Women in Arab societies

Women in Arab societies

Women in the Arab world have throughout history experienced discrimination and have been subject to restrictions of their freedoms and rights. Some of these practices are based on religious beliefs, but many of the limitations are cultural and emanate from tradition rather than religion. These main constraints that create an obstacle towards women's rights and liberties are reflected in laws dealing with criminal justice, economy, education and healthcare [ [http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=163 'Challenging Inequality: Obstacles and Opportunities Towards Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa'] ] .

Arab women before Islam


In some tribes, women were emancipated even in comparison with many of today's standards. [ [http://www.rationalistinternational.net/article/20041120_en.html Islam and Women] Dr. Younus Shaikh] [ [http://www.masmn.org/documents/Books/Safiur_Rahman_Mubarakpuri/Raheeq_Al_Maktoom/104.htm Aspects of Pre-Islamic Arabian Society] ] There were instances where women held high positions of power and authority.

In other tribes, women were of low status. They were subordinate to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. [ [http://www.islamfortoday.com/womensrightsbadaw.htm 'The Status of Women in Islam'] ] . In some instances, women were chattels, effectively property. A woman had no share in inheritance because she was regarded as unwise and incapable of effectively managing her inherited property. There were also patterns of homicidal abuse of women and girls, including instances of killing female infants considered to be a liability. In his book "Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives", Glenn Hausfater details how Qais Bin Assem, a leader of the Tamim tribe, killed every daughter he had for fear of their capture (and his disgrace) in the inter-tribal wars that dominated Arabian society at that time. According to some scholars; during times of famine, especially, poorer families were likely to kill a daughter, regarding her as a burden on a starving family.Fact|date=June 2007

It is claimed by some Muslim writers and some scholars of Middle Eastern history that in pre-Islamic Arabia, women could not inherit land or wealth; holdings were usually considered the property of the tribe she was born or married in to. They claim Islam changed the very structure of the society and to a large degree unified the people, reforming and standardizing gender roles throughout the region. Some, however, disagree. [ [http://www.geocities.com/realitywithbite/arabwoman.htm Women in pre-Islamic Arabia] ]

Arab women after Islam

"See also Women in Islam"

Islam was introduced in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century.According to the Qur'anic decrees, both men and women have the same duties and responsibilities in their worship of God.As the Qur'an states: "I will not suffer to be lost the work of any of you whether male or female. You proceed one from another".(Qur'an 2:195)

The Qur'an rejected the traditional and cultural practice of killing unwanted female children soon after birth.As it appears in (Qur'an 16:58-59),the religious message states: ""when news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief. With shame he hides himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! shall he retain it (his face) (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! what an evil (choice) they decide on!" The Islamic scholar William Montgomery Watt states::

It is true that Islam is still, in many ways, a man’s religion. But I think I’ve found evidence in some of the early sources that seems to show that Muhammad made things better for women. It appears that in some parts of Arabia, notably in Mecca, a matrilineal system was in the process of being replaced by a patrilineal one at the time of Muhammad. Growing prosperity caused by a shifting of trade routes was accompanied by a growth in individualism. Men were amassing considerable personal wealth and wanted to be sure that this would be inherited by their own actual sons, and not simply by an extended family of their sisters’ sons. This led to a deterioration in the rights of women. At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible - they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons. Muhammad improved things quite a lot. By instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, he gave women certain basic safeguards. Set in such historical context the Prophet can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights. [ [http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000_watt.htm Interview with Prof William Montgomery Watt ] ]

Contemporary Arab world


Many Arab countries allow women to vote in national elections. Some countries granted the female franchise in their constitutions following independence, while some extended the franchise to women in later constitutional amendments [] [] , Lebanon [] , Egypt [] , Algeria [] and many others. Gulf States has recently seen the introduction of votes for women, including Kuwait [] and Saudi Arabia, albeit only in local elections.

