Womens rights improve across the Middle East

Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian territories see regression.

By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT / THE MEDIA LINE
March 7, 2010 10:26
3 minute read.
Womens rights improve across the Middle East

muslim woman 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Women in the Middle East have made notable advances over the past five years, with modest overall improvements in women's rights, literacy, educational attainment, political participation and economic role, an extensive multinational study has found.
 
The 18-nation study, led by the US-based Freedom House, found that while on the whole, Middle Eastern women still suffer from a "substantial deficit in women’s rights" described as the "most severe" on earth, 15 of 18 Arab countries have seen increases in women's literacy rates and suffrage over the past five years.

Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, however, were each found to have seen significant regression in women's rights, amid rising religious extremism or internal conflict.
 
Leading the way in the advances cited by the research group were Kuwait, where women won the right to vote in 2005; Algeria, where custodial mothers won recognition of their parental authority and proxy marriages were banned; and Jordan, which introduced increase penalties for so-called 'honor crimes', in which a woman deemed to have deviated from various social norms is murdered by a relative to defend the family's honor.

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The Media Line News Agency
 
The study found that women are now more likely to attend university in some Middle Eastern countries, and literacy rates among women throughout the region have continued to rise.
 
Despite the advances, the study found that violence against women remains widespread throughout the Arab world, with perpetrators of violence against women acting with impunity. Jordan and Tunisia are the only nations covered by the study that were found to have established legal protections against domestic violence, and none of the countries were found to explicitly prohibit spousal rape.
 
"Deeply entrenched societal norms, combined with conservative interpretations of Shari'a (Islamic law), continue to relegate women to a subordinate status. Women in the region are significantly underrepresented in senior positions in politics and the private sector, and in some countries they are completely absent from the judiciary," the report read.

"Nevertheless, important steps have been made to improve the status of women over the last five years, and 15 out of 18 countries have recorded some gains. The member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC or Gulf)—which scored the worst among 17 countries in the 2005 edition - have demonstrated the greatest degree of improvement, shrinking the gap between them and the rest of the region on some issues."
  
"The status of women in the Middle East continues to be a function of several contradictory forces," Shafeeq Ghabra, a professor of political science at Kuwait University and the founding President of the American University of Kuwait told The Media Line.

"On the one hand there are strong forces pushing for improvement, but at the same time there are major impediments that are both political and traditional."
 
"First, there have been improvements in the status of women by the mere fact that the majority of young people graduating from colleges and universities in the Middle East are women," Ghabra said.

"There is also a rising participation of women in both the public and private sectors, and an expansion of media communications and the Internet, both of which are creating further awareness of issues related to women, and making both men and women more open to new ideas."
 
"Yet at the same time there is a strong Islamic movement in the region which is inhibiting women's rights, through segregation laws in universities and at the workplace, limited working hours for women and initiatives like this that try to keep women's advancement in check," Ghabra continued. "There are also social and cultural traditions that inhibit women's development, and in many cases throughout the region I would say that the state is not innocent, siding with conservative laws that inhibit an evolution towards equality in laws and social structures. So it's still a long way to go for women and related social change in the Arab world."

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