In the United States, I wake up daily to rights I didn’t even realize I had been granted…because I never thought someone would take them away. As an unmarried American woman, rights like driving, going places unattended, and hanging out with guy friends are just everyday moments for me, not preposterous acts that could be reason enough for punishment, beatings, and even imprisonment.
Growing up, I knew that when I turned 18, I would be able to vote, just like the rest of my fellow young adults, men and women alike. Don’t get me wrong, America is still growing when it comes to women’s rights, but after researching the Middle East, I’ve come to appreciate some of the simplest activities in my regular routine. These issues could be fleshed out into a full-blown book or two or three… but here’s a look at the surface of these basic human rights issues in parts of the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia, women are still refused the right to vote, even though the country is one of only two left in the world that bars the female ballot, the other country being Vatican City (the smallest country in the world). In 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to vote starting in 2015, but people within the country and around the world are skeptical as to how or when this will be reinforced.
Driving is another hot issue in Saudi Arabia. There is a driving ban prohibiting women from driving anywhere, however many women are extremely dissatisfied with this lack of freedom. In 2011 and 2013, female Saudi activists took to the roads in cars to protest this . . . behind the wheel. Many women were arrested and one woman named Shaima Jastaniah was even sentenced to lashes, but those charges were eventually dropped.
Women also stormed social media with a will to organize, but the Saudi Arabian government quickly blocked their site and dismissed their cry for justice. Driving is still a debated issue, because nothing has been done or even openly discussed about when or if women will be allowed to drive anytime soon.
The last issue of women’s rights that without a doubt needs to be addressed is the seriousness of family in the Middle East. This doesn’t really sound like a big deal . . . you’re probably thinking “family is good, isn’t it?” Most of the time I would agree, but there are severe flaws in what your family, especially men in your family, have control over when you’re a woman in the Middle East.
Many countries in that part of the world have what are considered “guardianship laws.” These allow male family members the right to punish, arrange a marriage, or prohibit their female relative from specific tasks. In Palestine, it has been even more severe than that. A statistic in an online article by Harretz shocked me: “Twenty-six women were slain by relatives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2013, twice as many as the year before, according to official figures.” Many of these women were slain under the idea of “family honor”, therefore leaving little to no punishment for their killers.
Once a woman is married, the right to control her gets passed off to her husband, which leaves little to no freedom for the woman, unless permitted by her spouse.
The leniency that is demonstrated when it comes to domestic violence is another topic that could be discussed for much longer than this blog post, but awareness is the first issue that needs to be addressed. Without knowing that these women are being oppressed, how can the rest of the world help? It also needs to be observed and said that the Middle Eastern culture is very different than Western culture. Many people in these countries believe that everything I mentioned above is just the proper way to handle women, because that’s what they’ve always done.
However, Middle Eastern women are coming to the conclusion that they are not okay with this institutional system of oppression anymore. They want their freedom to present themselves as highly-educated human beings. They want to drive themselves to meet and organize/protest. They want to vote for what they believe in and to make a difference in the nation they call home. And most of all, they want the right to choose who they marry and the right to have full control over their own minds and bodies.
“7 ridiculous restrictions on women’s rights around the world” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/10/27/7-ridiculous-restrictions-on-womens-rights-around-the-world/
“Saudi women set to drive in protest – and to show their rising clout” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/10/25/saudi-women-set-to-drive-in-protest-and-to-show-their-rising-clout/
“A look at the rights of women in Arab countries” http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/1.578635