“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” Rebecca West
It’s undeniable that Arab women have been and are still struggling whether it be to improve themselves as part of the society or to defend their rights against ignorance; violence and discrimination.
In 2016, Arab women are still asking for the rights of education, gender equality and are fighting the old customs and many other ignorant rules that keep women from living freely and independently. I used to ask myself this question: why are Arab women always finding themselves in a defensive position?
The Tunisian society is like other Arab societies in the fact that is ruled in 2 ways: the first being by the rules that are made by law; though they fortunately favour women more than other Arab countries do, it is still not enough. The second is the customs and traditions which are more sacred than religion, and are actually just the people’s cover to impose their old traditions on women including marriage.
Marriage is an agreement and a choice between two people; but in Tunisia it is an obligation especially in the poor neighborhoods. Growing up in this environment, I was taught that washing the dishes is a woman’s work and marriage is the sole destiny of any girl. I realized from a very young age that my journey towards change was going to be hard. It’s does not matter if you’re an educated or a successful woman; if you are not married, society looks down upon you as someone who is incomplete and has achieved nothing.
“When are you getting married?”
It’s the annoying question that I used to hear almost everyday; at first the question made me angry as every time I tried to justify myself, people still looked at me as if I had done something wrong !! Looking back, I deeply wish I would have had the courage to reply to them “it’s none of your business;” with time passing by, it became a habit to reply “When God wants,” whenever I was asked.
According to the customs, a family must be the first and last dream of any girl and anything else is secondary and probably not important.
I always wonder who gives them the right to specify my dreams and decide for me what age I should get married!! It is really weird, isn’t it?
This pressure forces many women to get married in order to put an end to this coercion and stop the words of reproach.
Leila, a nickname, is one of these beautiful girls who like many others, dreamt to live a love story and get married to someone of her choice. But as people say “winds do not blow as the ships wish” ; because she reached the age of 33, she received an offer, which naturally was seen as a great opportunity . Her family forced her to get married to someone whom she didn’t love. They kept shaming her saying :” you’re old and you might miss your last chance to have a family and then society will always look at you differently” . Unconvinced , she had to accept the man and marry him. She then brought to the world two children; I really can’t understand how a woman can have children with someone she doesn’t love?!
She told me once: “I’ve never imagined myself married to him.” I asked her ” why then did you accept his offer” ? She replied: ” Did I have an other option? If I haven’t accepted his offer, my suffering with my family and with society would have never ended, and they would have kept pushing me until I accepted. The only thing I could think about was that people would say “married” rather than “spinster”. I didn’t think that I just made the worst decision in my life. Instead of making an end to my suffering, I moved to another kind of suffering which is to live with someone I don’t love”. Leila is suffering deep down, she doesn’t want to talk about her life but her sad face says everything, I see her heart crying inside even when she pretends to be happy; she has faced many problems with her husband but every time, she gives up more of her dignity and forgives him for the sake of her children.Today, her entire life revolves around making a better future for her children even though this lifestyle dissatisfies her and hurts her dignity.
Leila’s experience has had a huge impact on me.I feel sorry for her, I could never blame her but at the same time I cannot justify her life choices because it was what she chose and I do believe that our choices define us. It also made me think a lot about my future and my principles especially since I am living in the same environment
One day I was standing in front of the mirror and asked myself “Am I going to be the next?, “Am I going to give up on my dreams to satisfy others?”
At that moment, I experienced a weird feeling that I couldn’t explain. Was it a sad feeling about the dystopia that I was living in? Or was it just me getting tired of all this?I also realized how unfair this society was and how much importance it gives to appearance without any regard for women’s feelings and wellness ; they look at women only as “wives” and “mothers”. In the end , Leila could have chosen to refuse her husband’s offer and face her family; I believe she still has the choice to end their sad life and face society by not letting what they say affect her and put her down. I know that there are many Leila’s out there who are afraid to face society’s rules but I say to these women: « you’re not alone ». Let’s unite together against the rusty traditions. Your voice can make a change!