The Ongoing Fight for Women’s Rights

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”

“Saudi women set to drive in protest – and to show their rising clout”

“A look at the rights of women in Arab countries”

Photo of woman driving (


10 thoughts on “The Ongoing Fight for Women’s Rights

  1. As your blog addresses, U.S. and Middle Eastern cultures differ drastically. In the U.S. individuals are accustomed to seeing equality for all citizens. One thing I think is extremely interesting is that in the U.S. it is more likely for women to gain custody of their children after a divorce due to factors such as who can provide care and the bond that is formed between mother and child. It is different in the Middle East. For example, in Lebanon family law falls under religious jurisdiction and because of this custody usually is granted to the father. For Shiites, fathers automatically gain full custody of boys aged 2 years old. Mothers can keep their daughters until they reach 7 years old.

    1. Interesting article and point of view! I hadn’t even thought about child custody laws, however it makes sense that they would be so extremely different between the U.S. and the Middle East. Also, your comment about the Shiites and the ages at which the fathers can take the children brings up a very important difference… Is the idea that the Middle East directly values boys over girls a radical thought? I don’t think so.. because according to those ages, boys (after only two years) are more properly trained by their fathers, where as daughters can wait another five years until they should be raised by their fathers.

  2. Woman should have full and equal rights around the world regardless of their origin and religion.
    Woman have many great characteristics that men do not have that add tremendous value to family and society ever where on this planet.
    It is stil amazing to me that America preaches values of equality and human rights,but does not hold certain countries and trading partners accountable for their human rights atrocities to their people.
    Unfortunately we have a double standard when it comes to Saudi Arabia because of their oil reserves and China because of their huge bond debt funding and international trading in America.
    I believe that as the internet continues to grow as a medium to connect the world,it will allow the youth and opressed voice, that will be the power to encourage others to make new changes possible where it never existed before.
    One encouraging bold step at a time by some,will lead to actions and change by many over time.
    When will the rest of the world get it?
    Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
    Martin Luther King, Jr

  3. It makes me sad to see that today in 2014 there are still places that don’t allow women total freedom. It’s also sad that husbands are the ones who are in control of what their wives can and cannot do, especially if their marriage was arranged. The husband may not have his best interest in his wife, which can make living situations very tough and dissatisfying for her. Also, being able not to drive is awful!!! What is the point of this law?! I was wondering when you mentioned this, are women who are visiting the country, like tourists, allowed to drive while visiting? Or will they get in trouble and punished? Just curious.

  4. As you mentioned, there are many stark contrasts between culture in the Middle East and in the United States. This issue is one that I think a lot of people immediately think of when discussing the Middle East, and while it is

    1. Oops, posted that too soon! Anyway, while it is an issue of cultural differences, I don’t believe that that should be an excuse to overlook the serious human rights violations that are presented under certain cultural norms. It’s troubling enough to think that women have no rights to vote in elections, giving them no say in the actions of their country, but possibly more troubling to think that women who are forced into marriages and who spend their lives under the control of their fathers and husbands essentially have no control over their own actions and bodies. I think the issue is one of basic human rights, and might have the potential to be remedied if the women who are affected by it realize that they are not secondary to men. From the sounds of your post, they are in some ways realizing this. Do you know of any other ways that women are demonstrating their dissatisfaction, and how it has been received? (Aside from the Saudi driving activists)

  5. Before reading your article I always knew that women in the Middle East don’t have equal rights as the men, but after reading I find it eve more shocking that they cant even do simple day to day task such as drive a car in Saudi Arabia. I know that a part in which why men have so much dominance is because patriarchy always follows with the rise of a state, but particularly in the Middle East religion also plays a big role on why men are still dominant. Its also sad that even with some effort put in by women activist doesn’t even get acknowledge or in most cases just gets dismissed and shut down. The Middle East definitely has a long way to go and many other issues to deal with before they reach a women rights movement but I think more countries,like us, should be more actively working towards those human rights issues.

  6. This is a very interesting, thought provoking, and somewhat disturbing post! I learned a lot, and look forward to reading your other posts related to the subject in the future! This is a tough topic to say the least. You mention the first step towards liberation comes with awareness of the oppression, yet is it a fact that these women feel oppressed? Or is the behavior just so ingrained in their society that it is a cultural norm and not opposed within the country. I know that is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around… how women who are so restricted could be okay with it, but it is definitely a possibility. Like I’ve said before, we’re dealing with a culture that is significantly intertwined with religious values that stretch back thousands of years. Just something to consider.

  7. I agree with much of what you said in this article! Women almost every where in the world are unequal and seemingly more so in the Middle East. Patriarchal governments do hold women back from simple things like driving and walking to the market. I think this is very sad and wish it was not this way. In Saudi Arabia women are often subject to male dominance.
    In a twist I think Western women also fall under male dominance just in a different way. Many women here experience domestic abuse as well and in the US women are very sexualized in a way that makes our culture disrespectful to women. I feel like in way both of our cultures objectify women just in two very different ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s