The Current Status of Women in Middle East Countries Essay
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Part I: Reasons why women are reaching a stagnant point in the Arab countries and how this could possibly change:
According to feminists, the current status of women in Middle East countries is strongly attributed to state policies. Scholarly information from studies conducted on the status of Middle East women have indicated that the changes that have taken place in the legal status of women and in their social placement in society have very much been determined by the changes taking place in political constitution of various states and regimes.
The status of women and gender relations have also been equally determined by other factors like class structure, economic and demographic characteristic Religion can also not be ruled out as it has tremendous influence on the system of governance in many countries in this region. Revolutionary projects carried out in Iran and Afghanistan but which did not yield good results act as a clear guideline on the status of women in Arab countries.
The societies in the Arab world are predominantly patriarchal. The role of a woman as wife and mother is still held with a lot of esteem in these societies. Women are reproducers, educators of children and socialisers whereby they are responsible for implementing societal and cultural values in the young ones. These societies are also predominantly Islamic, a religion that still holds the family as the most fundamental unit of society and places greet responsibility on women about raising devout Muslims as well as transmitting cultural values. Child bearing is therefore the central labor activity for the females while the men are responsible for the general upkeep of the family. The place of the woman in a Muslim society therefore remains the home and the activities surrounding it.
Muslim family law also gives the male members of the society extensive control over key decisions affecting the life of the women under their control for example in issues concerning marriage, education, business and mobility. Women in the Arab countries are still subjected to some form of subordination to the males and restrictive codes of behavior that govern their lives.
There is sex segregation towards women and family honor is closely associated with female virtue. As a result any attempts to change family virtues or the family structure has often met with a lot of resistance in the Arab world especially from revolutionary groups that have been operating under the concept of defending Islam such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Tribal-Islamist opposition groups also play a major role in opposing any attempts to change the status of women in these societies.
In the Arab countries, marriage is still predominantly an agreement between families rather than between two individuals who hold equal rights in society. A husband has absolute rights over his wife’s body and such issues as marital rape are not recognized.
Women are therefore still under male control and any attempt to achieve in their social status is viewed as resistance to made dominance. The community has tremendous influence over a woman’s life in Arab countries a factor that can be seen in the societies refusal to do away with the veil even at a time when civilization has advanced in these countries. As a result, the veil has widely been viewed as a civilizational threat to the position of the modern woman in society.
Wars that characterize several Arab nations have also been a threat to the status of women. This is because even after their husbands have been recruited and probably died in war, women especially in the poor backgrounds cannot freely venture out to fed for their families and they still have to rely on male members of the family such as the older sons. This has subjected the women and their children to a lot of unnecessary suffering. There has also been a tendency in these nations to limit the political exposure of women, a factor that has resulted from the concept of male dominance in these societies. In such a way, it has been difficult for women to push for change as society still holds views that their position should be in the house.
A lot can be done to assist the women and improve their status in society. Women for example should be given freedom in education. This is because modernization demands more labor in high profile jobs. Wars should be a great lesson and women should be given a chance of being economically stable to avoid desperate situations in the event of the death of the family’s breadwinner during war. Education will also give women better chances of employment and produce women who are able to strongly advocate for change in society.
Because family law in Arab nations greatly determines state and legal policies relating to gender and family matters, perhaps these laws should be reviewed to give the women more influence in the family and society. Various Arab governments should also give attention to demands by women on the improvement of their political, civil and social rights.
Part II: Authoritative governments and the rise of fundamental Muslim groups
In the Arab world, the main religion is predominantly Islam, a religion that has played a major role in determining the political, social and civil structures in these nations. Religious and state matters are intertwined in such a way that it becomes difficult to make a clear distinction between the two. Islamic law applies to every aspect of life in the Arab nations ranging from matters related to everyday life, to state matters such as the system of governance and even foreign relations.
With modernization, the Muslim world has come into contact with the Western world, an aspect that has led to mixed reactions in different Arab nations. This is as a result of the major economic, political and social-cultural developments that have resulted from this type of contact. In most of the Muslim countries the political systems are based on Islamic laws derived from the Quran and this has resulted in the concept of Islamic States through which Arab countries want to exert their influence and change the Western culture to conform to Islamic way of life.
