Cross posted at Muslimah Media Watch

Single Muslim mothers must be the new “it” topic for the Western media. There has been a lot of coverage of Rachida Dati, the French minister of Moroccan and Algerian heritage, who just recently had a baby while still being single. Now, the BBC has done a piece on single mothers in Morocco. The story looks at the struggles that single mother face in Morocco and also looks at the efforts of a group called Feminine Solidarity Association that seeks to assist single mothers.

Honestly, I liked this story (I know in the past I have often been critical of the BBC’s coverage of Muslim women). There was no comparison of the treatment of single mothers in Morocco versus the treatment of single mothers in Britain and other Western societies. The article was pretty straight forward. There were only a couple of statements which I thought added absolutely nothing to the story. “Khadija [Noha], whose pretty face regularly breaks into a slow but frank smile, was also cast out by her family [emphasis added].” I thought this statement was particularly sexist. A lot of news stories that focus on women make comments on their looks, and articles on Muslim women always seem to have comments about how we look. A description of Ms. Noha’s looks is really unnecessary and adds nothing to the actual story.

Besides that one line, I found the article to be a welcome look at how hard life for single mothers can be not only in Morocco, but in conservative Muslim circles in many parts of the world, including the West. The double standard for men and women is discussed. Khadija Noha discusses how she went out with a man who promised to marry her but left her when he found out that she was pregnant. There is also discussion of how single mother advocates, such as Aicha Ech Chana, the head of the Feminine Solidarity Association and Jamilah Bargach, an anthropologist, are pushing to make fathers of children born outside marriage more accountable for their children.

I think this is particularly necessary because I think too often Muslims forget that it takes two to tango. We criticize and ostracize single mothers while forgetting that fathers are being let off the hook. We should help single mothers and commend them for taking care of their responsibilities. Fathers who forget their children are the ones who should be ostracized for taking the easy way out and not taking care of their children. This is a problem that hasn’t been addressed adequately by Muslims, but needs to be.

The efforts of the Feminine Solidarity Association are especially noteworthy. They teach single mothers various skills so that they can work. They also help single mothers in Morocco find housing and provide childcare services for mothers while they work. Ech Chana, who founded the organization, seems driven by the desire to empower single mothers. In the article, she speaks of the rights that single mothers have in the Qur’an and is critical of the way that single mothers are treated in Morocco. She along with with advocates like Jamilah Bargach are working to highlight the plight of single mothers, a plight that has been ignored by many Muslims for too long.

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Iranian woman in Car

Iranian woman in Car

As soon as I saw headline, I have to admit I was thinking “huh?” and “what!” I’m not too keen on products geared towards women because usually these products rely heavily on stereotypes. Unfortunately, this new feminine car does just that. It’s suppose to come out in a range of “feminine colors” and “interior designs” because we are just so keen on how our car looks. I guess those guys in my neighborhood who spend thousands of dollars on rims and getting their car waxed didn’t get the memo that they’re not suppose to car our their cars looks. Oh, and those women I see in big, black Escalades with spinning rims really didn’t get the memo that they’re suppose to be in more “feminine” cars but I digress. To make things even better the new cars will feature “automatic transmission, parking and navigation aids and a jack for changing tyres without getting grease on your chador.” Again, I wonder why this is special to women. I’m sure plenty of men in Iran would love to drive an automatic since they’re much easier to drive. My husband and most American men aren’t buying automatic simply for their wives to drive but to drive themselves since they’re less of a hassle than stick shifts. Same for the navigation aids. As for not getting grease on chador, who wants to get grease on their clothes. I honestly don’t understand why these products aren’t marketed to both genders since they would seem to benefit both men and women.

While that was annoying, that part of the article that “ground my gears” was the BBC’s little tirade about gender in Iranian society. After describing the features of the car the author writes “If that suggests a degree of sexist stereotyping in Iranian society, it is, just possibly, true.” Yes, definitely. But then we start to get in this little slippery slope of self righteousness with the author saying things like “Iranian men have yet to absorb fully the message of equality” or “‘As a result, the report concludes, Iran’s new generation of working women “are obliged to play the role of a superwoman to resolve their contradictions in handling all tasks.’ It says such women ‘have become increasingly frustrated with their life'”. Now I don’t disagree with these assertions but I did wonder why they were brought up in an article about a car for women and why the author was acting like these issues were exclusive to Iranian women. American women have to contend with this issue as well. American women spend more time doing household chores than their husbands. British working women also have to contend with juggling it all while getting little help from men. So this is an issue that affects women all around the globe. Next time, I think the BBC should just stick to the story.

Find out more at MMW’s Friday Links.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a critique of a LA Times blog post about and Egyptian organization that is working to combat sexual harassment in Egypt. The BBC News has now has a piece on its website about Egyptian women and sexual harassment as well. The two articles are different. The LA Times story was written as a more traditional story that did a profile of Egyptians, male and female, working to stop sexual harassment. The BBC piece is a collection of stories told by Egyptian women exclusively in their own words. While I liked the first person perspective of the BBC feature, I found the feature to be a mixed bag. I’ll focus on the positive aspects first before offering a more critical critique.

One of the things that I liked about the feature was that the stories were told by a variety of women: hijabi and non-hijabi, middle class and working class, etc. (Posy Abdou, one of the women, is pictured left). Sexual harassment affects women of every social stratum in Egypt so it’s great that the BBC was able to get the perspective of women from different classes. Also, I appreciate how hijabis and non-hijabis are shown because it reinforces the point that sexual harassment is not about the clothes. The more focus that is taken off of women’s clothes, the more focus can be placed on men and how they use sexual harassment as a form of power over women.

Additionally, I appreciated the first person accounts of the women. Too often the stories of Muslim women are filtered and told through the viewpoint of some other party, whether it’s Muslim men or non-Muslim men and women. The women’s interviews were probably edited. However, it is still nice to hear first person accounts from Muslim women.

While reading the women’s account provided insight into the daily battle with sexual harassment in Egypt, what I found lacking was any stories of women who fought back and became activists against sexual harassment. Only one of the women profiled, Noha Wagih (pictured right), mentioned anything about activism. She mentioned that she wanted to make a TV program about sexual harassment. While the voices of victims need to be heard, I found it rather curious that the BBC didn’t have one profile of activists such as the one done by the LA Times. All of the stories tell us about women’s experiences with harassment, but that is the extent of the coverage. All of the stories reinforced the image of the oppressed Muslim woman who is helpless. It also reinforces the image of the aggressive, misogynist and violent Muslim man.

Also, the exclusive focus on women takes away the focus that should be placed on men as well. It makes sexual harassment seem like it is only a problem for women, when it is a problem that affects both genders. There’s no examination of patriarchy or ideals of hyper-masculinity that are affecting the perpetrators’ views of women. There’s no look at how twisted interpretations of Islam maybe affecting these men’s idea of women either. By just centering on the experiences of victims, readers are left with no context. They have no idea why this phenomenon is occurring and what is being done to stop it.

Thus, I was left wondering why the BBC did this particular feature. Was it to inform readers about this issue, was it to give the women a chance for their voices to be heard, and was it to reinforce ideas about the superiority of Western gender as compared to gender norms in the Arab world? I honestly was not sure. The only thing I was sure about was that I ultimately finished reading the stories with the eerie feeling that I had just read yet another Orientalist-influenced piece that only served to reinforce stereotypes rather that promote any thing positive.

Cross posted at Muslimah Media Watch