Saturday, February 24, 2007

Women at the 'Azza

One thing I forgot to include in my Bahrain posts was the situation surrounding women who attended the 'azza mourning processions in Manama. Along some streets, you saw large, semi-opaque covers separating female spectators from the street. I initially assumed these were just more conservative areas, but it turned out that the group responsible for organizing the processions had tried to segregate the audience by gender.

The reasons for this have a foot in the present, and not just the past. According to Bahrainis I talked to, there have always been women at the processions. The difference now is the importation of Western-style dating culture, and young people increasingly using it as a flirtation ground, which in Bahraini culture is seen as disrespectful. In other words, the attempts at strict segregation came in response to this modern social development.

There's clearly a sexist element to this, in that it is the women and not the men who have to be behind screens and the one time I saw a man stop a procession to get angry at a mixed crowd he singled out the women and not the men. I suppose the other side of that argument would be that the processions are all male, and obviously can't be the ones hidden. However, this is clearly a situation in which social reality is more complicated than it first appears.

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