Two steps forward, one step back? Women in the Middle East in 2013

Published December 24th, 2013 - 13:24 GMT

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saudi women driving
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Image 1 of 10: Saudi Arabia, no women, no drive: During Saudi’s “Day of Driving” several women took the wheel despite government threats of arrest. The issue was even brought to the Islamic Shura Council by female members. The request was dismissed, but the progress of the women’s driving movement is apparent. Heck, Saudi even has female police now!

Egypt National Council for Women
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Image 1 of 10: Egypt: The National Council for Women pushed for female quotas to be reinstated as part of the new constitution guaranteeing 25% of seats for women on the parliament. This is double the amount required previously. Also, females police are now patrolling the metro in the country that was voted the “worst place for women in the Middle East”.

child marriage yemen
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Image 1 of 10: Yemen: After an 8 year old girl died on her wedding night of internal bleeding and trauma caused by her 40 year old husband, human rights groups erupted and several steps have been made to protect young girls trapped in arranged marriages. Yemen's rural communities are hard to monitor and more can be done, but it's a good start.

child marriage Iran
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Image 1 of 10: Iran: While one female politician was canned for being too sexy, other women were given some breathing room when the morality police were banned from making any dress code rulings. In what seems a big loss, Iran passed a law allowing step-fathers to marry their step daughters in what could turn out to be a legal pedophilia palaver.

Amina Filali morocco
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Image 1 of 10: Morocco: In keeping with a policy that makes rape invalid in Morocco if the parties are married, 16 year old Amina Filali was forced to marry her rapist after he forced himself on her. She killed herself immediately after the judge enforced marriage.

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Image 1 of 10: Israel, known for its female-strong military, has taken measures to up women-power in the army: Required to enlist at 18 regardless of gender, men’s time in service has now decreased and women’s time has increased, equalizing required service to just over 2 years. Over half an Israeli battalion deployed near the Egyptian border are female.

women syria
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Image 1 of 10: Syria: Syrian ladies continue to stand tall, even as snipers use pregnant women as targets. In the search for something good for the women in Syria, the small but great effort of persevering is a win. Simply surviving is getting harder - according to BBC, Syrian women are increasingly becoming "targets of abuse and torture".

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Image 1 of 10: Dubai: Leading the Emiratis in lady business, Dubai hosts a global entrepreneurs exhibit for women. “As the leading event for women, by women, we bring together visionary women with big ideas and even bigger ambitions.” the event organizer said. Always a trendsetter in the Middle East, Dubai is setting the bar high for what is possible.

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Image 1 of 10: US: Muslim women have even made a breakthrough in advertising in the US by being featured on a billboard ad posted on one of the most driven freeways, California's Interstate-5. Although the U.S.' many Muslim-bashers were outraged and it was slammed by the liberal left, it started a dialogue and shook off niqabi-stigma.

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Image 1 of 10: Lebanon: Women activists protested on behalf of women prisoners in Lebanon. Women incarcerated in Lebanon are generally processed in the same way as a man, with no gender differentiation. Activists pushed for the right for health, rehabilitation, education and to receive justice on behalf of the incarcerated women.

If you’ve ever heard the saying “breakdown before the breakthrough”, then you have some idea of what the women’s movement in the Middle East looks like. Rarely, on good faith and kind gestures, do women in the region get anything handed to them in terms of equality and rights. It’s almost always a fight. Every advance for women can be linked back to a significant event which triggered outrage or brought global attention to the issue.

In 2013, many women activists and woman-specific issues dominated trending media and news rooms globally. The open forum of social media had done much to offer a more open, honest debate about women in the Middle East. Social feeds such as Twitter and Facebook have given women a global audience combined with the safety of anonymity in some cases.  

“I truly believe that women online are the next wave of change,” saysPunditMom blogger Joanne Bamberger, author of the recently published Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America. Social forums have also allowed some of the poorest women in the world to reach out to some of the wealthiest women, at times, creating a unification to enable efforts that create change.

We will look at some of the more recent advancements in the field of women’s rights in the Middle East. Keep in mind that while some may seem an obvious right or a simple step, small changes are big changes for women in Arab countries. The ship turns slowly here…it is the desert after all. Movement is movement and eventually, all the tight bolts will be loosened…in time.

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