolf and Dude - I definitely feel that its important to respect cultural protocols, without those being imposed on an individual. I agree that individuals should have their own clothing preferences but we also live in a society and should be conscious of that, thereby not offending anyone by what we choose to wear. I've lived in countries that have more conservative interpretations of dress-codes, but in those countries, there aren't penalties for not abiding by the code. Instead, people are warmly requested to be sensitive to others and not wear inappropriate attire, similar to what Dude described as the woman wearing a bikini to a mall.
I've also been in countries where dress codes are enforced and those tasked with the enforcement tend to take their jobs way too seriously, to the detriment of women in most cases.

On the specific issue of pants, personally, as a Muslim but also being more modern in my choice of attire, I've found pants to be an easier, conservative medium of clothing, because it covers my limbs.

And yes, Turkey is quite lovely and does balance modernism with Islam, but I still don't agree with their bans on women wearing headscarves in parliament and some univeristies and I'm pleased that President Gul takes a different approach.

Azra - I totally agree!

Sid - tru, it is definitely sexism and unwarranted.

The Dude said...

Its all a learning process.. its almost impossible to find a perfect balance.

Maybe someday..

until then we can all simply try our best not to be like everyone else and give in to base anger, hatred, apathy, greed, avarice, bigotry and communalism.