The first thing that comes in mind when we mention “Arab women” is housekeeping and domestic chores. For some time this concept was true. But nowadays, Arab women have proved themselves in many aspects of the society. Still, there are some that believe that a woman’s place is at home, but for the most part the society have gotten used to seeing women at work. This is not to put down from the value of house wives, they do as much work and are as appreciated as any other woman who holds a high rank in society. In this section of the article we will dedicate it for Egyptian women.
History of Women’s Liberation
Women in Egypt have been battling for their legal right, access to education, and economical rights for centuries. Because Egypt was under the British rule at one point, its women have been exposed to the western ideas, especially those of the upper class. The fight was not only important to those westernized women that have discarded the veil publicly, but also by those who chose to keep the veil but wanted their legal rights. Among those women are Huda Sha’rawi and Zainab al-Ghazaly. These two women were the first women that adopted the war for women’s rights in Egypt. Although there have been associations made by women to discuss and find solutions for women’s legal rights in Egypt, Huda Sha’rawi is still considered the mother feminization in Egypt. She is the founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923. She campaigned for women’s voting rights, equal access to education and change in the Egyptian marriage laws, especially that her own experience with marriage was not a successful one. In 1923, Sha’rawi attended an international women’s conference in Rome. After her return she stopped wearing her face veil. Her argument was that the veil is a symbol of women’s lower status in Egyptian society. The veil was greatly criticized by western feminists in the conference. But she continued to wear a scarf covering her hair which agrees with Islamic traditions and customs.
Zainab al-Ghazali, a disciple of Sha’rawi, took a different approach. She was the founder of the Muslim Women’s Association in 1936. The association’s goal was to educate Muslim women to take pride and understand their traditions better.
Status of Egyptian Woman Today
Egyptian woman today is definitely different from the past. Nowadays women hold critical positions in the society. Where before women were more or less confined to their homes and bearing and raising children, today women are in political, medical, and high social ranks. Women in Egypt are even involved in the military. But women are found also in very odd position. There’s the female truck driver, bus driver, and even taxi drivers. Women are not only allowed to vote, they’re also allowed to run for political positions. They can demand their rights to divorce their husbands if they’re treated badly. They are also responsible for raising their children in the best manner and in accordance to the culture and traditions. So, it is obvious that the status of women have greatly evolved into one that is almost equal to man. Although in some areas, such as Upper Egypt, women are still being oppressed and cannot fully implement their full rights; this problem is on its way to being resolved.
The Egyptian woman is now involved in many fields of the society. Women are great doctors and scientists, politics and great thinkers. It was the first lady Jihan el-Sadat who entered the political field and fought for women’s rights to run for political positions. She succeeded to dedicate 30 seats for women in the People’s counsel. Unfortunately, this legislation was canceled after the death of president el-Sadat. Nowadays, first Lady Suzan Mubarak is a symbol of a great woman involved in politics. Her efforts and the efforts of other women in the Egyptian National Counsel for Women that women are now being involved the upcoming plan national development. There are many known names in political society that are women.
Although women have gained status in the political field, but still some in some areas they’re being fought against. As an example, there’s a controversy these days about women holding positions as judges. 75% of males working in the judging field, courts in general, refuse to have a woman that has an authority over them at their work. In a survey that questioned 100 member of the field, 51% of the judges refused to have a woman judge among them and 49% accepted but only on the condition that the woman is to do advising work only, not as a judge. What are strange are the excuses these men used to their refusal. One of the judges said that it is not appropriate (forbidden by religion) that he sits alone with a lady judge in the discussion room, especially if the lady is attractive. Another was questioning what should be done in case the woman judge asked for a maternity leave of any other vacation that she legally deserves (as a woman). And from the 75% that refused a woman to be the boss of them is the secretariat of the court of Sohag. He said that he would rather work as a microbus driver than work under the rule of a woman.
