Women in the Middle East

From Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Some things to keep in mind…

  • The Middle East is HUGE and varied region, experiences of women differ greatly from one country to the next
  • The ME is constantly CHANGING, and and what we say today could well be outdated within the next few months
  • A woman’s experience in a more rural area is totally different than in a city
  • Tonight we are speaking from our own experiences in the Middle East and North Africa, and with Arab culture, this does NOT mean that we can ever know about a woman’s experience living in this region.
  • MidEast women don’t want your white feminism!

~Mindset Check~

The information that we as Americans are given about this region is skewed according to a particular political agenda, the stories that are told about this region and the information we are given is not the whole picture. We are the post-9/11 generation, which means that we have grown up in a country riddled with Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment. We must keep this in mind when approaching any topic surrounding people’s experiences in the Middle East, particularly those of women.

“The power of women is in their stories.”

Sharia Law

Countries that practice Sharia Law: Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and certain regions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates.

What it is: a set of laws based on the Quran, Hadith, interpretation, and precedent.

Some laws regarding women:

  • a minor does not have to give consent for her father to marry her to someone
  • a women can only divorce with her family’s approval
  • a man may take up to four wives at a time, but only if he can provide financially and treat them all without preference
  • if either a man or a woman commits adultery, the punishment is 100 lashes and being stoned to death

Islamic and Non-Western Feminism

  • Feminism grounded in feminist interpretations of Islamic texts
    • Islam preaches equality between men and women
    • No man should force a woman to cover herself
  • Reject patriarchal interpretations of the holy texts
  • Morchidat- Morocco, first trained Islamic women leaders
  • Focused on job opportunities and education, as well as putting an end to sexual violence and street harassment
  • Women in the home- women have tremendous power within the home, and often oversee all aspects of family life
  • Women often live in separate spheres from men, and though this is problematic it also creates community

(A few) Fantastic Women in the Middle East

  • Queen Rania, Jordan
    • Palestinian refugee from Kuwait
    • businesswoman who worked for Apple and Citibank
    • outspoken advocate for women’s economic empowerment and against honor killings
  • Fairuz, “The Jewel of Lebanon”
    • internationally famous vocalist and Lebanese nationalist
    • “First Lady of Lebanese Singing”
  • Nazira Zain al-Din, Feminist author, Lebanon
    • 1908-1976
    • One of the first people to speak out against forced “head-to-toe” covering and the seclusion of women in the home

Women Artists

  • Mona Hatoum, Lebanon
  • Emily Jacir, Palestine
  • Shadia and Raja Alem, Saudi Arabia

Women in Resistance and Revolution

  • Kurdish women fighters, Turkey and Syria
    • women fight on the front lines against ISIS
  • Women in Tahrir Square and the Streets of Syria
    • organized protests and stood on the front lines despite rampant sexual assaults in the streets
    • respect among male and female protesters
  • Salwa Bughaighis, Libya
    • lawyer, prominent organizer, “Day of Rage” protests which drove Libyan army out of Benghazi
    • shot in her home in 2014
  • Tawakkol Karman, Yemen
    • “Mother of the Revolution” and co-founder of Women Journalists Without Chains, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2011
  • Esra’a Al-Shafei, Bahrain
    • Bahraini activist and blogger working from within strict censorship laws
    • founder of CrowdVoice

Women in the Palestine-Israel Conflict

  • First Intifada, Palestine 1987-1991
    • Domestic and women-run
  • Palestinian and Israeli women are working jointly for peace and an end to violence and oppression.
  • Rawan Eghbariah
    • creates youth groups across the region to educate youth about constructive pathways to peace
    • opposes military education and fights for conscientious objectors in prison
    • fights for a peaceful, anti-militaristic Israel
  • Sahar Vardi
    • conscientious objector to required military service
    • server 3 prison terms
    • advocates for an end to oppression by military

Women’s Bodies: Policing and Choice

  • It is a common misconception that all women in all Middle Eastern countries MUST cover their heads and/or hair.
    • ACTUALLY, covering varies depending on country, law, religion, family, and personal choice
  • Women choose to cover their hair and/or faces for many different reasons, such as tradition, faith, religion, or family values.
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