Monday, 13 July 2009

A woman's place...

Every once in a while I’m reminded that, despite giant strides forward, there’s still a long way to go in achieving genuine, grass roots equal rights for women in the Middle East.

It always happens unexpectedly – a random comment in an unrelated conversation that highlights the discrepancy between how far women have come versus a male (and sometimes cultural) perspective that still lags behind.

While scolding a young Algerian man for trying to follow me home as he narrated the journey in misogynistic Arabic, I asked how he would feel about his sister being badgered in this way – he replied:

My sister would not be out on the street at this time of night.”

Obviously, my voice then went up several octaves and we had a lengthy debate in Arabic much to the bemusement of passing tourists and Tuesday night pub crawlers.

On paper at least, women can vote and run for office all over the Middle East – and we are (slowly) seeing more women take part in the political process.

In 2007, Saudi Arabia announced plans to give women one third of government jobs and expand their career options. A UNDP report has seen progress on these fronts.

Queen Rania of Jordan (who by the way is on Twitter) has been pretty much spearheading the movement to change the perception of women in the Middle East through her use of new media.

In the UAE, women entrepreneurs are launching extremely successful businesses and, in many cases, expanding them regionally. In 2007, the International Finance Corporation (a subsidiary of the World Bank Group) released a report outlining the barriers to entry facing women in the Middle East.

While there are concerted efforts to help women access business opportunities, they still face gender discrimination and are often asked by banks to provide male guarantors.

There are so many issues affecting women right now in the Middle East. To name a few: weak legislation around honor crimes, circumcision, arranged marriage, protection against domestic abuse - the list goes on.

So yes... the region has come a long way, but today's Arab women must keep fighting to gain more ground and play more of a part in shaping not just our world but that of future generations.


  1. I was watching an Egyptian TV program where they were discussing the issue of sexual harrassment in Egypt. It's become uncontrollable, by the way. The TV program brought together 2 organisations fighting the same issue, except one of them addresses men, the other addresses women.

    The latter is interesting, because it actually lays some of the blame on the women, for dressing provocatively. Now if you've been to Cairo, you'll notice that 90% of women on the streets are covered from head to toe, if not more than that. Women do reveal more in certain settings, but out on the street no way.

    So this guy, speaking on behalf of his organisation, actually said these words, at which point I switched channels:
    "We have severe unemployment issues, and therefore young Egyptian men cannot afford to get married. So there is sexual frustruation. Egyptian women need to understand this, and not dress in a way that triggers our desires."

  2. Not forgetting, of course, to go to bed early with their cocoa rather than staying out late... :)

  3. On a social level in the ME, women are not progressing at the same pace as professionally; so, the Saudi government encourages women to take high governmental positions, yet they can't travel without their male guardian's approval, can't even drive cars, and can't be part of the socio-political reforming of the country through voting!

    Last week, a 15 years sentence was halved for someone who killed his RAPED sister under honour killing label! if the judiciary system of the country is failing to recognize that this is a first degree murder and he should be punished accordingly then who would be able to bring this very needed change to our societies.

    The grass roots equality starts in our homes; the minute we scratch the word "Aib" from our vocabulary is when things start turning around: The brother and sister can go to the same school, but at night he's allowed to go out and do whatever while she should stay home; so he can go and badger other girls on his way but his sister won't be out at the streets at this time!

  4. Mai - That's shocking, trying to place blame on women and making them responsible for the inability of certain men to control their libidos. I hate that people genuinely believe it as well - at the very least let's all be held accountable for our own actions

    Ammoun - you're so right about change starting at home. You know what else? Women need to start banding together for a change. There is so much competition and back biting among women that we end up tearing each other down instead of propping each other up.