These views still show that most men in the society do not believe a woman can do their job, and even better. This also shows that the society (male society) views women as housekeepers and that their place should be at home. Even after the fact that one woman (Advisor Tahany el-Gabaly) was appointed as a judge in the High Court in 2002. After that no other woman was appointed such a position in almost four years. Commenting on that is one Judge that said that the government was right when they appointed a female judge, and that she was placed in the right place away from being in direct contact with the common citizens, because we are a conservative society.
Education for Women
It is clear that the percentage of women that are being educated has increased. Yet the overall literacy rate in Egypt is about 50%, it is not surprising to find that most of these educated are men. Girls are allowed to study up until they reach an age where they can get married. But this phenomenon is mostly practiced in the villages of Upper Egypt and poor areas of large cities. Most fathers now are eager to let their girls learn up until they finish higher education. Girls that leave school at an early age are either to work to help with the family income or because their fathers still think with the old ideology that a woman’s place is at home.
Women at Home
It is very clear from the previous sections in this article that most Arab men prefer their wives to stay at home and look after the kids. Only a few are happy with their wives working. And usually these wives are torn apart between their jobs and their house work. It is very difficult and frustrating for women to be working, especially in a male dominated society like ours. Beside her day job, she is obligated to clean the house, study for the kids, prepare dinner before her husband returns from his work, and does the entire house work. It is very rare to find a man who helps his wife with the house work or even helping with the kids. It is also very rare to find a man who is willing to leave his job to stay at home with the kids instead of his wife, even if the wife’s job pays more than his. These rare husbands are very common in western societies, not in our eastern ones.
Women are no doubt a very important pillar in the community. Without women there would be no life. They’re the symbol of delicacy, love, and utmost compassion. God Almighty has put in them very delicate feelings to care for other. He also put in them the strength to take on any difficulties that may face their families. Woman is a word that includes mother, sister, lover and wife, partner for good and for worse, a shoulder to cry on and hand that would stretch out to help. She could be the weakest creature when she’s in love and the strongest one when someone threatens her or her family. So please remember that God created Eve to be a helper for Adam, and not his servant.
Women in Kuwait
Women and politics
Kuwait is a small and oil-rich state where women are said to be among the most emancipated in the Gulf region, which is incredibly conservative. Women in Kuwait can travel, drive, and work without their fathers’ or husbands’ consent and they even hold some senior government positions. But women in Kuwait have not yet gained the one right that most of them desire: the right to vote. Although the ruler of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah, issued a royal decree in June of 1999 that stated women should be allowed to vote and run for office in the next election, a measure to put his will into law was defeated, 32 to 30, by legislators in November of 2000.
When compared to a place such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwaiti women have it good. In Saudi Arabia, no one has the right to vote and women still don’t have the right to drive a car (Muslim Women’s League). But this does not appease the Kuwaiti women.
For the very first time in Kuwait’s history, women of all ages and backgrounds turned out in force during the 29th June landmark parliamentary elections to exercise their newfound right of suffrage. Women finally got to fully participate in the decision making process and have their voices heard in the corridors of political power. Since parliament’s decision on 16th May 2005 to amend the electoral law, Kuwaiti women have quickly risen to become a major sought-after constituency. With their participation in the elections, Kuwait has witnessed a true democratic celebration. Thousands of women have embraced the elections with a first timer’s zeal.
Although no female candidate won a seat in the parliament, ballot counts have shown the participation of Kuwaiti women in the elections for the first time to reflect major progress. Even though only 35% of eligible females voted, the level of their participation was higher than women’s participation in many other countries including western ones, the first time they exercise suffrage.
In Arab countries, men have traditionally been the providers, women the homemakers. This concept is slowly changing, however, as the attitudes of the outside world permeate Arab society.
This process is hastened by the influx of foreign women to Kuwait. For some time, Arab women have worked in teaching and nursing, but they’re increasingly also found in other fields, especially banking, finance and the service sector. The majority of expatriate female workers are employed in the service sector as doctors, lawyers, hotel administrators, in advertising, public relations, nursing, education and as stewardesses for the many national airlines.
