Middle Eastern Women Research Proposal

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Middle Eastern Women

The Middle East is a geographical region in Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa (Sluglett 2008). It consists of the countries of Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Egypt. It may also include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lybia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Men are approximately as many as women (Sluglett).

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Gender inequality is as much a reality in the Middle East as it is in the world (Abukhalil 2000). It consists in sexism and misogyny or the hatred of women. This practice is most prevalent in Saudi Arabia. The inferior status of Middle Eastern women is basically indigenous in nature. But it has been blown up by the Western point-of-view. Westerners are told and impress upon others that Middle Eastern women are subjugated to the men, passive, weak and always wear a veil to express or indicate their submission to men. Women are not even allowed to drive cars. It has been the general assumption that the harsh conditions in Saudi Arabia, especially of women, are the norm throughout the country and the Muslim world itself. Male domination of society framed exclusivist and conservative interpretations of religious laws. These laws have restricted and burdened women in the family, society and the state. They are denied high positions in government, as the hadith, or Islam's collections of Muhammad's holy sayings and deeds. The Inter-parliamentary Union states that the political representation of women in the parliaments of the Arab nations puts them behind that of other countries in the world. Women in Kuwait still have no right to vote (Abukhalil).

Research Proposal on Middle Eastern Women Assignment

Shirley Guthrie, in her book entitled, "Arab Women in the Middle Ages," writes that rich women in medieval times could negotiate the details of their marriage contract (Darra 2002).. Some of them could require their husbands to be monogamous. Others demanded for the right to divorce their husbands. On the other hand, lower-class or poorer women did not possess those rights. They worked alongside their husbands yet the issues surrounding women of that time did not seem as oppressive as they are perceived today. There is, in fact, evidence of women's equality in the life of Prophet Muhammad himself. Muhammad was said to wash his own clothes, sew his socks and even serve food to his youngest wife, Aisha. Aisha was also said to have led Muhammad's army into battle. She is considered an important and revered interpreter of the laws of Islam. Its holy book, the Q'uran, allows or recognizes women's right to inherit property, own and run their own business and get an education. It banned infanticide of newborn baby girls and other misogynist practices. Baby boys are often preferred to baby girls (Darraj).

Arab feminism began with a book published in 1899 by Qasim Amin, an Egyptian intellectual and a judge (Darraj 2000). "The Liberation of Women" claimed that women had to be educated and liberated in order to emancipate the Egyptian nation from British colonial rule. In his travels, he observed how men oppressed and rendered women passive and obedient. This cruelty made society suffer. Qasim Amin later became known as the Father of Arab feminism, although some opposed the honor conferred upon him as founder. A Islamic scholar and professor at the Harvard Divinity School, Leila Ahmecl, contended that Amin compared Middle Eastern women with Western women. Western women were represented as refined and culture, while Middle East women were not (Darraj).

The wearing of a veil and full clothing is the chief symbol of subjugation of Middle Eastern women. In Saudi Arabia, at least, women are required to observe a dressing code, which will prevent the sexual arousal of men whom women casually meet in public (Western 2008). A further restriction is for them to look down and dress modestly so that they do not show off their beauty and ornaments. Fundamentalists support the veil and other discriminatory practices. They see these as necessary to avoid sexual attraction (Western).

The general assumption is that the human rights of women in the Middle East are systematically ignored despite their differing political system (Rushfan 2008). These are the freedom of the press, of expression, and assembly. Although the men are also deprived of these freedoms, women are subjected to further violations to their rights. They are reduced to a subordinate level in comparison with men. They are subjected to discrimination of their total personhood. They are not allowed equal participation in society and more vulnerable to violence. Families are run according to religion-based personal status codes in many Middle East countries. These status codes regard women as legal minors who are perpetually subordinated to male family members. Decision-making is exclusive to these male members as the head of the household is a male. Family courts uphold this family value and disposition and reinforce it (Rushfan).

Extreme examples of gender inequality, which are imposed on Middle Eastern women, involve driving, dressing, divorce, education, citizenship, travel, custody, violence and sexual subjugation (Rushfan 2008). These women are not allowed to drive or even ride bicycles in Saudi Arabia. Men cannot drive women who are unrelated or close to them. There is an ongoing problem in the Kingdom on how to move girls from school to buses. As regards clothing, the women are required not only to wear a veil but other clothing items. The militant group, Lashkar-e-Jabar, in 2001 required the women of Kashmir to wear burqas. This is a garment, which covers women's clothing from head to toe. Otherwise, the group would attack the woman who did not wear it. Women who did not cover their faces could risk being thrown acid on their faces (Rushfan).

Middle Eastern women could not divorce their husbands as easily as the latter could (Rushfan 2008). Battered women in Lebanon could not do this without the testimony of a trustworthy eyewitness. Women in Egypt could divorce their husbands even without cause but they have to renounce all their rights to conjugal finances and return their dowries. This means that they must buy back their freedom. In Israel, the husband can write a divorce write but the wife cannot (Rushfan).

Girls in Afghanistan are taken out of school when they reach puberty (Rushfan). It is deemed improper by their people that boys and girls should remain classmates after the third grade (Rushfan 2008). This sentiment or value and the security threat of girls' walking to school slowed down and reduced girls' enrollment. There is also a huge lack of teachers, yet a girl cannot be taught by a male teacher after a certain age. These beliefs negatively affect the education of women in the region. Literacy among young Afghan women has thus remained significantly low, as only 18% of those between 15 and 24 can read (Rushfan).

Husbands in Egypt, Syria and Bahrain have the right to prevent their wives from leaving the airport for any reason (Rushfan 2008). Married women in Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Oman and Yemen could travel abroad only with their husbands' written permission. Otherwise, they could not leave the country for any reason. Saudi Arabian women must present a written permission from their closest male relative in order to move out of the country or even travel in the different parts of the kingdom (Rushfan).

There are no laws in the region, which punish domestic violence, although it is a serious and widespread practice (Rushfan 2008). It is rather considered a private matter, which is beyond the jurisdiction of the state. If a battered woman tries to complain with the police, she is simply told to go home. There are a few refuge shelter homes to go to. It is not criminal to rape one's wife as the husband has absolute rights over his wife's body at all times. Penal codes also oblige or authorize the police and judges to drop charges against a rapist if the offender is willing to marry his victim (Rushfan).

Laws in Bahrain are not codified so that judges have the complete and subjective power to deny women the right to the custody of children (Rushfan 2008). The women who in 2003 spoke against this practice were charged with slander by 11 family court judges. On citizenship laws in most countries in the region, only the fathers can pass on citizenship to their children. Wives of non-nationals are deprived of this fundamental right (Rushfan).

While many countries in world have already criminalized consensual sex outside marriage, this is not so in the Middle East (Rushfan 2008). If a married woman in Morocco does this, she is likely to be sued for violating penal code prohibitions on sexual relations outside marriage. Unmarried but pregnant women are likely to be prosecuted. The Moroccan penal code considers the rape of a victim an aggravating circumstance in the offense. It puts much value on the lack of sexual experience of the victim. Female infanticide is still another extreme example gender inequality (Rushfan).

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