There has also been widespread resistance to Western influence and these factors have led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. A strive has risen among the Arabs between those who feel that Islam should determine the political culture of the Arab nations and those who prefer secular governments that have institutions modeled on Western governments. Islamic fundamentalist feel that Arab governments have established state constitutions that are too compliant with other religions or doctrines. It is therefore the ultimate goal of Islamic political fundamentalists to overthrow these secular states in a bid to achieve national dominance in the political system.
Islamic fundamentalist movements have been modeled upon the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt began in 1928 that provided such movements with directives on the way forward in achieving political dominance through the implementation of the Sharia law. Even though composed of a minority of Muslims, Islamic fundamentalists have had varied political achievements in various nations. Good examples of such groups are the Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban in Afghanistan where strict Islamic law has been used to eradicate any form of Western influence. In Sudan, the efforts by the Muslim brotherhood to uphold Sharia law since independence in that nation in 1956 has led to a long civil war between the Islamic North and the Christain south.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood captures 20 percent of the seats in civic elections held in the later part of 2005. Turkey is ruled by an Islamist party that appears to accommodate democratic ideals. But since the September 11 attacks in the United States, growing concern has risen within the international community over the current situation in the Arab countries regarding religious reform and the prospect of Islamist fundamentalists having a share in political power. This is because of extremist groups that have resulted to terrorism as a means of achieving their goals.
A good number of the countries in the Middle East are governed by autocratic regimes opposed to these Islamist movements. An attempt by such groups to gain political power has often been suppressed by denying them a popular vote in the governments and by exercising brutality against their leaders and followers. This is because of the tendency by these groups to result to violence as a means of airing their grievances and achieving their goals. Such violence has led to abduction of Western hostages, bomb attacks on the US Embassies in countries like Kenya and Tanzania and the September 11 attack in the US.
Islamic fundamentalists originally aimed at achieving political goals through peaceful means but the refusal of Islamic governments to recognize their existence and the attempt to suppress these movements is what may have led to the emergence of extremist groups. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has however maintained peaceful means in dealing with the government an aspect that has helped the movement to rise into a political party with a strong following. The future of such groups is however threatened by the fight against terrorism and whether they will achieve in maintaining strict Muslim states is yet to be determined by the course that political events in the Arab world will take and the relations between these Arab nations and the West.
Part III The lack of unification between the Arab countries has its benefits in regards to Preservation of culture but it is a hindrance to their potential political force
Culture in any community plays a role of utmost importance particularly in preserving the identity of any community. Like everywhere else in the world, the movement of people in and out of the Muslim world has increased cultural integration. Colonial occupation in the Arab countries served to expand these cultural influences bringing in the process of westernization. However the Arab countries have more than any other group of nations succeeded in keeping both external and internal influences at minimal levels. These countries have thus managed to retain their individual cultures to large extent.
From Egypt to Syria, the rise of Arabism was largely as a result of resistance to the colonial occupation mainly the British occupation. This growing force promised to unite Arab nations on the principles of nationalism as well as religion of Islam. This resulted in the expansion of state, missionary and private education (Moaddel, M., 53). However the cultural distance between the components of the Arab world would not allow for significant integration. This has to this day served to retain the cultural composition of the member countries. The lack of unity in the Arab countries has therefore served to preserve culture.
The biggest loss that is as a result of this disunity is however the loss of political forces that would have defined the Arab countries as a force to be reckoned with. The leadership’s radical difference in ideologies has made any meaningful integration difficult. A phenomenon akin to divide and rule has therefore been employed repeatedly by the western powers to further influence the political direction in the Arab World. This has worked against the region since it still remains on the shadows when political force is called for in order to change direction of the world.
Are Knusden. Political Islam in the Middle East R 2003:3
Chr. Michelsen Institute Development Studies and Human Rights
Moaddel, Mansoor. Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism. Chicago.
University of Chicago Press.