Debating Arab Women
Between You and Me
Keeping up with the lively discussion of the status of women in the Middle East this week has proven to be quite a challenge.
If anyone was unsure about the power and pride of Arab women, the growing number of public objections to Mona Eltahawy’s article, “Why Do They Hate Us?” published in Foreign Policy this week, will leave you with no doubts.
Women’s role in the Arab Spring has been a hot topic among writers and analysts living inside and outside the region, in part, because international media coverage has shown us that they have been and continue to be equally responsible for the recent victories over repressive leaders in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
It has also been a hot topic because, as is often the case, revolutions for all don’t necessarily mean revolutions for some. In other words, in the case of the Arab Spring, women have gained nothing, and in some cases, they might just have lost something.revolutions for all don’t necessarily mean revolutions for some
“Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought…” Eltahawy argues.
True. And for those women wishing to be treated equally to men, then it’s time to take these revolutions to the next level.
What many have taken issue with, however, is not this. It is Eltahawy’s assertion that men’s hatred of women is the cause for the absence of women’s freedoms in the Middle East. Though she has been criticized up and down for this claim— this is understandable when considering her lack of nuance and sophistication—there is some truth to it in that human rights are violated all the time because of a deep-seated hatred for a person or a group.
For example, targeting someone for his or her perceived membership in a certain social group is called a “hate” crime, and is against the law in many countries. Incitement to hatred is something else that misogyny could trigger.
Misogyny is defined as the hatred, dislike or mistrust of women, and is a product of the historical socio-economic and religious context in which it occurs. Perpetuated by cultural and religious norms and often sanctioned by the state, misogyny as both a cause and effect of the inequality between men and women creates a repeated scenario whereby neither man nor woman can easily escape.
This is precisely why Qatari writer, Amal Al-Malki, tells Al-Jazeera English in a recent interview that, “Women’s rights should be institutionalized. They should not be held hostage in the hands of political leaderships.”
Until now, women’s rights are absolutely held hostage in the hands of political and religious leaderships, all of whom are men, because, in the Middle East, misogyny informs law. Moreover, society at large adheres to socially conservative norms that oftentimes define women as less then human, or more accurately, as Al-Malki explains, as property, which only reinforces the law.
Arab men and women living in countries currently experiencing political transitions have a unique opportunity, and a responsibility, to change the status quo.
Make no mistake: As long as half the population of the entire Middle East is disenfranchised under the law, the revolutions of the Arab Spring will mean nothing.