By Welton O’Neal III
When we think of women’s rights, we often think of women in the Western world trying to obtain equal rights and opportunities such as equal salaries, political representation, etc. We also think of how other cultures and regions outside of the Western world can adopt this ideology to further advance the rights and treatment of women within their society. Whether or not women’s rights is rooted in Western ideology is debatable. But women do have rights that exist in other regions of the world outside of the West, which was developed domestically or it came about via Western import. One region of the world where women right’s exist but is also under heavy scrutiny within the international arena is the Arab.
What first must be understood is the meaning of women’s rights. Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls of many societies worldwide. In some places, these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. With this understanding, the ideology can be better understood and how it exists in the Arab world. However, the existence of women’s rights is not cohesive in the Arab world and just like the rest of the world, it varies from country to country.
Within the Arab world, women in eight of the countries experience sexual violence, harassment, and trafficking. Sexual violence such as rape is not recognized as a crime and the victim in countries such as Saudi Arabia, could face charges of adultery. Often times they face forms of gender discrimination in both the workplace and in public in countries such as in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria. Most of these countries don’t allow political participation with the only exception being Saudi Arabia whom allowed women to vote in municipal elections this year, 2015. There are very little efforts to implement policies that advance gender equality prevent the occurrence of sexual violence, harassment, and trafficking. Thus in cases like these, feminism hasn’t been adopted entirely and therefore hasn’t progressed women’s rights in these countries.
However, there are countries where women’s rights has thrived and has progressed the country towards equal rights for women. In countries such as Tunisia, women have abortion rights and can pass citizenship onto to their husbands as well as having 61 women being elected to the 217-member Constituent Assembly since 2011. In other countries such as Libya allows women to have greater political representation with 33 women were elected to the 200-member General National Congress in 2012. Within Djibouti, the country has implemented various laws that discriminate against women long with enacting a 2009 law that improves the living conditions of low-income women. With the U.A.E women have access to education and health services along with having 4 women sit on the 22-member cabinet of the Federal National Council.
Knowing this, bit of information, the next question is how can women’s rights progress in countries that do and don’t acknowledge them in the Arab world? Aside from acknowledging that there are women’s rights and human rights movements and individuals that exist to further progress policies that favor women in this region, it is more so important to not generalize the region. It is true that there are countries in the region that lack women’s rights laws but it is also true that there are countries that do acknowledge them. By generalizing that all countries in a region have the same exact policies and viewpoints on an issue only sets the movement of progress backwards rather than moving it towards equality. Thus it is important that every country should be analyzed on a case by case basis and by doing, can the rest of the world understand not only the policies in that country but also in that region.