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If you ask anyone in the greater Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region if they support Freedom of Speech, without hesitation they would say yes. But when it comes to women issues, specifically sexual harassment and rape, replies would be vague and muddled.
Culture in the MENA region and Muslim majority countries is rather orthodox and unjust to women. The rigidness in dealing with women freely expressing themselves explains why many women in Muslim majority countries were not able to join the global #MeToo movement online. Women face major consequences if they were to speak up against rape, abuse, or sexual harassment in many communities overseas.
When a woman speaks up against any kind of abuse, the common reply is: What was she wearing, what did she do to bring it upon herself? etc. We’ve all heard these questions and passive replies before. But in the MENA region, reactions to speaking up translate into harsher consequences. I spoke with women over Skype in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia about not being able to join the #MeToo movement:
“There is a constant fear of facing backlash from family, relatives, and a future husband if a woman speaks up about rape or harassment on the streets,” 22-year-old Aiysha told me over Skype.
“What scares me the most is becoming the center of gossip and harassment in my community,” said Aliya from India.
What strikes me the most is the fear of being labeled “not pure” and therefore not worthy of marriage. When a woman speaks up, she is instantly categorized with “worthless” women in society and is unable to live a normal life moving forward.
Not to forget, the struggle of divorced women in such communities is beyond degrading. Divorced women are constantly facing criticism; most families in the MENA region state that “divorce is not an option in their family.” Divorced women are routinely blamed for breaking up families and destroying their children’s’ future.
In the West, there is a common misconception that blames Islam and the Abrahamic religions for oppressing women and not allowing them to speak up. But the real issue is cultural, and not one originating from religious doctrine. Women in the MENA region cannot speak out freely due to the misogynistic traditions that have been around for thousands of years.
With so many constraints, women turn to the online world to speak up and share their stories with others who can relate and sympathize. It’s an imperative part of healing.
And therein lies the importance of being safe and anonymous online.
It is crucial for me to make sure women in conservative and restricting communities have safe and free access to the internet. Being able to share their stories will bring much relief to the #MeToo victims who have otherwise been silenced while the rest of the world shared their own experiences. Using Hotspot Shield as a tool to ensure anonymity online allows Muslim women to share their struggles with the rest of the world—it allows their voices to finally be heard.
Silence never brought justice and change, it’s only by sharing our stories and experiences will we awaken the people and allow change to come into our societies.
Helping women in the MENA region break their silence and gain their human rights is a complicated task. But with the right tools, especially online, it is absolutely possible. Hotspot Shield lets people access the internet while remaining connected and anonymous. It allows people to retain their freedom of speech, tell the stories that matter most, and in the case of the #MeToo victims, find comfort in communicating with others who have experienced similar struggles.