Arab women are under-represented in parliaments in Arab states, although they are gaining more equal representation as Arab states liberalise their political systems. In 2005, the International Parliamentary Union said that 6.5 per cent of MPs in the Arab world were women, compared with 3.5 per cent in 2000. In Tunisia, nearly 23 per cent of members of parliament were women. However, the Arab country with the largest parliament, Egypt, had only around four per cent female representation in parliament. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4314211.stm BBC News - "Arab women increase MP presence"] ]

In 2006, women in the Gulf Co-operation Council states achieved a significant breakthrough in terms of participating in parliamentary elections, but the success of female candidates varied across the region. In the UAE, women stood for election for the first time in the country's history. Although just one female candidate - from Abu Dhabi - was directly elected, the government appointed a further eight women to the 40-seat federal legislature, giving women a 22.5 per cent share of the seats, far higher than the world average of 17.0 per cent. [http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37105] In Kuwait, women participated in elections for the first time, but none won seats. Bahrain elected its first and only female MP in 2006. [http://www.ipu.org/news-e/25-4.htm]

The role of women in politics in Arab societies is largely determined by the will of these countries' leaderships to support female representation and cultural attitudes towards women's involvement in public life. Dr Rola Dashti, a female candidate in Kuwait's 2006 parliamentary elections, claimed that "the negative cultural and media attitude towards women in politics" was one of the main reasons why no women were elected. She also pointed to "ideological differences", with conservatives and extremist Islamists opposing female participation in political life and discouraging women from voting for a woman. She also cited malicious gossip, attacks on the banners and publications of female candidates, lack of training and corruption as barriers to electing female MPs. [http://www.ipu.org/news-e/23-4.htm] In contrast, one of UAE's female MPs, Najla al Awadhi, claimed that "women's advancement is a national issue and we have a leadership that understands that and wants them to have their rights." [http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37105]

Women's right to vote in the Arab world

Women were granted the right to vote on a universal and equal basis in Lebanon in 1952 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/lebanon.htm Reuters AlertNet - Lebanon ] ] , Syria (to vote) in 1949 [http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage.htm Women's Suffrage ] ] (Restrictions or conditions lifted) in 1953 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/Syria.htm Reuters AlertNet - Syria ] ] , Egypt in 1956 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/egypt.htm Reuters AlertNet - Egypt ] ] ,
Tunisia in 1959 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/tunisia.htm Reuters AlertNet - Tunisia ] ] , Mauritania in 1961 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/mauritania.htm Reuters AlertNet - Mauritania ] ] , Algeria in 1962 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/algeria.htm Reuters AlertNet - Algeria ] ] ,Morocco in 1963 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/morocco.htm Reuters AlertNet - Morocco ] ] , Libya [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/libya.htm Reuters AlertNet - Libya ] ] and Sudan in 1964 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/sudan.htm Reuters AlertNet - Sudan ] ] ,Yemen (Partly)in 1967 (full right) in 1970 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/yemen.htm Reuters AlertNet - Yemen ] ] , Bahrain in 1973 [http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage.htm#Note3 Women's Suffrage ] ] ,Jordan in 1974 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/jordan.htm Reuters AlertNet - Jordan ] ] ,Iraq (Full right) 1980 Oman (Partly) in 1994 and (Fully granted) 2003 [ [http://www.alertnet.org/db/cp/oman.htm Reuters AlertNet - Oman ] ] ,Kuwait in 2005 .


The region of the Arab peninsula is characterized by gender inequality in literacy and education. Because of their relatively low educational level, female workers are challenged by a more professional men labor force [Moghadam, V. "Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East" United Nations University Press, 1993:4-5] . Until recently, progress in women's education was slow and restricted.


Women have the right to drive in all Arab countries except Saudi Arabia. [ [http://english.people.com.cn/200701/26/eng20070126_345067.html People's Daily Online - Saudi princess, at Davos Forum: ' I'd let women drive' ] ]

Traditional dress

"See also: hijab and sartorial hijab".

In some countries, like Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, the veil is not mandatory.

ee also

*Shajarat al-Durr
*Women's political rights in Bahrain
*Egyptian Feminist Union
*Female genital cutting
*Arab Christians
*Arab Jews
*Women in Muslim societies
*Rania al-Baz
*Saddeka Arebi


External links

* [http://www.forumarabia.com/ ForumArabia.com] , Arab forum
* [http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1453&prog=zgp&proj=zdrl Women's Rights and Democracy in the Arab World] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
* [http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/arbwomn.htm Arab Woman, Potentials and Prospects] Cornell University
* [http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=2766134 The state of Arab women] The Economist
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4289367.stm Aids threat grows for Arab women] BBC
* [http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20879&Cr=arab&Cr1=gender Gender equality in Arab world critical for progress and prosperity] United Nations
* [http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2005-12/2005-12-22-voa54.cfm Women Slowly Making Electoral Gains in Arab World] Voice of America
* [http://www.idea.int/publications/wip2/upload/Arab_World.pdf The Arab States: Enhancing Women’s Political Participation] International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
* [http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2005/issue2/Alvi%20Hayat%20pdf.pdf The human rights of women and social transformation in the Arab world] Bar Ilan University

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