Sitting in a conference we’ve organized with our partner ESCWA where we’re assessing political developments in the region and their impact on Arab women. I opened this one up with the sobering reminder that although we’ve made progress in terms of legislation and stuff, there’s little indication that these gains on paper are going to be sustained in practice. I keep talking about global indicators – Global Gender Gap, Women Peace Security Index, etc. – where this region is at the bottom of the barrel. And now we’re hearing results of major research conducted in the region over many years and, amigos, it is NOT good.
Let me sober you up too with some depressing blips I picked up:
Most Arab countries believe that male education is more important than female education – especially at higher levels. OK – this is probably true in lots of places. Still sucks, but not surprising.
Also no surprise that more Arab women than men feel that married women can work outside the home – and yet not many married women actually do! Female employment rates are really low compared to other regions. For men, work is a prerequisite to marriage. For women, work ends with marriage.
The research asked: Do men make better political leaders than women? Most Arab women disagreed. That’s good. And yet – women remain hugely under-represented in politics. I know that presence in politics doesn’t mean POWER in politics, but damn, it’s a start.
Bear with me here while I quote Chilean President and feminist superhero Michelle Bachelet: One woman in politics changes the woman; but many women in politics changes politics.
You’re thinking: YUP. What else?
I’m thinking: Chill. The crappy stuff is coming.
Crappy finding, part 1: Unsurprisingly, more Arab men than women feel it is acceptable for men to abuse their wives – but the rates are still HIGH for women too. This is based on extensive research – sadly there is evidence for this, as much as I’d like to wish otherwise. Women… WHY?!
And now I’m thinking: Here’s where I get supermad…
Crappy finding, part 2: Results showed that far too many Arab countries (like – nearly ALL OF THEM) feel that Sharia is the main source of legislation.
Crappy finding, part 2.5: These results show NO major gender differences.
You’re thinking: Wait… whaaaaat?!
I’m thinking: WHAT.RUBBISH.IS.THIS?! THE.REGION.IS.DOOMED! AAAAAARGH!
Arabs, pleeeeeez. Secular state… it’s a cool concept, let’s try it! Religion needs to be a CHOICE, not a requirement – and certainly not a law! Read up on personal status codes for women in the region to understand the extent to which women are discriminated against as a result of this.
These conservative and patriarchal attitudes just don’t belong here anymore, not now. The entire region is held back as long as half of the population – a very powerful half with tons of potential – remains trapped.
We end 2017 with a sobering reminder that gender inequality is alive and thriving – and the popularity of patriarchy continues.
With all due respect, fellow Arabs, we are screwed if we don’t evolve. YALLA.