Feminists Demand Justice for Qatif Woman

BlogHer Original Post

When women are not considered people, injustice reigns. This is a problem for essentially every fundamentalist religious society. For example, ultra-Orthodox Jewish women must obtain documents of permission from their husbands if they want to divorce; Christian women must obey their husbands regardless of his demands and wishes; Hindi women must move to her husband's family's home and serve his parents. And in fundamentalist Muslim societies, women who are raped are imprisoned, then given longer prison sentences when they complain about the injustice.

In Qatif, Saudi Arabia, a 19 year-old woman went out with a man she was not related to and was kidnapped and gang raped by seven men. The victim told her story Human Rights Watch in December 2006 (via Peaceful Muslima, who is following the case closely and has several posts on it throughout her blog):

“He started to drive me home. …We were 15 minutes from my house. I told him that I was afraid and that he should speed up. We were about to turn the corner to my house when they [another car] stopped right in front of our car. Two people got out of their car and stood on either side of our car. They man on my side had a knife. They tried to open our door. I told the individual with me not to open the door, but he did. He let them come in. I screamed…

“They took us to an area … with lots of palm trees. No one was there. If you kill someone there, no one would know about it. They took out the man with me, and I stayed in the car. I was so afraid. They forced me out of the car. They pushed me really hard … took me to a dark place. Then two men came in. They said, ‘What are you going to do? Take off your abaya.’ They forced my clothes off. The first man with the knife raped me. I was destroyed. If I tried to escape, I don’t even know where I would go. I tried to force them off but I couldn’t. [Another] man … came in and did the same thing to me. I didn’t even feel anything after that.

“I spent two hours begging them to take me home. I told them that it was late and that my family would be asking about me. Then I saw a third man come into the room. There was a lot of violence. After the third man came in, a fourth came. He slapped me and tried to choke me.

“The fifth and sixth ones were the most abusive. After the seventh one, I couldn’t feel my body anymore. I didn’t know what to do. Then a very fat man came on top of me and I could no longer breathe.

“Then all seven came back and raped me again. Then they took me home. … When I got out of the car, I couldn’t even walk. I rang the doorbell and my mother opened the door. She said you look tired.’ I didn’t eat for one week after that, just water. I didn’t tell anyone. I went to the hospital the next day.

“The criminals started talking about it [the rape] in my neighborhood. They thought my husband would divorce me. They wanted to ruin my reputation. Slowly my husband started to know what had happened. Four months later, we started a case. My family heard about the case. My brother hit me and tried to kill me.”

Since the woman's family came forward with the case, she was punished for being raped with a sentence of 90 lashes. (Her offense was going out in public without a legal guardian. According to one source, the rapists received jail terms ranging from 10 months to five years; another reports that the sentences were two to nine years.)

Malia at Double M reminded readers how important feminism is in preventing this type of injustice:

This is what happens in a fundamental patriarchal society with a complete disregard for equality. The six rapists get some jail time and the victim gets beat as if rape wasn't a bad enough "punishment" for being in the car with a man who was not a member of her family. So, next time you meet a feminist, thank her for encouraging your own country to take a step away from the blinding foolishness that is a completely male run society.

After the woman and her lawyer complained, her punishment was increased to 200 lashes and six months in prison. The authorities claim that the victim confessed to having an "illegal affair" and this is why the sentence was changed.

The Anonymous Arabist wrote:

What is outraging about the case to normal people is that a woman’s sentence was harshly increased because her lawyer publicized the case. What kind of stinky judicial system has to be protected from the eyes of the public?

What’s really outraging is that the Saudi Ministry of Justice responded to the international furor by dishonestly accusing the woman of immorality, implying adultery, which carries a death sentence.

Several conservative bloggers, however, have spent their time blaming feminists for "not being outraged" enough over this case. I have no idea where this charge is coming from. Many, many feminist bloggers are furious, as well wringing their hands with despair. In my case, I admit that it took me some time to cover the situation because I didn't even see it in the newspaper, and once I found out about it, I was too depressed by it and felt utterly hopeless. Fluffyblanket captures my feelings perfectly in her post titled, "What can be done?"

Under sharia, a rape requires four male witness to be proved. And if a woman who complains of rape is herself charged with adultery if she does not produce four male witnesses and stoned to death. That was the case with Amina Lawal of Nigeria who was sentenced to stoning by Sharia court because she got pregnant and could not produce four witnesses. Only from a lot of world wide infidel pressure she was saved.

As Western feminists, what can we do? How do we influence fundamentalist cultures of all types to ensure that women are regarded as people with full human rights? How do we stop brothers from trying to kill their raped sisters? How do we change religious governments from enforcing vile religious laws? Clearly, writing about our beliefs, signing petitions, and encouraging our governments to sanction those nations who violate women's human rights is one step. But what else can we do? For feminists committed to human rights around the world, we need to find solutions for every society that engages in gender discrimination, no matter how large or small.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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