Arab Women Still Have A Long Way To Go To Achieve Equality

Twenty-nine-year-old communications professional and blogger Sara Refai has a Masters Degree in Social Psychology, and has worked with political analysis companies, conflict resolution organisations, and PR agencies over the last six years.   As part of the Lebanese diaspora, she has lived in both the Middle East and the West, where she’s studied and learned about different cultures and how they evolve.

A twitter friend pointed me to one of Refai’s blog posts several months ago. When I rediscovered the link and read the post a couple of weeks back (better late than never), I was impressed. Refai graciously gave me permission to republish her thoughts. She’s also volunteered to write some stories for AWR, so stay tuned for more from this insightful young woman…

sara_refai_2_cropped.jpgEvery once in a while I’m reminded that, despite giant strides forward, there’s still a long way to go in achieving genuine, grass roots equal rights for women in the Middle East

It always happens unexpectedly – a random comment in an unrelated conversation that highlights the discrepancy between how far women have come versus a male (and sometimes cultural) perspective that still lags behind

While scolding a young Algerian man for trying to follow me home as he narrated the journey in misogynistic Arabic, I asked how he would feel about his sister being badgered in this way – he replied:

My sister would not be out on the street at this time of night.”

Obviously, my voice then went up several octaves and we had a lengthy debate in Arabic much to the bemusement of passing tourists and Tuesday night pub crawlers.

On paper at least, women can vote and run for office all over the Middle East – and we are (slowly) seeing more women take part in the political process.

In 2007, Saudi Arabia announced plans to give women one third of government jobs and expand their career options. A UNDP report has seen progress on these fronts.

Queen Rania of Jordan (who by the way is on Twitter) has been pretty much spearheading the movement to change the perception of women in the Middle East through her use of new media.

In the UAE, women entrepreneurs are launching extremely successful businesses and, in many cases, expanding them regionally. In 2007, the International Finance Corporation (a subsidiary of the World Bank Group) released a report outlining the barriers to entry facing women in the Middle East.

While there are concerted efforts to help women access business opportunities, they still face gender discrimination and are often asked by banks to provide male guarantors.

There are so many issues affecting women right now in the Middle East. To name a few: weak legislation around honor crimes, circumcision, arranged marriage, protection against domestic abuse – the list goes on.

So yes… the region has come a long way, but today’s Arab women must keep fighting to gain more ground and play more of a part in shaping not just our world but that of future generations.

Related links:
The Conversation (Sara Refai & Mai Abaza’s blog)