MODERN PERSPECTIVE ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE MUSLIM WORLD: MENA REGION A CASE STUDY
Alya’a Samir Borhan *
At the outset, it has often been said that the status of women is an accurate barometer of the degree of development and progress attained in any given country. Hence, the status of women in the Middle East- North Africa region (MENA) effectively reflects the degree of development, level of social and political freedoms prevalent in any given country in the region. Women in the MENA region are not a homogeneous group—their grievances across socio-economic divides differ from one Arab country to another. Therefore, it is important to emphasise that the status of women in the MENA region cannot be generalised and understand that there are several nuances of oppression/ empowerment of women. The main hypothesis of this paper is: Within the backdrop of the Arab Spring which constituted to the new Arab Awakening, the women of the MENA region find themselves lost between two different perceptions of their status in their region at the time that it is undergoing considerable upheaval. Some view the glass as half full, like the Feminist Leila Ahmed, where women have made promising advances in many aspects, whether in education, the job market, social rights and advocacy. Others, like the activist, Mona El Tahawy, who in her very controversial Foreign Policy Article, “Why do they hate us?” considers that the glass is half empty, and that women are facing increasing challenges and are suffering from several grave injustices like: misogyny, patriarchy, political exclusion, increased domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation, which culminate to undermine women in the region. The paper will be divided into three main parts: the first part will address women’s status in the region before the Arab Spring, the second part: will address several useful benchmarks and indicators to identify whether the glass is half full or half empty, and the third part will address women’s status in the region after the Arab Spring Uprising.
* Alya’a Samir Borhan is currently a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Muslim Unity, International Islamic University in Malaysia and Career Diplomat on Leave.