Princeton University Library Catalog

Hymens and Headscarves: The Arab Awakening and the Struggle for Sexual Dignity in Morocco and Tunisia

Ouachtouki, Sajda [Browse]
Senior thesis
Slaughter, Anne-Marie [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
126 pages
Restrictions note:
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note:
The Arab Awakening began as a struggle for dignity. The self-immolation of twenty-six year old Tunisian Mouhammed Bouazizi struck a chord with Arabs and ignited revolutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). During the protests, women demonstrated alongside men and contributed to the toppling of regimes. However, after the revolutions, men used sexual violence to push women out of the public spaces. Although Arab women’s problems with sexual harassment and rape are only recently gathering international attention, in reality Arab women have struggled with sexual taboos for centuries. Within the MENA, sex is regarded as a taboo topic. Discussions related to intimacy, pleasure, sexual orientation, rape, harassment, and eroticism are not encouraged due to societal restrictions. The repressive environment for topics concerning sex often affects the power dynamics in Arab societies. Women in particular, as this thesis will demonstrate, are denied their right to dignity due to the stifling sexual climate in the MENA. In an age in which individuals recognize their rights to a sexual life and sexual pleasure, the notion of sex as a taboo topic is being challenged. With the Arab Awakening came not only protests against dictators and political oppression but also demonstrations against sexual oppression; women throughout the MENA marched against sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence; debates emerged around issues related to sex education, intimacy, and premarital sex. Since the revolutions, taboos are being challenged and communication concerning sex has increased. This thesis examines the Arab Awakening through the lens of sexual dignity and also identifies recommendation policies that can help empower Tunisian and Moroccan women. The thesis uses interviews with women in Tunisia and Morocco to discover the sexual issues that women faced after the revolutions. During the interviews, the women shared their sexual experiences and discussed problems related to: lack of intimacy in the bedroom, rape, double standards regarding virginity, and sexual harassment in the public sphere. The interviews demonstrated that at the root of it all, the women were fighting for a right to be in control of their bodies and to be the sole owners of their self. The lack of sexual dignity in the MENA cannot be ignored when examining what the Arab Awakening means for women’s rights and what steps should be taken to protect women. Since the beginning of the Arab Awakening, international organizations and governments have approached the issue of gender empowerment in the MENA with a focus on legal and political rights rather than sexual dignity. However, this thesis argues that although Tunisian and Arab women do want to gain legal and political rights, they are first and foremost concerned with achieving sexual dignity. It is only once they are in control of their bodies that all other rights can follow. This thesis also uses the historical example of the American sexual revolution to support the idea that before women can be empowered in the economic and political realms, they must first be empowered in their bedrooms. This thesis ends with recommendations geared towards UN Women, the Gates Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation, EU, and World Bank. The recommendations have four objectives: promoting discussions and debates on sexual topics; raising awareness of sexuality within Islam; increasing access to birth control and sexual education; and offering protection from violence and sexual harassment. The goal of the recommendations is help women gain autonomy of the self by using Islam’s history with sexuality to break the many current taboos about sex.