Women and work
More local women are entering the work force in Kuwait and some employers view them as harder-working and more reliable than the average local male worker (and invariably cheaper to employ). Women rising to positions of power and influence tend to come from middle and upper echelon families. Indeed, for a woman to rise to a position of influence at work she needs the support of her family, especially the male members.
Most expatriate workers – whether western or eastern – are male. Their wives often have a restriction in their passport which prohibits them from working. Should the wives wish to work, they must obtain their own sponsorship and work visa, but employers tend to be biased against giving work visas to women. Women are often offered work (illegally) and, while this isn’t a major crime, it can result in the company being fined and the woman losing her job.
Women are generally safe in the workplace, with little sexual harassment because of the severe punishments for this. The influx of female ‘tourists’ (i.e. prostitutes) from eastern Europe in recent times, however, has reduced the level of respect that foreign females hitherto enjoyed. Women should also be careful not to be too friendly towards Arab men in the workplace, because this can be misunderstood as flirtatiousness.
In fact, the legal liabilities and social discrimination to which women in Kuwait are subject reach beyond political rights. According to Freedom in the World 2003, Freedom House’s annual worldwide survey of political rights and civil liberties, Kuwaiti women “are legally disadvantaged in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance, must have the permission of a male relative to obtain a passport; and cannot confer citizenship on their children.” In addition, and though the proportion is growing, women remain under-represented in the labor force.
But there are other reasons, rooted in Kuwaiti culture and history, to believe that suffrage is within view for Kuwaiti women and that the freedom they now enjoy will lead to further gains in the acquisition of civil rights. For starters, although excluded from political life, Kuwaiti women enjoy a relatively high degree of participation in professional life. They hold prominent positions in journalism, at the universities, in private business, in medicine, and in government ministries. They serve on the board of the Kuwait Petroleum Company. They constitute a little more than a third of the Kuwaiti labor force, and their numbers are likely to grow.
This is because women are flourishing in academic life in Kuwait. They constitute over 70 percent of the students at Kuwait University, and about half of those studying engineering and medicine. This is a result of two factors. The first, stressed by Kuwait social scientist Haya al-Mughni in Women in Kuwait, the leading book on the subject, is that in the late 1960s the government adopted the policy that women should be integrated into the work force. To this end, women were provided with educational opportunities. In particular, the government made education compulsory for all Kuwaiti children up to the age of 14, and women were admitted to the University of Kuwait.
These associations have been the chief vehicle through which Kuwaiti women activists, almost from the moment the country’s constitution was ratified in 1962, have sought their political rights. Prominent among these associations has been the Women’s Cultural and Social Society, founded in 1963. The WCSS believes that the struggle for women’s suffrage in Kuwait stands on firm constitutional ground: The Kuwaiti constitution’s preamble proclaims devotion to “democratic rule,” and article seven declares that “Justice, Liberty and Equality are the pillars of Society.” Through conferences, consciousness-raising, and lobbying members of the national assembly and the government, the Society has sought to overturn the election law passed in 1963, which provides the legal basis for excluding women from politics by providing rules and regulations covering only Kuwaiti men. Last year, a lawsuit, which the WCSS supported, challenging the constitutionality of the election law, was dismissed on procedural grounds.
According to Rasha Al-Sabah, a member of the ruling family, under minister of higher education, and the highest-ranking woman in the Kuwait government, Kuwait’s distinctive culture and history accounts for its openness to freedom. Located at the crossroads between the Arabian Desert and the Arabian Gulf, and blessed with a capacious natural port at the Gulf’s northern reaches, Kuwait originated as a trading center and served as a home to a seafaring and shipbuilding population.
Kuwait’s commercial character also shaped its political development. As an important trading port since the eighteenth century, Kuwait has been in constant contact with the outside world, particularly East Africa and India, and its diversity of beliefs and practices. And while the men were often at sea pearl-diving or trading for weeks or months at a time, women ran households and developed the ability to fend for themselves.
