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  • Writer's pictureEugenie Laurette Nicole

The rise of Arabic women, despite the western image

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

The Arabic woman is gaining considerable territory in the Middle East, even though this goes against what we envision in western society. The Arabian revolutions, that started in Tunisia in 2011, raged through the region. In the whole story, the part that women have played has been barely to not discussed despite having a significant role.

Knack Magazine online van 08/03/2019 - Opinion

Special edition international women's day

© Picture by Mashrou' Leila

The revoltes have, in a certain way, given women the possibility to engage politically and make their voices heard. Ever since, the Arabian woman has become more active in demonstrations, occupations, blog, online fora, political parties and (international) organisations. Quite often women made these peace mechanisms possible and they often took up new economical roles.

In 2018 the World Economic Forum stated that one in three startups have been set up by a woman in the Arabian world. This is a higher percentage then in Silicon Valley, San Francisco. The last ten year the Saudi woman has been battling increasingly against the existing power hierarchy. Slowly but surely this is starting to show in various ways such as the implementation of voting rights for women in 2011, the filling in of high functions in big corporations and the admission of women behind the wheel.

Recently, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan have repealed discriminating laws that would let rapists dodge their sentence if they married their victims. Further more have both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates implemented a new legislation that allow women to live with the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts. Generally speaking there is positive progress noticeable, in particular that the Arabic woman is taking up a more prominent role

The aftermath of the European imperialism

The Middle East was formed during the First World War by the British Colonel Sir Mark Sykes and the French diplomat François Georges-Picot in the tacit treaty Sykes-Picot in 1916. Nowhere on earth were the state-borders drawn this artificially by human hand. Consequently today these borders are still on the ramp. The aftermath of the European power struggle has not only had impact on this, but just as much on the social construction of the Arabic muslim woman.

Extremism and islamophobia are ruling more and more stereotypes and prejudices about the islamic woman since the steady rise of the right populism. This goes hand in hand with discrimination and social exclusion in the western society. Quite often this is thanks to ignorance or naming and shaming In our current society, we are aware little to nothing in how far our europeanised perspective puts the muslim woman in a cramped corner.

In the western media, the Arabic woman is pictured too frequently as a victim. On one hand she is portrayed as helpless and suppressed as she is controlled by a man. On the other hand there is the sexualised image of the moslim woman portrayed as a bellydancer.

The battle against orientalistic misconceptions

To provide counterweight, the muslim woman is starting to use more and different channels to define her identity. Mona Haydar, with Syrian roots, is a contemporary activist and singer. Her most famous hit is ‘Wrap my Hijab’ which goes against the imperialistic vision of the western feminism. Through her rapmusic, she sets orientalistic stereotypes straight and denounces worldwide women abuse. In 2016 Haydar fled to the United States. Because of the many stereotypes which she has to encounter, she has started the project ‘Ask a Muslim’. Within an intercultural dialogue, she reacts on pressing questions regarding the Islam and woman.

Not only Haydar but many other artists are fighting Arabian misconceptions. In the videoclip ‘Roman’ of the well known Lebanese alternative band Mashrou Leila they also bring tribute to the diversity of women within the Arabic world. Next to that they also loudly critique the western misperception of the ‘suppressed Arabic woman’, homophobia and islamophobia. The band describes it as follows:

‘The video puts the dominant worldwide narrative of the hyper secularised (white) feminism on a fault line seeing it positions itself as incompatible with the islam and the Arab world’. This movement wants to show the different sides of the Middle East.'

Gender equality a permanent world goal

Do not misunderstand me. I am not blind to the still present challenges to the women in the Middle East. Such as the underrepresentation in the politic atmosphere, the repercussions of the family law or the psychological abuse and more. Notwithstanding that, just as in the rest of the world, empowerment of women and gender equality must stay a central goal. Hence have the United Nations emphasised these specific provisions in the sustainable development goals for 2030 (SDG’s). These have been imposed on all 193 member states in 2015.

To the side. In the western world woman still bump against a glass ceiling, both in the public as the private sector. There is an invisible barrier that prohibits women to work in certain important positions. Here there is also work to do, just as in the Middle East, where things are going in the right direction for women, despite the western image envision.

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