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Sama Hassan

Because I'm female

Women in Gaza are expected to follow their family's wishes [al-Araby]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2015

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International Women's Day: Being a woman in Gaza means your life is controlled by your family and society, and you are looked down upon if you try and follow your own path.
Because I'm female, the day my mother placed me down in a small room in a Gaza refugee camp my grandmother slapped her face. She then voiced her fears to my father that he would get stuck with many daughters like his older brother. Despite that I was a beautiful baby and only my father's second daughter. My grandfather said the beautiful baby girl was "a bit of disaster".

Because I'm female, my mother raised me to excel at being a housewife. She herself did not dream, or share my dream of
     
going to university to complete my studies as she rushed me through my secondary education so that she could start suggesting suitors and pick out the best one for me.

Because I'm female, I rejected my mother and angered the women in the family against my father's wishes. I wanted to get out of Gaza that was suffocating me, and go and study elsewhere on my own without being accompanied by an older or younger brother as a "chaperone", either out of fear of my wellbeing or of what I might do. My father gave in to the family's influence and my dream of studying medicine came crashing down. My acceptance letter was ripped up and my first dream was torn away.
     Because I'm female I had to listen and obey, and accept my family's choice.

Because I'm female I had to listen and obey, and accept my family's choice. According to them they knew what was best for me. So they chose a husband for me who, in their opinion, ticked all the boxes and would be an excellent husband and able to provide for me. They did not stop and think for one second that I might object to this marriage, as I did felt nothing for this man the moment I saw him for the first time.

Because I'm female on my wedding day my grandfather presented a fat ram in front of me. He showed off its large size and high price in front of the guests. It was slaughtered on the morning of the wedding, and its meat was fed to my relatives, as is customary, who came to congratulate the family who were proud of my chastity and purity. The image of the ram as I was being given away to my husband will never leave my mind, just as I will never forget the feeling that I too was being sacrificed.

Because I'm female, my new neighbours and my new husband's relatives whispered words of advice in my ear about being obedient to my husband. I will never forget one piece of advice one old woman gave: "Men take their anger out on their wives, and a wife must tolerate his violence and his curses in order to live because it's better to be married than not."

Because I'm female, I did not hear a single word of congratulations when I gave birth to a baby girl, my firstborn. In fact, I was given words of comfort and solace: "God willing her birth will be beautified with the birth of boys," and "God willing she will help you raise boys," they said.

Because I'm female my female neighbours and relatives gave me the false impression that if I had a baby boy after  my daughter, it would raise my status and strengthen my position in the eyes of my husband and his family. I waited for that to happen for a long time and I believed them when they said: "The mother of boys is venerated while the mother of girls is humiliated."

Because I'm female the most prominent judge in the city shouted in my face when I asked for custody of my children because I was no longer able to continue with that so-called "marriage".

The judge told me: "A woman who wants to keep her children has to put up with her husband and all his flaws, because in Gaza there is no law that rules the mother will get custody of her children for their whole lives after the mother and father separate."


Because I'm female, when a marriage document no longer tied me to a man, I had to prove my innocence to my old neighbour when I came home late, and to my widowed neighbour when I put make-up on my face.
     I am obliged to keep a distance from my married friends so they do not accuse me of trying to "steal" their men.

I had to prove my innocence to the owner of the local supermarket when he would see me getting out of a taxi on my way home, and he could see that I was the only passenger.

I could see the suspicion in his eyes that there was some kind of relationship going on between me and the taxi driver who dropped me home and then rushed off quickly.


I am obliged to keep a distance from my married friends so they do not accuse me of trying to "steal" their men. This is because in their eyes I am like a criminal with a "dangerous record", around who there will always be a ring of suspicion even if the crime was committed as far away as Mars.

See our full coverage of International Women's Day here


Because I'm female, I have to answer the question when girls ask: "Why do you care so much about the way you look when there is no man in your life?" I always reply with the answer I learnt in school: "People only die if they don’t have air, water and food."

Because I'm female, many women will offer their condolences to my daughters when I die, and they will repeat the famous phrase said when a woman dies: "God willing your men will live long, and God willing her death will be followed by the birth of boys."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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