Women in Public Life in the Middle East

Women protesting in Egypt. (arabawakenings.thestar.com)

Throughout the Arab Spring women across the Middle East have been protesting alongside men, on the streets and the internet, for civil, political, and economic rights. This has been a milestone for women who, for the most part, have historically been kept from participating fully in public life in the Middle East. The Arab Spring galvanized many women to protest for women's rights — for example, the Saudi Women2Drive campaign last summer, and the female Egyptian blogger who posted nude photos of herself last autumn.

However, Middle Eastern feminist politicians and activists have been working to expand women's rights for decades, through legislation as well as protests and civil disobedience. So, is there anything different about the past year of women's rights activism?

Furthermore, Islamist parties in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt have made sweeping gains in parliamentary elections that were held after the uprisings. There has already been talk among Egyptian Islamist legislators of repealing the "Suzanne Laws," a set of reforms in personal status law passed under the Mubarak regime. As part of the reforms, khul was instituted to enable women to sue their husbands for divorce without stating a reason. How might the rise of Islamist parties affect the level of women's participation in public life? How might it affect their access to education and opportunities in their professional lives?

This month on Diwaniyya, we'll be talking about women in public life in the Middle East. We'll explore the ways in which women have participated in public life in the recent past, and how the Arab Spring uprisings are affecting their status in Middle Eastern societies.

- Shoshi Shmuluvitz

Throughout the month, the Diwaniyya blog will feature a number of posts and articles written by guest experts on the theme of women in public life in the Middle East. In the meantime, here are a few reading - and viewing  - suggestions to get you started:

Freedom House has a number of reports and publications on women's rights in the region.

Read the testimonies and watch the video of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on "Women in the Arab Spring," which took place on November 2, 2011.

For a more academic grounding, "Gender in the Middle East: Islam, State and Agency," in The Annual Review of Sociology, gives a "critical analysis of the scholarship on issues that consitute the core of the intellectual discourse on gender in the Middle East."

"Islamic Feminism Revisited" in Comparative Studies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, discussed outcomes of feminist activism in Muslim-majority countries.


Diwaniyya Contributor