In the West, many people associate Islam and the Middle East with women’s oppression. Islam itself does not perpetuate oppressive ideals against women, but laws and customs in many countries make women second-rate citizens and are even hateful toward women. With the occurrence of the Arab Spring; however, Arab women are fighting back.
In December of 2010, a Tunisian man set himself on fire in protest of police treatment.He couldn’t have known that his suicide would spark pro-democratic rebellions across the Middle East. Arab women too wanted a piece of democracy. In Lebanon, feminists are making headlines, fighting against laws that discriminate against women. Women in Lebanon have had the right to vote since 1952, but lack representation in the government. They also face discrimination through the countries legal system. For example, if a woman commits adultery, she can receive up to two years in jail, where as a man can only receive a maximum of one. It requires extensive proof to convict a man, but the word of her husband can condemn a woman. Only is forgiveness can reduce her punishment. Domestic violence has not been outlawed and the children of Lebanese women are not considered citizens.
One Lebanese – American Woman went so far as to suggest forming a women’s political party. The response to this idea, however, has been indifference. Most feel that women should be encouraged to run for office and be persistent in participation. Some even think quota should be put in place to ensure the inclusion of female politicians.
Female activist are attracting a lot of attention. Lamia Shehadeh, who has been fighting for women’s rights for more than 20 years, is working against Lebanon’s chauvinistic laws. Joumana Haddad, the editor of the Arab world’s first erotic magazine, who has written two books about the oppression of Arab women. She questions all previous movements for women’s rights and has been accused of objectifying men.
While women in the U.S. have already attained most of the rights that their Arab sisters are seeking, recent politics have re-inspired feminist activism in the United States. There are some in our government that seek to reverse women’s rights by taking away our reproductive rights and access to medical care. Another hot issue is the deficit in pay between male and female employees.
Interestingly enough both Lebanon and the United States have the reputations of being leaders in rights, with Lebanon being a leader in the Middle East. In Lebanon, women have many rights that women in other countries do not have, but still live in conditions that are considered deplorable to American women. American women, while we see ourselves as equal to our male counterparts, have not achieved total equality. Men are still valued more than women. Their rights and access to resource are protected in ways that ours are not. Men are still trying to make decisions about our lives as if we are not capable of making decisions on our own.
This is not to say that all men believe they have the right to have power over us. At least in the U.S., it seems that most men support women’s rights and gender equality. According to one article, many men in the Middle East are also supportive of women’s rights. It just seems that either those who don’t have too much power in legislation or there is not enough urgency to enforce social changes. The good news is that changes are happening. Women in the United States have been fighting for the rights for well over 100 years and have made amazing progress. If Arab men are supportive and women keep fighting the way they have, women in the Arab world may have a difficult trail ahead of them, but they will succeed.