And where does the royal family stand on the question of women’s suffrage? Here too informed Kuwaitis differ. In 1999, under some pressure as a result of promises he had made to enlarge freedom in Kuwait after the 1990 Iraqi invasion, the emir finally issued an emergency decree, while parliament was dissolved, granting women the right to vote. However, such decrees eventually must be approved by a majority vote when the national assembly reconvenes; when it did, it rejected the measure by a vote of 32 to 30.
Some Kuwaiti liberals, such as Mohammed Al-Jassem, contend that this legislative defeat represented a kind of victory for the democratic process, for what the parliament was telling the emir, in Al-Jassem’s view, was that laws of such import should arise not by emergency decree but from the legislature. Others, such as Fatima Hussain, argue that the defeat of the measure merely reflected a lamentable lack of political will on the part of the government.
Only one political group in Kuwait strongly opposes giving women the right to vote and that is the influential minority whose ultimate aim is to make Muslim law not just one source of Kuwaiti law, as the constitution declares, but the sole source of Kuwaiti law. I mentioned the Islamist view — that Islam itself prohibits the participation of women in politics — to the students at GUST, and wondered how such a religion could ever be reconciled with democracy. Shaikha Al-Ali, seven months pregnant and among those who had expressed little concern about lacking the vote, replied with steel in her voice and fire in her eyes that there was no problem because there was no contradiction between women’s political participation and her interpretation of Islam.
Nobody can say just when women in Kuwait will acquire the right to vote, but where the press is robust and free, where women avidly form voluntary organizations to help others and to advance their own interests, and where the willingness to live between cultures and to submit religious questions to the authority of one’s personal judgment becomes second nature, respect for the just claims of equality can’t be far behind.
Women in Saudi Arabia
Saudi women become the principle problem of Saudi society. Women in Saudi society are different from women in any other Muslim societies where women have political and social rights. Islam set up rules to regulates the relationships between male and female. Some countries as, Saudi Arabia, is considered male societies and have no value for women. In Saudi Arabia, males are considered the backbone of the societies and women do not share in any decisions about their lives. In this society women are forbidden their simplest rights as, discrimination against women is performed and the laws or other measures counteract discrimination are absence. The most important problems are education, working and marriage.
Saudi-Arabia is considered one of the countries that emphasize religious aspects without its spirit. Women cannot have higher levels of education. If they want to work, they cannot work in high position. They have limited places for work. They cannot share in any important discussion and cannot hold any political positions. Women cannot depend on themselves. They only listen to their family’s orders without refusing. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot choose her husband who will share her life forever. Authorities put wrong instructions for women’s lives. They hide under Islam’s slogan, although Islam clarified women’s rights in the society as, society is consider a combination between men and women and cannot be formed without one of the both.
In the past Islam defined the family as a social arrangement regulating the bond among men and women. At the beginning, Saudi Arabia used the right rules of Islam toward women as; women were able to receive education in 1962 and were progressing in various fields. They were at the beginning to take their life like other Countries. The coming of Muslim brothers to Saudi Arabia sixties and seventies, escaping the tyranny of Gamal Abdel Naser and in Eighties , escaping the massacre of Muslim Brothers in Syria and their accession to Saudi citizenship and work in education.(Al-nabulsi). They controlled the education system and prevented the communication among gender. The society depends on the male power and authorities. Muslim Brothers thought that women are created only to be homemakers and bring children. Women were forbidden from their simplest rights that Islam has given to them. There are many countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia where women have social and political rights. These countries are like Saudi Arabia in their emphasizing on their Islam, but they applied the true rules of the society. From age to age traditional and customs moved from placed to another place and women prevented from their rights in the life.
