Israel will host the first SlutWalk in the Middle East this weekend, but the movement has growing support in other countries, including Morocco. Will these efforts finally lead to greater freedom for women of all religious persuasions?
When I wrote the article, The Middle East Needs More Sluts, the response was overwhelming and heated, with opinions following roughly along religious lines. Secular and progressive readers understood that the title was more than a headline grabber, and an invitation to reconsider the negative stereotypes of language used to denigrate and control women. The more conservative respondents were horrified by the language, and pointed to the moral values of modesty, something they couldn’t see in women who seemed to dress, look or act certain ways.
Both groups have valid points. Now that SlutWalk is coming to Israel, will they meet at the intersection and finally talk?
Even as I champion the causes of social justice and women’s rights, particularly sexual and reproductive wellbeing, I’m also conscious how that freedom must be balanced with a deep sense of self and other respect. Modesty and sexual freedom may not seem like common bedfellows, but they are part of the whole continuum of empowering women and men alike.
That is because the real power of SlutWalk is the separation of a woman’s worth from her sexuality. Male or female in fact – our morality and virtue must be severed from our reproductive rights and abilities. SlutWalk isn’t just for those who dress provocatively or experience their sexuality outside current social morays. It’s a statement of freedom for everyone who specifically understands and wants to eradicate harm from vitriolic language and ‘slut-shaming,’ as well as those who believe that full and complete female emancipation benefits us all.
What’s more, creating an environmentally sustainable world rests on women’s shoulders. “Women are often the first ones to transmit [environmental] values to their societies and children,” wrote Green Prophet founder and editor, Karin Kloosterman, in SlutWalk Israel - A First for the Middle East.
Israel isn’t the only country in the MENA region focused on this effort. SlutWalk Morrocco boasts an active Facebook page for those who read French.
Finally, another essential factor of SlutWalk cannot be stressed enough: The surest route to maintaining environmentally sustainable populations is basic sexual rights for women.
It Starts With Basic Human Rights
The International Women’s Health Coalition’s stance on the right of women to control their sexuality is unequivocal on this.
“The right of women to control their sexuality—the basis for sexual rights—is an indivisible part of their human rights, and that without it, women cannot fully realize their other human rights. This notion has been reaffirmed at several subsequent international meetings, but in practice, few countries’ laws and policies provide women with effective protection against coercion, discrimination, and violence, and fundamentalist states and movements all over the world consistently target women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy.”
Nicholas D. Kristof, renowned a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and co-author with Sheryl WuDunn of, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009), pointed out that critical relationship between elevating the roles of woman and building stronger societies.
He writes: “greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room.”
How Women Help the Planet
Creating an environmentally sustainable world also requires the full participation and emancipation of women. Robert Engleman, author of More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (Island Books, 2007), addressed this in an interview with WorldWatch Institute. He asserts that in societies where women’s rights are equal to men’s, women take control of their own fertility and invariably have two or fewer children, on average. Such low fertility rates then lead to a gradual decline in population in the absence of net immigration.
“It makes sense that those who bear children and do most of the work in raising them should have the final say in when, and when not, to do so. By making their own decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their children, women ultimately bring about a global good that governments could never deliver through regulation or control: a population in balance with nature’s resources.”
SlutWalk Israel may not be a comfortable medium for many in the Middle East, and there are those who will denounce the effort as meaningless, offensive, disrespectful or ill-advised. “But when enraged voices need to be heard, maybe a SlutWalk is a good way to vent frustrations and create a lot of press attention to the issues at hand,” writes Kloosterman.
Other bloggers have taken even stronger stances:
“Let’s separate sex and power for one second, and admit that in a 21st Century world, telling women that what they wear somehow impedes their message is antiquated. We ought to move forward in a world where a woman can dress how she would like and not be told she’s “asking for it”, not be told she’s not “serious” because her manner of dress doesn’t conform to so predetermined, archaic norm prescribed by men in order to control their impulses. The desire to rape is a psychological urge primarily experienced by men that they must deal with. Leave women out of it.”
And Alona Ferber for Haaretz Daily Newspaper wrote: “Whether or not you agree with the medium, perhaps one of the most important messages SlutWalk can deliver is that whatever their religion, taste in clothes, or sexual preference, women, and men for that matter, should be free to make their own choices, without being subject to prejudice, stereotype or violence.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Read More on Women’s Rights:
SlutWalk Israel – A First for the Middle East
Egyptian Women Forced to Take ‘Virginity’ Tests During Protest, Amnesty International
US Senator Olympia Snowe Leads Women in Renewed Call for Women’s Rights in the Middle East
When Females Rule Fornication, Mother Earth Delights