My parents visited a couple of weeks ago and the presence of a man (my dad) made a real difference to how I am treated: people were happy to strike up a conversion with us, although they were also rather confused when it was me who paid at the end of a meal!
Living and working in a Muslim country has really encouraged me to try to read as much Middle Eastern literature as possible. I'm currently reading Iran Awakening which is giving me a brilliant perspective on Iran's modern political history, its relationship with the West and the development of the Iranian women's movement. We don't have a television connection at home so I am also trying my best to keep up-to-date with the news and here are a few stories that caught my eye recently. It's a real wonder that they were published in the same century, let alone the same month!
In Italy, Berlusconi shows us just how beautiful democracy really is by gathering together some of the most gorgeous women in the country, including a Big Brother star and a Miss Italy contestant, to run as candidates in the European Elections. I'm sure we all have all heard of the "fit vote" (certainly in student politics) not to mention "The Blair Babes" of 1997, but Berlusconi is taking it a bit far. Whether these women know anything about politics appears to be irrelevant - their faces would look good on en election leaflet.
Then we turn to Afghanistan where legislation has been passed that effectively legalises rape within marriage and requires a woman to seek permission from her husband before leaving the house, which arguably legalises life-long detention. As Rachael pointed out previously, many women marched together in protest against this law, despite violent opposition and the great risk to their lives. Many have described this legislation as being "worse than the Taliban" and several international leaders, included President Obama, have publicly expressed their opposition. I am disgusted by provisions such as "as long as the husband is not travelling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night" and "unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband." More recent reports are suggesting the law will be revised (some even suggest that there was simply a misunderstanding arising from the English translation, which I find difficult to believe). Nonetheless, I am pleased to read that the revision may even happen before the elections in August. After reading this story I decided to look up when the marital rape exemption was officially abolished in the UK and I was shocked to discover that it was as recent as 1991 - only 18 years ago.
Finally, this week in Saudi Arabia, women are protesting against the government's plan to close down women-only gyms. Whilst there are many gyms and health clubs which men attend, there is no legal equivalent for women. Apparently some senior Saudi clerics have condemned women-only gyms and clubs as "shameless" and criticised women for wanting to neglect their husbands and children by spending a few hours at the gym. The protest takes the form of an internet campaign called "Let Her Get Fat" which unfortunately doesn't come up on Google and focuses on the serious health implications of not exercising on a regular basis. Good luck to them - maybe they could sneak in the right to drive at the same time?