In Egypt, 99% of women have been sexually harassed in some way. Americans traveling to Istanbul say that they can’t take public transportation without being felt up. This ISIS propaganda magazine basically acknowledges them using women as slaves (page 15). Saudi Arabia held a women’s right conference with only males. There are countless examples of women in the Middle East suffering from a male dominated society. However, there are efforts being made to counter this. Saudi Arabia is attempting to set a higher age for adulthood so young women cannot be taken advantage of. King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run for the 2015 municipal elections. Women in Jordan can now travel without permission from a male relative. Progress is slow but inevitable if the Middle East wants to keep up with times.
Similar to how the women in the US had to fight for suffrage, the women (and men) in the Middle East need to make a stand. What makes it more complicated is that there are multiple countries, each with different problems. Various militant groups shuffle around from country to country (e.g. Taliban coming to Afghanistan) and there are not too many resources for some of the Middle Eastern countries to counter this from happening, which is why other countries occasionally step in to help. To me, it seems like the places under sharia law are the places that are having the toughest time reforming to a sexually equal society. This is especially true where the people are accustomed to manipulating the law for personal benefit. Though it might seem absurd to locals, I think separation of church and state is the answer. I say this because the sharia law that dominated the pre-modern society worked during that time, but it is clear today that the Middle Eastern societies are far behind. Even though they have natural resources, they lack the freedom and democracy that allows countries to excel. These are the places that a resolution has to be made to ensure the protection of women and the necessity for a promising future.
An interesting front to see this play out is Israel, a country where women’s rights are much further along then surrounding states. The women there have suffrage and the ability to join the army (though there’s lost of opposition making it difficult). They had a female prime minister in 2010. However, the parliamentary representation is still ~18 percent. Marriages and divorces are dealt with by the religious courts of the person’s religion. This in my opinion is where the women get shafted. Similar to sharia law, women have to get consent from their husband in order for the divorce to be legal. In 2010, Israel finally passed a civil union law that allows people with no officially defined religion to be recognized together (gender-neutral also) but this is for a mute part of the population. Once again, I have to conclude that where religion and state coincide, there are setbacks. Now I’m sure the current leadership will be opposed to a constitution and democracy due to the fact that they are losing power. However, let’s take a look at Great Britain. The once highly regarded Queen Elizabeth, monarch of the state, is now merely a figurehead to her people. Similarly, the sheiks and other various leaders in Middle East will have to gradually step down with more and more decreasing power. A leader only has power while the subjects are willing to follow them.
A question that came up to me while writing this is why women are still suffering in the 21st century. After some research, it seems like the best answer is that because men are suffering too. They too have little freedoms and are oppressed by autocracy. This might lead them wanting to have some control of their lives and the one place where they feel to do so is the household. I’m certainly not saying this is all men or that it is the sole reason, but it could be a contributing factor to domestic violence and gender inequality. Another way to help is to ensure the law is actually upheld. Sure it might illegal for you to rape a woman, but you need to be able to get sentenced in an uncorrupt system in order for people to believe in the law. Look at Egypt, where there has only been 1 known prosecution for female genital mutilation since the 2011 revolts and it failed to prosecute the perpetrator. The system is slowly improving as 2014 has shown that some men have been put in jail for attacking women, but everything takes time.