The Role Of Women In The Middle East: Iran, Saudi Arabia And Egypt
The focal point of this paper is to write an analysis on an issue that affects international politics of the Middle East and the issue in discussion is the role of women in Middle East especially in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Middle East is only as unique as outside elements may see it to be. Now, in discovering if the role of women in Middle East especially in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is exception amidst developing countries would take close examination. There are many methods of determination in this aspect of the question.
The best possible method would be to look into the aspects of women in the society and their corresponding influence in politics in these regions. The evaluation can start with the birth of a child. Unfortunately, the joy is never followed up if the child is a girl. Thus, woman trying to abandon her young daughter with the hopes that another family will take pity on her and give her a happy home is a common practice in these parts, that however is hardly practicable in general sense. Most of the women in this region suffer from two things: their gender and their marital status.
Single females in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and particularly Iran are open to torturous and demeaning treatment every day. Their dress, travel, work, and hobbies are all subject to male approval. Their struggles are incomprehensible to women in the western world who alternate between voicing dismay at their plight and conveniently avoiding it. Western society cannot understand, let alone justify, these treatments of women. (King, 218) Fortunately, two Middle Eastern women can provide explanations about these practices as it relates to life for women in Tehran and the Middle East as a whole.
Suad Joseph is currently a Professor of Anthropology of Women and Gender Studies and the Director of Middle East/South Asia Studies at the University of California at Davis. Her research focuses on their concepts of self, citizenship and rights. She has written several books on the subject including Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East and Intimate Salving in Arab Families. Whereas, Shemeem Burney Abbas is a native of Saudi Arabia and she has taught at colleges in both Islamabad and in Texas.
She spent the years from 1987 to 1992 at the University of Austin in Texas and then at the Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad from 1992-1999 and then again from 2002-2003. (Dos, 76-77) According to Joseph, in Gender Citizenship in the Middle East, an examination of the legal documents related to citizenship has revealed that citizenship is extremely gendered in all arenas, particularly the political, economic and cultural. Joseph argues that the struggle for women to gain a sense of self and identity through citizenship has been compromised by the nations’ struggles for identity themselves.
The nations of the Middle East, on the one hand, possess a fierce desire for nationalism, which seems to need the female gender as its universal, rallying cry. Terms such as the “motherland” and “mother earth” perpetuate the idea of the female as a symbol, or icon, for the very essence of the nation. (Dollard, 181-3) On the other hand, the individual states, composed, at times, of several groups of individuals who may or may not share a common political or ethnic background are focused on the strength and stability of a patriarchal society and strict obedience to that framework (Joseph, 133-37).
This conflict ensnares the woman in the middle of a male conflict. In this context the role of women in Middle East especially in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt becomes more important under the parameters of politics. It takes a lot of time to campaign and become a leader because it involves you to travel all around the world and spending nights away from home to meet people and meeting the other politicians most of them men which of course all of put women politicians at risk of being thought of as insecure women or unfit mothers.
When people are married the husbands are at times threatened with the possibility that their wife has to interact with other men, others fear the social stigma directed against their wives or they worry that their wives political preoccupations will divert her attention away from home. (Kar, 229) Being taken seriously is a difficult endeavor for women even in Parliamentary bodies. The same would be apparent when being heard and women are too often subjected to humiliating stereotypes and derogatory remarks.
A detailed study from Delhi University provided excellent understanding of women in parliamentary politics suffering sexual harassment, even with a decade of activity in politics for parliament. Other obstacles to political prominence or even participation would be illiteracy, limited access to education, double burdens of work and family responsibilities, ideologies or cultural patterns which oppose women’s participation in public life and largely unsupportive attitudes on the part of the media. Women appear to have difficulty in gaining support from other women in regard to pursuing political office.
It can be mentioned that Power in the female system is viewed conversely, much the same way as love. In this view it is limitless and when shared it regenerates and expands. It is unnecessary to hoard power. Women have a tendency to do the same when sharing ideas. In places where language and naming are power men that have become more vocal in the patriarchal society subsequently have become very powerful. Women’s silence oppresses them and is often considered violence against women. Silence dominates women’s childhood years and expands into early adulthood.
This influence of traditional gender roles, pervasive as it would be, answers in large part, the silent participation in public political life. (Kar, 67-70) Some women, in overcoming the childhood “conspiracy of silence”, which is so deeply embedded in cultural ideology, would seem to be able to creep out of their shells and manage developing a voice for themselves and for others. It would appear that the major restraint to be released is a familial constancy which promotes the conspiracy of silence as developed at an early age. This restraint, if loosened, would allow for women to more freely pursue activism.
Maintaining this cultural condition of the “silent woman” means an acceptance of the stereotype, which often renders women powerless in the larger society as well as in familial circumstances. The end result of women in politics is that women are at times cut off from their own intelligence and that is why women still in today’s world have problems getting into office. Everybody seems to think that when it comes to somebody being in office or the presidency it should be men. Because of this women think that they are a failure and they are powerless and they are dependent on others.
Women cannot trust their own ability to understand themselves and rely on external authority to guide their actions. As adolescent and young women such individuals have no confidence as knower. For some this silence persists for life. (Fletcher, 129) As a result the inclusion of women in politics is almost close to nil in the countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Iran can boast about have few woman politicians at the seat though the power exercised by them or the amount of power they had is quite uncertain. The first of these Iranian politicians is Shahbanou Farah Diba Pahlavi.
She was the Regent-in-Exile1979-1980 and acted mostly as media negotiator in the position. The second personality is Maryam Rajavi, who was the President of the Government in Exile in1993 and was located in Paris. The third and the most important of these women politicians is Prof. Dr. Masoumek Ebtekar who became the Vice President of Iran and completed her extended term from 1997-2005. (Women in Power, 1) Thus it is obvious that the role of women in Middle East especially in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is extremely negligible and has little to influence the political aspects of the area.
But we could only assume that had the trend was otherwise and women were encouraged to enter the parameters of politics the problem regarding issues in the Middle East would have been solved with much ease as women tend to accept politics with less ego and more heart as seen in the cases of numerous political women leaders. This touch of tenderness is long missing from the regional politics of these three countries in the Middle East and we can only hope that the cultural aspects regarding women change and better and calmer policies are implemented in the region. (Fletcher, 117)