It’s Monday! Here’s this week’s post for our Get Educated, One Blog At A Time blog series! This week you can read about gender equality and women’s rights in the Middle East. Also, check out our past blog posts from the series, including: “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest”, “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”, “A Necessary Priority”, “A Reform For The World”, “The Rural Challenge” and “Help Starts Young”.
The issues of female rights and gender equality in the Middle East exist as challenges the UN, activists, citizens, and many others are currently trying to correct. Most Middle Eastern countries follow the Islamic religion, laying the foundation for what some have interpreted as female obedience and submission to men. These countries have expanded upon and even created rules for women that mimic religious fanaticism. As Middle Eastern/Arab countries such as Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq are now preoccupied with the issue of the Arab Springs and the political and social changes engulfing their country, women’s rights are being pushed to the backburner as insignificant worries. Nevertheless, gender equality remains an important issue that needs to be addressed.
The absence of gender equality in the Middle East is apparent in social restrictions, cultural regulations, politics, and lack of economic rights and opportunity that women experience in this region everyday. According to the laws of Islam, the separation of genders is necessary because women have the ability to tempt men through improper behavior. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women and men are not allowed to use/occupy the public library at the same time. Also, females are required to dress “modestly” in many of these countries so as to conceal their bodies for their husband and prevent temptation: women in both Saudi Arabia and the Kashmir region in India have been threatened, beaten, and unfairly treated for not wearing the burqa, a garment that covers the entire body and leaves little holes for the eyes. In terms of politics, women are restricted from roles of power and authority that are believed to belong to men. Laws protecting women from physical abuse and sexual abuse within a marriage are rare. Relating to Middle Eastern women’s inability to hold positions of power, economic opportunities such as entrepreneurship and leading a company are almost impossible dreams.
UN Documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) stand as milestones for the efforts international gender equality. Both documents have councils that are in charge of monitoring the progress of those countries that have ratified them with regards to gender equality. Ensuring that each individual country is making progressive strides towards female empowerment are the committees’ primary concerns. While the UDHR states rights as “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”, CEDAW is aimed at specifically ensuring female empowerment, equality, and opportunities worldwide. While gender inequality is still very much a reality of our world today, countries like Kuwait (gave women the right to vote and run for office in 2005) and Bahrain (now allows for the appointment of female judges) are making significant strides towards ending this injustice and promoting the equality we each deserve, gender aside.
Check out this week’s blog post from our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series. This week, learn about the importance of women in the world of politics and pursuing political careers. Check out our last four blog posts from the series, as well: “Creating A Road To Democracy”, “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest” and “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”. Check back next Monday for a new post!
“With one-half the population, there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table.”– U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In June of 2011, United Nations Women identified women’s political participation and leadership as one of its top five priorities in its first Strategic Plan. Despite the fact that women constitute a little over 50% of the world population, their representation and participation in politics are vastly underrepresented. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 20% of parliamentary seats worldwide are currently held by women. Despite being a historic high, it is still far from the Beijing Platform for Action’s target goal of 30% in political participation, said to be the “minimum percentage necessary to ensure a critical mass of women who can influence the decision making processes and political agendas.” The current participation percentage is even further from the United Nations Millennium Goal target for gender parity, which lies between 40 and 60%. Unfortunately, UNIFEM predicts that the critical mass of 30% will not be achieved by 2015.
Female underrepresentation in politics and many more institutions can be traced back to the world’s patriarchal legacy. Historically, societies were male dominated, male identified and male centered. The majority of positions in all fields were naturally reserved for men and core cultural ideas and media were centered on male identities. One important movement in response to women oppression was the Feminist movement that began with its first wave in the 19th century, focusing on obtaining women’s right to vote. This was followed by second and third waves that concentrated on wider issues such as inequalities in the workplace, political inequalities, and educational disparity. Another important progress was made in 1979, when the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This women’s bill of rights suggests measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, including in the political field.
Currently, there are only 31 female leaders out of the 192 member states of the United Nations. As of two years ago, women successfully hold 33% or more representation in parliaments in only twelve countries. Worldwide, the ratio of men to women is 4 to 1 in legislatures. Significant progress has been made on international, national and local levels to improve and increase women’s political participation and leadership. Unfortunately, this progress has been slow and has faced resistance in governments historically dominated by men. Women are especially affected in poverty-stricken nations, and they are often the victims of social and cultural factors that prioritize men in education. This expresses the extent that women’s rights and equality is crucial in overall international development, as well as to the successes of all the UN Millennium Development Goals.