News / Middle East

Arab Spring Women Continue Struggle for Equality

After winning some concessions, women still face uphill battle in Arab societies with long-standing culture of male domination

Egyptian women chant slogans during demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square (file photo)
Egyptian women chant slogans during demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square (file photo)
Frances AlonzoDavid Byrd

Saudi women are praising King Abdullah's decision allowing them to vote and run for local office for the first time in elections set for 2015. However, women’s rights activists continue to push for more freedoms, both within Saudi Arabia and in other parts of the Arab world.

“Half a democracy is not a democracy,” says Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress, an organization that builds interfaith and interethnic understanding while at the same time representing the diversity of American Muslim life. She says the real work lies in recognizing women’s voices, but complains that “when it comes to form a democracy and form a government, women are always in the back.”

Watch our video report:



While the Saudi king’s latest concession may appear to be the result or at least a by-product of the Arab Spring, an early sign of his apparent willingness to seek compromise came in 2009 when he appointed Norah al-Faiz as Deputy Minister for Women's Education.

However, Saudi women have yet to see progress on two other on two major fronts – the kingdom still does not allow women to drive and continues the controversial practice of requiring women to have male guardians for many of their activities.

A First in Egypt

While Saudi women have to wait until 2015 to vote, Egyptian women have been active participants of the electoral process in their country even during President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, and will again cast their votes, alongside men, in parliamentary and presidential elections to be held over the next six months. But there is a first - Bothaina Kamel, having announced that she intends to run for the country’s highest office, will be Egypt’s first woman to do so.

Even though Kamel’s chances of winning the election are considered slim, that matters little to May Kosba, an Atlas Corps fellow serving with the National Conference on Citizenship of Egypt, currently in the U.S. from Egypt. She welcomes Kamel’s political participation as a healthy sign - one that she says should encourage women to assert themselves and become part of the decision-making process in the country.

“It helps to push the ceiling for women to also think of participating and pursuing elected office”, says Kosba.

Cultural Barriers

Still, by many standards, women in the region face an uphill battle. One of the biggest challenges is what Al-Suwaij calls a deep-rooted political oppression that is reinforced by the region’s culture of male domination. She says opposition to change was challenged in March on International Women’s Day even in Egypt. Al-Suwaij says that when women took to the streets in Cairo demanding their rights they encountered resistance from the very men with whom, a month earlier, they toppled Mubarak in protests in Tahrir Square.

“They told them to go home, now is not your time”, said Al-Suwaij. “Why is it not their time? Was it their time when the revolution was there and you needed them there and now when it’s time for them to enjoy democracy, it’s not their time?”

End in sight?

Kosba hesitates to put a deadline for women to achieve equal standing in Arab countries.

“We don’t do timetables, we have forever”, she says.  But, she adds, that doesn’t mean women will wait forever. The Egyptian activist says that there has to be a dialogue with men who are open about allowing women to make their own decisions in Arab society.

“One of the most important things about coexistence is I’m not supposed to talk to women alone,” Kosba told VOA. “I have to talk to men who are willing to help women be more involved in the decision making process.”

Kosba says that one of the first and most critical things to be addressed in this process is the issue of sexual harassment.

“I think what women need right now is respect,” she said.

Kosba also says that in Egypt, many women are reluctant to embrace change for fear of compromising long established values. She explains that there is a pervasive belief among women in the country - they feel it’s “not the right time to pick our battle.” But by allowing thing to remain as they have been, Kosba adds, women are just giving in to their oppressors.

المرأة في الربيع العربي مواصلة كفاحهم من أجل المساواة المرأة السعودية هي مشيدا بقرار الملك عبد الله الثاني السماح لهم بالتصويت. يمكن للنساء الترشح لمنصب الرئاسة المحلية للمرة الأولى في الانتخابات التي جرت في عام 2015. ناشطون من أجل حقوق المرأة هي من يدفع لمزيد من الحريات، سواء داخل المملكة العربية السعودية وفي أجزاء أخرى من العالم العربي.
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid