Assalam Alaikum is the common way to greet in twenty-two countries today. The Arab World consists of the twenty-two Arabic speaking countries members of the Arab League. Another aspect that gathers most of these countries collectively is religion. Indeed, Islam is the prevailing faith in the area, although countries of the Arab League possess a variety of local cultures and languages.
According to the article “Women in the Arab World: A Case of Religion or Culture?” by the scholar Yusuf Sidani, the status of women in Muslim societies is directly related to Islam as a religion. Women in the Arab World do not benefit from the same rights and opportunities as those in the Western world. Islam’s misinterpretation has led to the creation of oppressiveness towards women. Arab Women have both religion and culture impregnating their status. In fact, they are often depicted as a housewife, cut from social life, and having no future than staying at home.
On the other hand, Yusuf Sidani argued that during the ﬁrst few decades of the twentieth century, the Arab World witnessed the birth of several feminist movements, which is, therefore, a synonym of progress. He also added that: “socialist revolutions took place in the 50s and 60s and emphasized the role of women in social and economic development. The hard efforts of intellectuals and feminist movements, as well as social and political developments in the past century, led to fundamental changes in many Arab countries. Women’s education and the right to work in traditional jobs such as medicine, teaching, and nursing have become normal”. Moreover, reports on Arab human development indicate that there have been signiﬁcant improvements to women’s development in the region.
Nevertheless, many inequalities remain, and it is necessary to comprehend that women’s place and treatments vary per country and context. Women in the Arab world, in some countries more than others, continue to suffer from severe limitations on their participation in political, economic, and social life. In fact, many don’t have access to employment opportunities; there is still a high illiteracy rate and discriminatory practices in place. For example, in Morocco, almost 65% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are illiterate. With that being said, Morocco is still considered the 8th best Arab country for women as it has been proclaimed that women in Morocco have a degree of independence and autonomy; although domestic abuse is common. Admittedly, a government survey reveals that 52.5% of married women in Morocco have experienced domestic violence in 2019.
According to the UN, in much of the Arab world, women’s participation in the labor force is the lowest in the world; women in politics are being too rare. Indeed, the Arab world remains far behind the low global average of 20%. These limitations are due to a legal system that denies women property and inheritance rights, hard access to productive resources, severe sanctions, polygamy and early marriages. Additionally, women are put at a disadvantage in both marriage and divorce.
For example in Morocco, experts declare that equality laws are not implemented and there are no laws against domestic violence or marital rape. A case that did a lot of noise is Morocco was one of the penal code. Article 475 allowed a rapist to be forgiven and avoid jail if he could marry his victim, with her family’s consent. Thankfuly, it was abolished in January 2014, after many demonstrations, petitions, and regrettable suicides. Daughters were being rapped and forced to marry their predators just for the family’s honor. It was completely part of the norm. It is crucial to note that 10% of marriages today, involve girls under 18. As for inheritance, women are not equal to their male encounters. Moroccan law stipulates that a woman only touches 50% of what her male sibling will acquire. Another issue would be one of “little maids”. Their very own family often sends those young girls away from their villages, to work for upper-class households in urban areas. Most of the time they endure atrocious conditions as countless cases of abuse and torture have been reported. With no future or hope for a better life, little maids ought both their integrity and future being taken away from them.
In order to understand this subject, it is important to be aware that there are many factors to take into consideration: cultural and religious determinants, low access to education, few professional opportunities (as family responsibilities are most of the time given to women), and predominant present of violence against women. In our societies, women’s rights are often associated with immorality or westernization. There is an enormous judicial dilemma as there is a legal void in protecting women from any kind of violence.
Last but not least, sexual harassment is particularly widespread and accepted. Among the most draining aspects of living in an Arab country is the predominant narrow-minded mentality deeply ingrained in the misinterpretation of Islam by the male elite. An arduous aspect of everyday life is that women are not free to wear whatever they desire. Women who don’t follow the codes and dress « respectably » are considered provocative. Women can’t enjoy a day at the beach if wearing a swimsuit and not escorted by a male. All eyes will lie on her and she will be called out a thousand names. Women are judge by the amount of skin that is covered and not by their values or capacities. Women can’t solely walk freely. Women are simply extremely scared to be assaulted because of their looks. It happened excessively and presumably, will keep on prevailing if we don’t put an end to it.
However, let us not lose hope as there is an increase in the rate of educated women seeking freedom, justice, and equality. Especially that the true essence of Islam calls for equal rights to education, equal pay, inheritance, and participation in public life. Today, women around the Arab World are asking for more liberties and rights, inherent to them. Arab Women are getting exhausted for being victimized, we want change.
To face this issue, fundamental modifications need to be implemented in constitutions and laws of traditional patriarchal systems. Improvement in education is necessary, as well as reconciling family responsibilities with professional life. On the other hand, preventing violence against women at home, harassment at the workplace, and in public spaces is another issue to closely tackle. It all starts with us being more implicated and active in the fight for equality. Let’s raise our voices!