|Jordanian women demonstrating, Jan, 2011 - copyrights 9 News|
Some Arab women argue that the revolution is about regimes not gender equality and the majority of Arab men share their views. Although Arab women are active participant in the Arab uprisings menfolk are not supporting them. Not one single slogan called for equality of Arab women or drew attention to their inferior position. Most Arab men and some women fail to see gender equality as part and parcel of the process of democratisation. The ‘women’s question’ is key to unleashing liberal and modernist forces in the Arab world, but old practices and prejudices prevail. Therefore, the following challenges face Arab women:
- The state has tentacles in most women’s organisation and NGOs. Usually leaders of such organisations are stooges of the state. Like other civil organisations in the Arab world women’s organisation need to be ‘de-regimetised’. A painful, perhaps long, but necessary cleansing process.
- Many Arab women are collaborators in their own demise. Women of the Arab world are divided along political and interest group lines, rather than united by common aspirations and objectives. Many believe that women’s organisations are weak because they see themselves as rivals: bickering and manoeuvring for position. They need to unite instantly to fight for key positions in future governments
- One of the most important institutions in the Arab world is the family, where patterns of oppression are normally produced and reproduced. The Arab father (or the Arab ruler) aim to superimpose a consensus through “ritual and coercion”. After demonstrating in Arab capitals women went home to an archaic structure. Some were energised by the uprisings and decided to divorce their abusive husbands only to find that the whole system is tipped against them. Family Laws, mainly based on the Shari’a Islamic Law give them few rights, economic or otherwise and the legal justice system is male-biased
- Separation between mosque and state is a prerequisite for true liberal participatory democracy and gender-equality in the Arab world. Although the Muslim brotherhood was forced to disavow a long-held principle that neither a Coptic Christian nor a woman could run for president of Egypt many of their members will oppose nominating let alone electing a woman. See also the position of Islamist in Tunisia, or virginity tests conducted on arrested female demonstrators in Egypt etc.
A positive outcome of the ‘Arab Spring’ is that women learnt a number of tactics and strategies of civil disobedience and the skills are being used at every level: familial, local, national and even international. Women in the Arab world today are fighting for labour rights, betters schools, roads, clean water etc. The road is long and the perils are many, but in the fullness of time the outcome is guaranteed: Arab women, the last colony, will be liberated.
Read the full article in Critical Muslim, published on 25 October, 2011.