By Teodora Rebrisorean, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
The rise of fundamentalism in the Middle East has reinforced the idea that Islam is ubiquitous in culture and politics, that tradition is highly respected and women’s status is low. Legal issues and the status of women in the Middle East are quite different of those of women in the Western society. The social position of women in Muslim countries is worse than anywhere else, for example a woman can work and travel only with the written permission of her husband or male guardian, they can not obtain divorce without their husband’s cooperation who in contrast can obtain divorce simply by filling out a divorce form. Many Islamic fundamentalist are against any change regarding women’s rights that can undermine male domination with regards to family and society. Their goals are to setup special curricula to train girls for their role as housewives, to restrict their access to political life, remove them from the legal profession, and to impose a rigid dress code. Despite these inequalities between men and women, for many of these women freedom of expression and equality do not seem meaningful goals to obtain. The majority of them see the Western culture as a danger for their native culture, brining with it the disintegration of families and social breakdown.
If we look at Saudi Arabia, it is seen as the world’s most repressive country when it comes to women’s rights. The Wahhabi form of Islam requires women to submit to male guardianship all their lives, which means that men decide where women go outside their home, which school to attend, whom she marries, whether she works and even what medical treatments she takes. Saudi Arabia remains the only country that forbids women to drive.
Historically, Islam has resisted women’s rights and modernization. Unjust laws, discriminatory constitutions, and biased mentalities that do not recognize women as equal citizens violate women’s rights. A national, that is, a citizen, is defined as someone who is a native or naturalized member of a state. A national is entitled to the rights and privileges allotted to a free individual and to protection from the state. However, in no country in the Middle East or Northern Africa are women granted full citizenship; in every country they are second-class citizens. In many cases, the laws and codes of the state work to reinforce gender inequality and exclusion from nationality. Unlike in the West, where the individual is the basic unit of the state, it is the family that is the basis of Arab states. This means that the state is primarily concerned with the protection of the family rather than the protection of the family’s individual members. The rights of women are expressed solely in their roles as wives and mothers.
- Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East, SECOND EDITION- Valentine M. Moghadam