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The Progression of Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Essay title: The Progression of Women's Rights in the Middle East

The conflict with Arab Women’s rights is a difficult one to resolve due to tradition and worldwide indifference towards the topic. The world’s misconception about Arab women not actively pursuing equality is harming their image and hindering progression towards suffrage. The subject of Arab women’s rights has become infamous in this country because of the American media, and Americans are criticizing the speed of advancement in most Middle Eastern countries. However, it is difficult for us, as Americans, to accurately advocate reform for another country when we are not familiar with their cultural history and social conflict. The stereotype of Arab women disregards the difference in rights between the different Arab countries. Some critics think that because these women are not yet equal, they have not been trying to progress, but in truth, because of the heavy influence tradition has had on their current status, it is difficult to implement such drastic reform. Some Arab women even feel as if they should have to deal with the same inequality their grandmothers and mothers did without complaining. The conflicting opinions seen in the Middle East contribute to the overall lack of consensus.

The current inequities are simply a way of life for most Middle Eastern women. Defenders of traditional male superiority say that their views can be supported by and originated from the Koran. Religious texts are often distorted in order to support the pre-existing traditions. An example of this is conservative dress. The Koran mentions modesty in dress, but how much modesty is merely a matter of opinion. Most scholars agree that the Hadiths about conservative dress were referring to the prophet’s own wives. Whether to follow this example should be free choice. The fear regarding Ikhtilat, or mixing of the sexes, also has no religious textual justification. Arabic public opinion is strongly opposed to fully secular laws, like in Tunisia, because they feel some link to Islamic roots is essential. When it comes to women’s rights, even some men acknowledge the need for improvement, but it is just so difficult to change a tradition that has been going on so long. Arab women are expediting the process by speaking out about the issue, and getting involved in the otherwise male dominated fields of work, such as education.

Women have worked their way into the media front in many Middle Eastern countries. There are beautiful women presenting news and starring in reality programs. Some women are trying to adjust to the current pop culture by wearing clothing that is more provocative and dancing suggestively in Middle Eastern made music videos. Those mostly older and more conservative constantly harass these women, but many young Middle Easterners admire them. However, even the more open-minded countries such as Egypt, will not broadcast the music videos because they fear that will corrupt the youth, but it seems as if the youth conformation to western culture cannot be stopped. There is an increasing amount of contact between the sexes due to the internet and mobile phone use. It is still difficult to meet members of the opposite sex openly, but growing numbers of young Arabs are chatting and flirting over both the internet and cell phones. The result of a survey taken in Saudi Arabia is proof of a change. Internet cafes in the major Saudi Arabian cities revealed that virtually all of the websites recorded as favorites were blatantly pornographic. This shows that depravation of such liberal and open media leads to overindulgence when one receives the means and independence. There is progress, though commonly underestimated; however, this survey shows that even the more modernized Arab men still objectify women.

In a few Middle Eastern countries, some advancement in women’s equality is beginning to show. An incredibly high, fifty-five percent of the Saudi kingdom’s university students are female, and education is gaining a growing importance for Arab women. The average time Arab girls spend in school by age fifteen has increased from a mere six months in 1960 to 4.5 years today. This, however, is still only three quarters of how much the boys get. Tunisia has narrowed the literacy gap between men and women by eighty percent since 1970. Jordan has achieved full literacy for both sexes. Also, health aspects have improved for the women. Female life expectancy has gone from fifty-two years in 1970 to more than seventy years now. Thankfully, the number of children borne by the average Arab woman has fallen by half in the past twenty years, and is now just scarcely higher than the world norms. For example, in Oman the fertility rate has plummeted from ten births per woman to less than four. There has likewise been a dramatic change in the age at which girls marry. A generation ago, three fourths of the Arab women were married by age twenty, and now that fraction is nearly

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