Pakistan criticised for censoring article about Muslim women and sex

London, May 10: A feminist writer has criticised Pakistan for censoring an article on Muslim women and sex, saying the ban exposed the extent of the country’s discrimination against women.

Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning Egyptian-American journalist and campaigner for women’s rights, wrote an opinion column, “Sex talk for Muslim women”, that was published by the International New York Times on Friday.

The article was available online in Pakistan, but the newspaper version, which should have been published in the opinion section of the local Express Tribune, was replaced by a blank space.

Eltahawy told AFP that the decision to ban her article was an example of how Pakistan’s authorities think a woman “who claims ownership over her body is dangerous … and must be silenced”.

A senior source at the Express Tribune told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that the newspaper “can’t afford to publish such controversial articles about Islam”.

In the piece, Eltahawy discussed her decision to have sex before marriage – in defiance of her own upbringing and Muslim faith – and detailed many conversations with other women of Muslim and Arab descent suffering under the “sexual straitjacket” of virginity imposed on them by men.

“Where are the stories on women’s sexual frustrations and experiences?” she wrote. “My revolution has been to develop from a 29-year-old virgin to the 49-year-old woman who now declares, on any platform I get: it is I who own my body. Not the state, the mosque, the street or my family. And it is my right to have sex whenever, and with whomever, I choose.”

Women have fought for decades to establish equal rights in Pakistan, where so-called honour killings and acid attacks remain commonplace.

Last week a teenage girl in the north-west of the country was strangled to death and set alight after a village council ruled she must be killed for helping a friend to elope.

Eltahawy said the censorship showed “a woman who disobeys and who openly claims sexual liberation and pleasure is dangerous and must be silenced” and cited a similar backlash faced by the Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy after her documentary about honour killings won an Academy Award.

“So many Pakistanis attacked her for making Pakistan ‘look bad’ and not enough attacked what is actually making Pakistan look bad: men who are ready to kill women for daring to believe they have the right to consent and agency over their bodies.”

Eltahawy said she was not aware of her article being censored in any other country and defended the right of Muslim women to openly talk about sex. “Sex is happening, but shrouded in taboo and shame … As women of colour and women of faith, we need to see women who look like us. Sex positivity isn’t the domain just of white feminism.”

She said a recent trip to Lahore for a literary festival introduced her to “wonderful young feminists” who “keep my tenacious optimism intact”. “The more feminists such as the ones I met push, the greater the space they’ll create for everyone.”

AFP

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