News

Arab Women Gaining Rights in Gulf States

Multimedia

Audio

Arab women in the Gulf States have made small but notable gains in the past five years, according to a new Freedom House study of women's rights in the region. The nongovernmental organization conducts studies and creates programs to promote freedom and democracy around the world.

The title of the new Freedom House study sums up its major finding. It's called "Gaining Ground: Women's Rights in the Arab Gulf." Senior researcher Sanja Kelly says it updates a similar study the organization conducted five years ago in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Kelly says the results of the study were quite encouraging.

"Even though this is still perhaps the most restrictive region in the entire world in terms of women's rights, we are noticing that women's rights activists have successfully pressed for change in many instances."

Women in Kuwait make significant gains


Some of the most visible changes for women, Kelly notes, have been made in Kuwait. Women there, she says, have gained many more rights and opportunities in terms of their economic empowerment.
 
"We have seen 5 percent improvement in terms of working women in Kuwait. In 2003, only 46 percent of working women were employed, whereas now 51 percent of working women in Kuwait are employed."

Kuwaiti women have also made significant political gains. In 2005, after a three-decade-long struggle, Kuwaiti women finally won the right to vote.

Dr. Lubna Al-Kazi is a professor of sociology at Kuwait University and a key activist in her country's women's rights movement. In her section of the Freedom House report, she says getting the right to vote was a big accomplishment for the women of Kuwait.

"There's so much that has been done as far as having a women's committee, women now as ministers in the municipal council, which is also very important," she says. "So you've seen that representation has increased after we got the right. Laws - some laws - have been put on hold or even revoked when we have lobbied enough, and I'm sure if we didn't have the voice we wouldn't have been able to do that."

Running for office in Oman, limited voting in UAE

Oman is another Gulf country where women have recently achieved basic rights according to journalist Rafiah Al-Talei. She notes that despite ongoing discrimination, Omani women have still managed to make gains in higher education, the work force and the political arena. She herself was a candidate for Oman's Parliament in 2003 and lost by only 100 votes.

"It was [a] very empowering experience for myself and also for other women who were encouraged for [the] next time, too," she says. "We were only 15 women candidates in the entire country in 2003, and there were 20 women who ran for the next elections."

Women in other countries, notably Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, are also enjoying new rights, says Sanja Kelly.

She says that while women in the UAE are still very restricted in terms of their political rights and civil liberties, the country has introduced a very limited voting process where women, for the very first time, were allowed to vote for elected bodies in the Federal National Council.

Women still fighting for basic rights in Saudi Arabia

Despite these gains, the contributors to the Freedom House report conclude that much more progress is needed for women in practically all aspects of social, economic and political life in the Arab Gulf states.

This is especially true in Saudi Arabia, where women are still fighting to receive basic rights.

Dr. Eleanor Doumato, a widely published expert on the country, says that while women in Saudi Arabia have made some progress over the past five years, they still have a long way to go.

"At the end of 2007, the longstanding bans on women checking into hotels alone and renting apartments on their own were lifted by royal decree, and at the same time a woman-only hotel was opened in the far, far outskirts of Riyadh, but women still have to produce a guardian's permission before they can board a flight for international travel."

In terms of judicial rights, Dr. Doumato said that despite repeated announcements of judicial reforms, access to justice "remains a problem for both men and women, but it's a bigger problem for women."

Doumato added that women "still don't have the right to drive a car."

But despite continuing inequalities, Sanja Kelly says she remains hopeful.

"Overall, we do see a lot of discrimination and unequal treatment. However, we are pleased and encouraged with the progress that has been achieved so far, and we hope that women's rights activists - now that they have gained momentum - will have tools and opportunities to push for further reform."

While the new Freedom House report focuses on women in the Gulf States, Kelly points out that women's rights issues merit attention far beyond that region. Part two of her report, which will focus on women's rights in the Middle East and Africa, is scheduled to be released this fall.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs