Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a surge of discussions especially on social media networks regarding women’s rights in the MENA region, their grievances and their role. Although for the past year or so when the Arab Spring first began to gain momentum women were on the front-line and although some barriers were torn down; the MENA region still lags in various aspects in basic rights for women. Something we should neither deny nor play down, the Arab spring seems to have become a platform for women to engage more widely in the world they live in; yet change seems a long way ahead.
Looking at the most recent stories from the controversy surrounding Mona Eltahawy article published in FP ‘why do they hate us’? It seemed her harsh and one-sided delivery seemed to overshadow the aspect of putting forward the lack of women’s rights. Rather than engage others to discuss the issue at hand it became a battle of to agree or dismiss. The refutes to Mona’s article came in fast and I was curious about how women perceived their roles within their society. From the more liberal Egyptian women to the conservative Yemeni women; one thing was for sure these women were not going to willingly be oppressed anymore. Women it seemed had found a venue to output their determination and the Arab spring proved to be a reason.
It would seem progress was in fact being made; for the over the past year women bore the brunt of everything just like their fellow brothers. An Arab woman even won the Nobel peace prize, you wouldn’t be faulted in thinking there was some sort of advancement [however slow] being made. AlHayat newspaper published an *article in Arabic pointing to 90% of women in Yemen facing some form of harassment. Yet again disputes emerged – this time regarding the high percentage. The issue of harassment turned into a numbers dispute with scarcely any discussing ways to eliminate harassment irrespective of percentage.
There are many issues under the banner of women’s rights and-or harassment. From child marriages to education, from marital rape to lack of opportunities. Some may scream out equality is needed but equality is used too liberally and vaguely. It is not equality we need for we are equal in our own right; it is to have the same level of access to everything available that is a basic right. I say this because in some of these countries not even men nor all of the nation’s citizens are equal or have basic rights. Some might even point to the West [countries] as models, but as a woman of the East residing in the West I don’t ever think this would work. Just as the languages, landscape, cultures and even weather is different in each country. Finding a solution and an implementation of it cannot be the same everywhere. To tackle these issues not only do we need to break the stigma associated to issues regarding women; but we also need to find a balanced solution that fits rather than trying to impose an unmanageable one. There’s many challenges ahead and in retrospect all women; whether in MENA or in the west regularly face challenges – each on a different scale yet equally as important.
Far too long there seems to be a view of women equal good and men equal bad – to put it in the simplest term. Although perpetrators of abuse to women should never be excused wouldn’t it be more objective instead of demanding our rights as women to just right out own them? The submissive, weak picture of a woman is often portrayed and while change is screamed out if we owned the stage and became the puppeteer it would be impossible to be deemed the puppet. The recent events of the Arab Spring showed exactly that – when women organized, marched and treated the wounded they never asked for permission; they owned their right to demand social change. They were [and still are] arrested, beaten and even killed, yet hundreds carry on – you get a sense of who dares to deny they do otherwise?! So why ever settle and accept anything less?
As the focus on the MENA region seems to increase while striving for change men mustn’t forget the women who stood by their side to fight for freedom and democracy. While women mustn’t forget that men are part of the solution for social change, but that each woman is in fact the solution. The essence of the question should not be why do they hate us? Or to dispute figures of harassment or to belittle each others struggle. It shouldn’t be to point to other parts of the world and claim they too are oppressed. As these are all minor technicalities compared to the bigger issue at large, the question should be how can we make sure that change is really achieved for all? How can we make sure women are not again sidelined? How can we make our society better? How can we make sure the mothers and teachers of tomorrow; the backbone of society will never be denied their fundamental rights? When we all begin to discuss rather than dispute, when we begin to strive for solutions rather than excuse – only then will there be change.
A Bahraini woman at an anti-government protest.
*[Reportedly due to the high number of complaints mainly by men. Alhayat newspaper has since apologised for the high percentage it had quoted, saying the figure was based on a regional study and was exaggerated]