On April 7th, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer picked Hissa Hilal as the Person of the Week. Hilal is a 46-year-old wife, mother and poet from Saudi Arabia. She was a contestant on the Abu Dhabi TV show called “Million’s Poet.” Similarly, to “American Idol”, contestants compete to win.
According to ABC news: “She used the stage – and her poetry – to send a message, slamming conservative Muslim clerics who she says unfairly separate men and women, spread extremism and give Islam a bad name.” Her poetry exposes extremists and as a result she has received death threats.
“Defeat fear and conquer every frightening cave,” Hilal read on stage. “Do not live life with one eye looking behind.”
Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women has raised questions. According to the organization Human Rights Watch: “Saudi officials continue to require women to obtain permission from male guardians to conduct their most basic affairs, like traveling or receiving medical care, despite government assertions that no such requirements exist…” Saudi women must obtain permission from male guardians for such activities as education, employment, travel, opening a bank account, receiving medical care and granting a divorce. Women’s guardians such as fathers, husbands, brothers or male children can refuse permission and implement severe consequences.
Also, Saudi Arabia has a serious child-marriage problem. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The hook that caught people’s attention in last year’s case was the judge’s refusal to grant the 8-year-old a divorce, indicating that the state endorsed child marriage. The judge was willing to order the man not to have sex with the girl until she reached puberty, four or five years later… Once again, Saudi Arabia faced rebukes from around the world, prompting the justice minister, Mohammed Al Issa, to suggest that it was time for child marriage to end.”
Hissa Hilal’s participation in the poetry competition is a rebellious act that demonstrates courage and strength. She received third place but won the respect of the world.