What do Egypt, Honduras, Iran, Lybia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the Vatikan have in common? And how is this related to geopolitics in the Levant? A try to explain that from a beach café in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Over the last two weeks the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held in the UN Headquarters in New York. The main goal was the worldwide `[e]limination and prevention of all sorts of violence against women and girls´. The states listed above all had strong objections against the final resolution that determines the responsibility of the states to protect the rights of girls and women as much as of boys and men. As the Guardian reports, some even challenged previous agreements and wanted them revised, throwing back the discourse to by now overcome issues and long achieved rights. As already stated, particularly violence against girls and women was condemned and schemes expanded to protect them. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the conference also laid down the right of men and women to sexual self-determination and the right of all women to gynaecological provision. Murder of women because of their gender will in the future be termed `Femicide´.
Since there is an obvious concentration of Arab states in the list above, I recall the penultimate Arab Human Development Report from the United Nations back in 2005. The report concludes that it is not religion and not economic weakness or cultural difference per se that are responsible for the poor performance of the Arab states in many respects, but it is the untapped contributions of women, denying 50% of the population an active participation and involvement in society.
Having Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican pulling the same strings is already a remarkable situation. When it comes to the oppression of women, obviously a strange (or revealing) consensus between these states comes to light, tying in with borderland´s notion of mobile, complex and overlapping cultures, identities and interests.
In view of the occasion, a word on the new `leader´ of the Vatican: It seems to again be a wasted chance towards a clear statement of reform within the Catholic Church. A pope has been chosen, who preaches poorness for the church and its followers. For me this stands in contrast to the work of so many organisations and individuals who try to actually get people out of poverty. There is also a burgeoning talk of fate, obedience, acts of God, and prohibitions of all sorts, including the use of condoms, for example; all in all reactionary. Nevertheless and overall, the rhetoric has changed and we will see how the new pope will be able to reform a body body that is known for its hostility and ignorance towards women and retrogressive ideas.
Surprising regional alliances
Not directly related to gender aspects are other potential or real alliances between entities one would not normally expect to see. Particularly in this part of the world (see map below), geo-political circumstances blatantly reveal that the boundaries between partner and enemy are often not that clear and alliances can take at first glance surprising shapes. On the issue of nuclear Iran and its neighbours, for instance, German n-tv reports a Saudi offer to Israel to use its airspace to reach Iran and destroy nuclear facilities there. When it comes to the Levant, a similar situation can be found in Israel and Jordan, whose both interest is to not let the Palestinian community on `their´ territory become too large or powerful. The result is that a people who are jammed between the two – in Gaza, the West Bank but also with massive numbers residing in both Israel and in Jordan – are being repressed, unwanted or treated as second class people. The list could go on for a while: Gaza-Egypt-relations are of a kind that makes the latter cooperate with Israel; or the catastrophe in Syria, which, besides featuring similarities to the obscure and changing alliances of the Thirty-Years´-War in Europe, has arisen memories of cold-war days, with Israel somehow in a waiting-position between Russia and the US, for instance.
But coming back to women’s rights: How deeply unequal treatment of men and women has infected societies, can still be experienced on a daily basis around the world. Escaping to a beach café on a super-hot Shabbat in Tel Aviv, little details reminded me on the UN conference, I have been talking about above. Because of the sunny day, the owner of the café obviously hired additional staff; young people (students – cheap labour!), male and female, to wait the tables. Making observation easier, people at the scene wore clearly labelled shirts in different colours according to their postition, marking them as `Managers´, `Security´, `Waiters´ and `Waitresses´, and `Staff´.
© borderlandlevant – Manager, Waiter and Waitress uniforms
The first detail was that the managers – males in their forties and fifties – were directing all the others in an unnecessarily patronising way. People in the ‘lower ranks’ were told where and how to stand and walk, the responsibility for the tables was changed every couple of minutes, tables had to be moved from one place to the other without any obvious reason, and so forth. Of course the security guy was male, big, russian accent, standing there and mutely taking orders form the managers.
Coming back to the way people were dressed up, the interesting detail in terms of gender was that the waiter´s and the waitresses´ shirts were the same colour but the male version was a casual, wide cut T-shirt, whereas the female one was a tight cut, sleeveless, slightly see-through top. That´s of course blunt sexism, and besides the chauvinist aspect a matter of maximising profit at the expense of, first, young people in general, who can hardly afford living in this city anymore, and second, young women, as they are sexually exploited.
Finishing with the lowest `cast´ on the stage, the ones responsible for carrying around the chairs and tables are migrants from Africa, serving and being under the command of all the aforementioned. The home of most of these migrant workers is Tel Aviv’s south, my area of interest. These people are welcome to do the poorly paid jobs but are less welcome when it comes to their place of living. Their situation in south Tel Aviv, or in the border zone to Jaffa, is precarious and highly controversial and will be captured in the upcoming posts.