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Nawal El-Saadawy and Khaled Montaser’s Forum: A Discussion On Gender, Science and Religion

5 December, 2016
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On the fifth day of the #16DaysOfActivism, the Egyptian feminist icon, Nawal El-Saadawy and the Egyptian well-renowned columnist, Khaled Montaser, met for a forum entitled “Woman, Thought and Creativity.” It took place in the Heliopolis Library in Cairo, on the evening of 30 November.


The forum moderator, Rabab Kamal, introduced the guest speakers, paving the way for them to start their discussion. “We have a problem that outweighs the danger of violence against women, which is getting used to it and giving it legitimacy and excuses,” Kamal said giving an example of the Moroccan TV show that gave a tutorial on how to cover up bruises of domestic abuse with make-up – which caused an immediate international outcry among social media users.


The discussion was not a specific one; it gathered many fields under the umbrella of gender-based violence. El-Saadawy, who is both an author and a physician, described this connection of fields as creativity; “we can’t be able to understand the matter of violence against women without linking between all these topics, like medicine, science, religion, politics, economic and so on,” she clarified.  


She continued to explain how violence against women is related to the violence against the social classes, racial violence and any violence against any minority groups in the world.


“I disapprove of the world’s concentration on violence against women,” the 85-year-old feminist said. “The whole world always separates violence against women from the existing violence in the world. We live in a violent world, in terms of its patriarchal, classist, colonial and capitalist violence. We witness blood and murder everyday in the name of religion, politics and economy. We live in world that is based on violence, because it is based on power not justice,” she said.


The discussion then moved to the topic of domestic rape and how it is not punishable by law. El-Saadawy argued that the woman is left defenseless with the belief that she is inferior and that she would be a bad wife if she didn’t succumb to his desires, ignoring her own.


Being a physician too, running a sexology clinic, Montaser called on separating science from religion. He claimed that many patients have come forward and reported to him about domestic rape by their husbands. “Women are scared to resist their husbands because of the belief that angels will curse her until the next day if she did,” he explained.


“When I was a kid, the preacher at the mosque on Fridays, interpreting one of the Quranic verses, by saying that science would never discover a way to know the gender of the fetus before it gets born, but then I grew up and science introduced the ultrasound with an accuracy of 85%. Years later, they discovered the amniotic fluid method with an accuracy of 100%,” Montaser said, implying that basing science on religion is something that harms both.


He explained further that basing science on religion has always impeded scientific research and medical development, like the time when Christian priests stood firmly against the use of vaccination because “illness was a form of punishment and God is the only one qualified for curing it.”


After despising the bills proposed by some MPs concerning hymens, virginity tests and female genital mutilation, they raised the argument of male circumcision. They argued that it is just as unnecessary as the female circumcision but advocating against it is very rare. Both speakers agreed that the reason behind this is the Jewish power over American media, which is the main influence on the international media platforms.


El-Saadawy said that she had spent so many years of her life comparing between religions. She has stopped so many times at the verse in the Torah or the Bible’s old testament that orders the Jews to circumcise their sons so they can claim the land of Palestine as their own.


“It didn’t make sense to me, what does the genital mutilation of Jewish males have got anything to do with occupying a land and claiming it as their own?” El-Saadawy said, shedding light on the murder and dreadful accidents that occur due to this practice, which the media turns its blind eye on.


On a more scientific level, Montaser said that the reasoning behind the necessity of male genital mutilation is a rationale that assumes the patient is someone who would never shower. Therefore, he concluded that the practice is very unnecessary and not as beneficial as it is socially and religiously advertised.


The forum resolved with a lecture on speaking up and paying the bill of freedom, which is activism and the social and possibly legal punishments that follow.