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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid