I am a female activist, from Yemen. This is the first time I'm writing about my personal experiences and life. The reason I summoned the courage to write this is directly related to the only label I opened up my introduction with "Secular Activist", and how much I suffered - as you will read- because of my desire to wear this label proudly and publicly.
Generally, I am a liberal and secular individual that used to live in Yemen, a part of the world where secularism is a sin that the punishment for usually involves medieval torture practices and death sentences. The story of the heroic Saudi blogger [Raif Badawi], who was publicly flogged and sentenced for 10 years in prison, is one of the many examples of the risks associated with being a liberal in a religiously extremist society. In that part of the world women are socially and legally treated as second class citizens, if not worse, meant that to be a freethinking and open-minded woman I had to flee my country, so that I protect myself and find a safer place to live where I wouldn't be threatened, persecuted, or punished for the expression of my thoughts in words or actions. That safer place for me is currently Germany.
Deciding to stand up for myself and to disrobe the labels of weakness and submission started initially when I realized that being a woman does not mean that I am weak. The challenge this realization put me through was to face the certainty of the imminent domestic and social abuse; which forced me to face a certain type of weakness that I didn't want to admit, the physical one.
I couldn't help, but feel so helpless and weak every time I was severely beaten by the male members of my own family for not meeting their expectations of unquestioned obedience. I was never able to defend myself, and nobody else either took the courage to stand up for me, maybe because getting "disciplined" at the hands of the male family members is widely accepted in a society like Yemen. In such societies, the male is expected to be the guardian and disciplinarian of the women in his family. These roles are not only supported by the inherited traditions, but are also strongly preached in Islamic teachings. One of many examples of such teachings is this verse from the [Quran]:
"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has favored some more than others and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand." [Surah Al Nisa (the Women), verse 34].
When your religion clearly assigns you such submissive roles, fighting for your rights becomes at conflict with the clear interpretations of devotion to your religion and acceptance of God's will. Such conflict can perhaps explain why many Arab/Muslim women endure abuses and will even rationalize this maltreatment as the righteous way to live.
This free-will imprisonment of women is lifelong and often inescapable. The woman gets raised within the guardianship of her family; only to leave it when she gets wedded to her next guardian, her husband. This guardianship system only ends when the woman dies, for that even when her marriage ends with divorce or her husband's death, she will go back to live under the guardianship of her family or her husband's family.
My evolving free-thinking brain, and my courage to fight for my basic human rights, stood at odds with this patriarchal system that was designed to imprison and disempower me, and fleeing that part of the world was the only route to hope for a glimpse of light at its end.
The light was there, and my escape journey led me to Germany, a country where despite that as an undocumented immigrant I lack many rights, I still feel freer than when I was in the country that I was born in, and was a citizen of. It is so clear to me now that I made the right decision; I have to admit though, that I had to make it without the clear understanding of what would be my support network in a country that its language, system, and culture are totally foreign to me. I understand now, why so many women, even the ones that are free-thinkers, are afraid to leave their countries and escape to safer havens where they are treated as humans again.
My struggle and expanding awareness of the hardships and barriers that are placed to deny Middle Eastern women their basic rights of freedom and independence, made it so clear to me that the first step I should take as a free woman, would be steps of activism aimed at helping and empowering those abused women. I will support, and fight for establishing organizations with the mission of securing the lives of freethinking and powerful women that are at risk to flee to safer environments, and helping them in making their stories heard across the globe to inspire other women to fight for themselves.
By writing this, I am appealing to every secularist, liberalist, and human rights activist to advocate for the rights of those oppressed women and assure them that they are not alone in this battle. We should unite to help them get out of a world ruled and dominated by medieval level of patriarchy to a place where they not only enjoy being independent human beings again, but also, may join us in our fight, towards freeing more humans, from all over the world.