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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
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 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 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.

VOA Blogs