Women at work
Before the spread of Islam, women were treated like animals. Islam raised the importance of women in the society and clarified all their rights to live a good life among male. During early Islam ages, women had the ability to be educated different types of educations and could work in the suitable places. The best example working women, the prophet wife who worked in the business. Saudi Arabia tried to follow the early Islamic ages, but authorities put wrong rules for women’s lives. Women cannot complete their education to high levels as found in other countries. They must go to other countries to complete their educations. In their countries, they do not find available jobs for their educations because the society is male dominated which does not care about women. Women face a lot of obstacles at work due to the different traditions and customs in the society. They cannot reach to high political position. According to Samar Fatany, chief broadcaster for Radio Jeddah’s English account for fifty-five percent of Saudi graduates but make up just under workforce.
Other problems that face women are marriage. Most women do not have the ability to choose their husband they only listen to their family orders. In this society male does not know the real value of women. According to the family physician Maha Alatta, in the article “Saudi women pioneers ” “Divorce and polygamy are particular problems: These two problem are considered the most problems facing women in these societies Male has the ability to marriage four wives, Islam stipulated the polygamy as, a msn must treat all wives fairly and equally. According to the article “Saudi women struggle to confront the religious guise of male power” Mohammed Saqr clarified that women were better than they arrived of Muslim Brothers as, women could go shopping without covering their face. Muslim Brothers change the lives without using Islam rules as they said.
Discussing the Situation
There are a lot of conferences that were established to discuss women’s problem in Saudi Arabia. According to the article “Saudi Arabia: Gross human rights abuse against women.” Which clarified the opinion of Prince Turki Bin Mohammed, when he was asked in the conferences of Amnesty’s campaign against human rights about the problem of women; he kept silent and said that suffering of women for no reasons other than their having been born female. In the same article, other examples of conferences that established for convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Saudi Arabia has ratified several international labor organization (ILO) conventions. One of the clear evidence about this problem what happened in Nejd, Asir and south region. As Amal al Ahmari said that female artists are forced to sign their work with pseudonym because Saudi society looks down on them. According to the least world view to Saudi women, ninety-five percent of women are consider homemakers and they preferred sons than daughters. There are a lot of example that prove that women have fought for political and civil equality, when Saudi women derived car during the gulf war, they were immediately arrested and those working were dismissed.
The more pressures put on government in Saudi Arabia, the more conflicts in the society. Due to all these restrictions on women freedom, they leave their country to other countries enjoying all their right in different aspects of the life. No one can deny that a lot of women struggle and lost their life to have their rights without any benefits. Problem of Saudi women remain a complex one where women become the social problem in the country. Women are forbidden their simplest rights. They cannot educate to higher levels or setup in high position or choose their husband. All these problems can be solved in many steps; first the government must put new rules for the society including all rights of women as find in the Quran. Second, women must have the ability to educate, working in political position and have the ability to choose their husband. All other Arabic countries must help them to solve this problem by send professions in these problems.
Women in Syria
The role of the Syrian women in their country is intensified nowadays in many aspects of life. This is recognized by many organizations in many Europe countries. The traditions of Syrian women is discussed by women called Asma Al Asaad.
The very noble posture of the young, elegantly beautiful Syrian first lady, Asma al-Assad, at the breakfast meeting reminded me of Nizar Kabbani’s words. Kabbani, studying at Damascus University, asks, “Is it the Syrian woman who gives her beauty to Syria, or is it Syria that gives her an inner beauty, nobility and femininity?”
As Asma al-Assad was born and raised in London, she is often asked just how much she has integrated into Syrian culture. The first lady said while she was living in London she went to Syria every summer and never found Syria or its culture strange. She described herself as embodying British-We stern culture. She emphasized they have also started in Syria the kind of revolution developing countries are currently experiencing. She was mostly impressed by the fashion show she watched in Istanbul, and said that the striking synthesis of the traditional and modern in the fashion world could be applied to real life. She firmly believed the traditional and modern will unite. “Turkey is a very good model for us,” Mrs. Assad said, stressing that Turkey with its synthesis is a role model for the region. The greatest obstacles facing women living in freedom and independently are the customs and traditions, she stated in perfect English. Syria does not only lead Turkey by 10.4 percent in the number of women present in Parliament, it also overwhelmingly leads Turkey in women involvement in local politics. However, the woman is identified with her family not as an individual. The concepts of family and honor are binding for women in Arab culture.
Though Mrs. Assad said, “We keep asking for more, and we want more progress,” it is obvious that the women involved in social and political events are all from the upper class. No woman from the middle or lower class can easily break through the invisible barriers. It is known that there were no civil society organizations (CSOs) until three years ago in Syria, where there is tight state control. Mrs. Assad, who heads the first civil society organization that was established by the state, is also the head of the “independent” CSOs, most of them established under state control. The word “feminism” in questions asked on feminism, headscarf and honor killings made her laugh slightly. I think this reaction stemmed from the conceptual structure of feminism in the East. Mrs. Assad tried to explain that there is individualism and an individual behind feminism, but the fact that Syrian culture is based on the family embraces the cultural structure with a different understanding. I listened to her without forgetting the 100 cases of honor killings that appeared in newspapers in 2000-2003. As I was listening to the first lady, I thought about the very colorful and diverse ethnic structure of Syria, where 30 percent of the population are Nusayris.
Her role in the Family
The woman’s role as a mother, sister, wife and aunt is important, not her individual rights and demands. 396 of the 767 business women in Syria are entrepreneurs who have established their own business. The newly established SYEA is the first association founded by young entrepreneurs. When she said, “Syrian women are eager and ambitious,” she made a realistic point, in my opinion. “Women are in secondary positions in the society, and the customs and traditions crush them under the mask of religion. Religion is a very private and individual matter,” she insisted. “What is essential is the Holy Qur’an, not practical religion, and we must look at this,” Mrs. Assad said, adding that she also believed in the importance of reaching a consensus with religious scholars. Hence, they have launched an educational project to make religious scholars work for the betterment of women. This is very important, in my opinion, to get women involved through persuasion and education — not by excluding them…
“The 20th century was that of men, and the 21st century will be that of women,” she said as she was shaking hands with the participants. I believe a woman’s hand should reach out to the Middle East.”
Her role at Work
Nowadays the role of the Arab Syrian women in agriculture is intensified is as Two IFAD evaluations published in 1999 provide an important perspective on the role of women in agriculture. In Syria, farming usually a household activity, except among the wealthier farm households. Information on labour in agriculture shows that the usual pattern is that women are completely responsible for caring for the livestock and poultry. Grazing is the exception: here men do an estimated 37% of the work. In crop production, women participate at all stages.
Women’s farm work in Syria usually involves the following activities:
■seeding, thinning, weeding;
■crop residual collection and pruning;
■animal feeding (which often requires frequent trips to the fields to collect fresh fodder); and
■milking and egg collection.
However, Syrian women have little role in marketing. In 91 % of households, marketing is a male task. There are obvious implications for control of income generated from the sale of produce or livestock. Rural women in Syria also tend to have little decision-making power within the household on the disposal of family income.
A sociological survey of married rural women found that two thirds of them spent an average of six hours working outside the home. The other third spent seven to ten hours. While much of this time is likely to be spent on the above agricultural tasks, some also goes to fuel and water collection, particularly where sources are far from the home. In addition, women spend a considerable amount of time on work within the home, such as baking bread, preparing meals and looking after children and the elderly. Like women everywhere, they try to combine household tasks and productive tasks.
Women’s labour input is disproportion^ to their control of agricultural resources. An FAO study in Syria found the following pattern of ownership among women:
- land: only 5%
- animals: about 7%-8%, but with variation according to the type of livestock and the area of the country (males own about 97% of sheep, 93% of cows, 96% of goats and even 98% of chickens); and
- Agricultural machinery: 1%.
The agrarian reform of the late seventies redistributed land to all farmers, and Shari’s law recognizes the right of women to inherit. But practice has not yet caught up with the law. Most Syrian women are apparently culturally pressured to waive their right to land inheritance in favour of their brothers or sons.
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