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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs