Why Arabs and Muslims Downplay Women’s Rights

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Tunisian women rally against slavery and Domestic violence -photo source www.tunisia-live.net.
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No matter whom we are or where we are in the world, one cannot deny that human rights and civil liberty are the most controversial topics, after politics, of our time. By all odds, the most debate-provoking topic in any human rights discourse is the issue of women’s rights. It is so because the very nature of women’s rights demands holds compound societal dimensions that could bring about everlasting cultural effects on all people.

In most cases, the line of argumentation for or against women’s rights implicates intense disputes of diverse religious and social conceptions about the role of women in society. Since the discussing discourse of women’s rights always entails further argumentation of people’s ingrained beliefs and their customized definitions of equality, justice, and free will. It also involves discussions that bring forth several decisive questions about the compatibility of laws, cultures, and religious doctrines with our modern-day concept of women’s rights, human rights, and civil liberties.

Actually, in advanced societies, women’s rights movements, feminist organized groups along with other active women have attained a very substantial achievement: equality of rights under the law. This momentous progress came through as a result of their successful crusades to reform the philosophy of law of their countries in spite of all sticky social traditions and religious consideration. However, the obvious is that the western establishment of women’s rights, as a whole, still has to strive to actualize real equal treatment in many aspects of life. Obviously, women need to gain wider national recognition of their political skills, executive métiers, and high-tech competency, for instance, to win their final national battle— though they need to score much more points on the transnational front.

Meanwhile, in most of the third world, women’s state of affair is an untold inglorious tragedy. Despite that some international human rights organizations, and civil rights advocates, and women’s rights movements have made several attempts to deliver change, the mass majority of women in poor and developing countries are still compelled, in many ways, to endure living like in the Middle Ages.

To touch on some of these misfortunes, all men and women should recall the suffering of those hapless women who  were disfigured (by acid attacks) for marital motives, died from self-induced abortions, kidnapped and sold as sex slaves, gang-raped and murdered, for instance, to stand firm with women against any sort of violence and savagery . All of us should recollect the assassination attempt on the life of young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, so that to visualize the ongoing sufferings of women in many developing countries (underdeveloped was more accurate).

In Arab and Muslim countries, equal rights laws (if enacted) are either devoid or deactivated in the name of its inconsistency with Islamic laws and archaic societal traditions. However, in few Arab countries, like in Lebanon, for instance, where the constitution clearly affirms the equality of all citizens; yet, in practice, most constitutional equal rights clauses are ignored in favor of sectarian regulations, religious rules, and hence male chauvinism.

On the political front, the general political mindset of most Arab leading politicians and political industries is to circumvent and downplay women participation in the political process, though all declare the contrary. The undeniable fact is that Arab women who count more than half of the Arab people hardly exist in parliaments and government cabinets of their countries—not to mention why women are prohibited to serve in the religious judiciary.

Lebanese women, like most Arab women, do not have the right to bestow their nationality to their children or spouses, though men can. Voluntary civil marriage is impermissible in most Arab states. Only a couple of countries, including Lebanon, recognize offshore civil marriage contracts; nonetheless, relegate all subsequent legal decisions related to the married couple to the religious authorities of the husband, the male.  In plain words, it is a fake legal exit, not a solution.

Arab penal laws still incorporate exonerative clauses of which domestic violence and the so-called honor crime are being tolerated. While Arab legislative bodies ignore that the lack of serious criminalization and penalization of crimes against women, such as marital rape, carnal abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and child marriage, is spreading the feeling of fear, pain, and injustice among half of Arab citizens—let alone the accompanying emotional distress and resentment.

Lebanese women in protest for their rights Photo source: www.dw.de
Lebanese women in protest for their rights Photo source: www.dw.de

Under some disputed misinterpretations of many Muslim clerics, equal rights for women in the Arab law of the land are seen to oppose Islamic teachings and traditions. This is because many shortsighted Muslim sheikhdoms believe that the text points to the supremacy of men.  Arab women have been indoctrinated and influenced since childhood to live in the shadow of their male family members (fathers, brothers, husbands and their own adult sons), no matter of their individual qualities or education.

In Arab and Muslim conservative societies, single (never been married) women are denied the right, by unsubstantiated Islamic rules, to get married without the consent of their fathers or brothers. However, when it comes to divorce, although Muslim women are permitted to make claims for divorce only if they have Islamic valid reasons (a very short list), yet they have to endure a backbreaking process of 2-3 years long before they are freed.

Unfortunately, the largest parts of those primitive actualities are conducted in the name of applying Islamic laws and traditions, most of which are built on misreading and misinterpretations of the primary objectives of Islamic scriptures. A close look at the Arab Islamic history evinces that Muslim women were having freer societal conditions at the time of Prophet Muhammad than they are now. They traveled on horses and rode camels with men in battles and in trade trips. They treated and soothed injured men. They openly discussed and argued for their views with men. In some cases, they were among the highest Islamic point of references and political leaders (like Aisha, the second wife of the Prophet)–let alone they were not forced to get married without their clear consent and acquire divorce in a short time.

However, this is not to imply that Muslim people have to revert their ways of life to resemble those of 1400-years ago to be better off. On the contrary, it is to stress that the so-called Muslims religious authorities (who are supposed to deliver divine rules are actually instituted and appointed by temporal rulers) have to review all Fatwas (rulings) and interpretations to be compatible with the common understanding of human rights. Considering that, it is irrational and detrimental to keep trying out to unplug 1.6 billion Muslim from their present-day world to live the Islamic doctrine of the sixth century or so— let alone being impossible to achieve.

Given such resentful circumstances, the unavoidable question is why Arab and Muslim women do not forcefully stand up for their human rights. And, whether they are ready to induce the required change against all odds or not.

Under the current situations of the Middle East and North Africa, one has to acknowledge that it is quite harder to reform the law in autocratic states than in established democracies. And believably, it is much harder to actualize equal rights to women where uneven religious-based traditions and restrictive family values are implanted in the psyche of Arab and Muslim people. Nonetheless, the answer is a conditional yes. Yes, Arab and Muslim women are geared up to attain their rights but lack the leadership and support.

To all intents, it seems that Arab women have temporarily reconfigured their actual endeavors to seek lesser goals than those of western women. This temperate outlook, however, is not resulting from a lack of self-respect, poor education, or low spirit. Rather, it is an act of weighing several unavoidable national actualities: absence of real democracy, poor civil engagement, bigoted conservative society, armed extremist groups, suppressive authorities, and most of all, the unending question of people’s safety.

Having said that does not mean that Arab and Muslim women are excused for not pressing their rightful cause to the frontline of the current democratic strive at which they become more potent to change their fate and future.  Though they should have done it earlier; nonetheless, Arab women should utilize their social media expertise, advertisement skills, likable presentation, and marketing competency to win the wide support of their fellow citizens. Arab women activists are invited to employ their voting force in the current power struggle in the region to the advantage of liberal democratic candidates (men and women) who support human rights and civil liberties.

In all norms, Arab and Muslim women deserve and have the right to be treated equally and humanely regardless of any given justification or falsification. Arab and Muslim leaders, government officials, politicians, business magnates and all traditionalists are morally obligated to liberate more than eight hundred billion women from thralldom if they are really looking for a promising political and economic future of their countries.

Meanwhile, all men, particularly Arab and Muslim men, should not sense any self-worth before their mothers, educators, partners, daughters, friends, and colleagues are set free from this modern-day serfdom.

Everyone should remind oneself that,

One free hummingbird would add more to our world than a million caged ones.

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