For many years, women in the Middle East and the Arab world have been forced to live in societies that are dominated by males. Men have been observed to have absolute control over the experiences and life outcomes of women. Most of the cultural values and traditions established in the region only encouraged them to perform the roles of housewives and take good care of the children.
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Several decades ago, some courageous individuals began to find new ways of coping and pursuing their objectives. In order to have a clear understanding of the current status of female citizens in the Middle East, this research paper uses different researches and articles to examine the issue of gender and women’s rights in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. It goes further to describe the significance of these malpractices for promoting and sustaining the current discourse on gender and marginalization of women from a global perspective.
From the 1900s, many countries in the Middle East began to embrace the concepts of modernization and Westernization. However, the leaders in such societies mainly focused on various areas that needed transformation, such as economic domains, administrative roles, and technological advancements (İlkkaracan 2008). This is a clear indication that the issues to do with cultural values and societal norms remained constant or largely unchanged.
Many people in the region viewed any Western practice as a force that was capable of disorienting the existing social order and values. Consequently, it took long for this region to start embracing new ideas and concepts that could transform the lifestyles of women in their respective societies.
Originally, women in different countries across the region were not allowed to engage in economic activities. The male-dominated model only forced them to stay at home and play the roles of housewives. They had very little said in the issues affecting the family or the wider society. They were required to follow their husbands’ instructions and obey them unconditionally (İlkkaracan 2008). Any woman could be divorced or be forced to marry a stranger.
These trends or social norms made it impossible for more female citizens to engage in superior activities that had the potential to transform their experiences and opportunities as members of the community.
Fortunately, some personal goals and social movements have been instrumental in creating new opportunities for a small percentage of Arab women and empowering them to become respectable members of their societies. Firstly, some courageous women have managed to rise up and find new ways to become free and create space for themselves (Pappé 2010). This kind of achievement is what many scholars in the fields of feminism and Arab history call the “Third Space” (Pappé 2010, p. 226).
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Within the past century, some women have been keen to identify emerging opportunities and overcome the challenges associated with their male-dominated societies. Consequently, they have managed to promote the debate and encourage different stakeholders to engage in superior actions and decisions that can change the outcomes of this gender.
Secondly, legal frameworks and reforms implemented within the past century have been focusing on the social position and status of females. However, women have not been part of such advocacies in different societies, thereby making it impossible for them to achieve desirable results. Thirdly, some powerful women managed to work tirelessly in an attempt to break the established walls of exclusion and marginalization in their respective societies (Pappé 2010). Some did so by writing widely about the unique challenges many women were going through in their respective societies and countries.
Fourthly, some modern leaders have been keen to engage in debates and conversations aimed at addressing the issues different people encounter in their societies. Coupled with the notions of Marxism, different stakeholders have been keen to present new opportunities and strategies that can deliver economic opportunities and change the fortunes for more women in tier respective communities (Pappé 2010). These initiatives have continued to transform the experiences and outcomes of female Arabs in their families, societies, and regions. Similarly, the increased access to legal opportunities and education have become powerful tools for taking the debate to the next level.
Despite these efforts from legal professionals, government-sponsored frameworks, and individual acts of heroism, the position of more women in the selected region remains wanting. This is true since most of the feminist ideas and movements have only benefited a small percentage of these individuals. According to the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), it is evident that the Middle East has lower rankings in comparison with various countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Pınar İlkkaracan 2). This has been the case since very few women have been empowered to lead high-quality lives, get representations in different parliaments, or engage in rewarding economic activities.
With the above understanding or background information, it is important to appreciate the changes that have been recorded in the region and consider new ways to improve the fate of the greatest number of women. These two questions were essential since they guided this research study:
- What is the current status of gender and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and Morocco?
- How do the identified issues have global and regional significance?
Gender and the Rights of Women: Morocco vs. Saudi Arabia
The issue of gender discrimination has remained an outstanding problem that affects the experiences and outcomes of many women in both Saudi Arabia and Morocco. However, positive strides or achievements have been made that continue to make it possible for many individuals in the Middle East to pursue their social and economic goals. In Morocco, the first movement aimed at supporting and pursuing the rights of women was launched in 1946 by the famous Sisters of Purity Association (Ennaji 2016).
The members of this union wanted to develop a new country that provided equal rights to women, such as voting and empowerment to make personal decisions. They also demanded the end of polygamy in the country and ensure that they had adequate political representation.
However, the promotion of Islamic jurisprudence in the 1950s made it impossible for some of the demands to be realized. This was the case since many regions continued to promote civil discrimination against females. This initiative created a scenario whereby all women were treated as inferior citizens under the established laws and before their fathers and husbands. They managed to vote for the first time in the year 1956 (Ennaji 2016).
During the same period, a number of opportunities emerged whereby women were encouraged and permitted to access free education. From the year 1980, new changes emerged whereby the Islamic movement began to promote the established feminist ideologies (Ennaji 2016). The religion continued to promote new practices whereby the rights of both women and children had to be taken seriously.
With minimum legal empowerment and protection, many female Moroccans continued to encounter a wide range of challenges. The media was instrumental in portraying and depicting some of the challenges that the majority of the people had to go through. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, cases of divorce and domestic violence increased in different parts of the country. More women suffered at the hands of their husbands and even relatives (Ennaji 2016).
In 1999, the government of Morocco proposed some key reforms that would result in the abolishment of different family practices, such as polygamy (Ennaji 2016). It was also aimed at empowering these members of society to pursue their goals and become successful. Unfortunately, such reforms failed since different conservative Islamist groups opposed them. This was a clear message that the fight for equal liberties and increased representation was not going to end any time soon.
From 2004-2009, new ideas and debates emerged that were aimed at improving the statuses and opportunities for women. However, the resistance to such movements was noticeable in many regions across the country. From these issues, many women in Morocco have managed to realize notable progress in these areas: education, legal presentation, and politics (Ennaji 2016). This is a clear indication that the existing gender disparity has reduced by a small margin in this country.
Considerable improvements are evident whereby some women are able to attain education and pursue their career opportunities. Jobs are also available to women in this country. The level of personal freedom is on the rise whereby some women can decide to engage in economic activities and even make decisions regarding the number of children to have. They can debate with their husbands in an attempt to find the best solutions to their common challenges. Others are able to travel freely and pursue their goals in life.
The collaborations between women’s rights groups and government agencies have continued to transform the situation for women. Additional reforms are promoting or supporting a more democratic position or image for women. These benefits are essential and capable of transforming the experiences and outcomes of more women in their respective societies. However, a large percentage of female Moroccans face different forms of abuse in their families or lack adequate resources (Ennaji 2016). Some find it hard to make independent decisions or pursue their objectives in life. Despite the protections against gender-based violence or discrimination, positive results are yet to be realized.
It is evident that many women in Morocco have managed to benefit from the relentless efforts of different activists within the past six decades. In Saudi Arabia, things have been quite different since many female citizens have not recorded similar achievements within the same period. Throughout the better part of the 20th century, the issue of gender in this country was not given much attention. For many decades, women were required to take care of their children and meet the demands of their relatives and husbands (Al-bakr et al. 2017). Due to the pronounced level of gender inequality, a small percentage of women were empowered to receive high-quality education or engage in various economic activities.
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The established policies and laws have reshaped the issue of gender and women’s rights in this country. For instance, earlier policies prevented women from driving or pursuing their personal goals in life. The sharia law continues to determine the position of this gender group in Saudi Arabia. Before the year 2011, women were not allowed to engage in political activities. They could not contest for any elective position or vote in this country’s general elections (Al-bakr et al. 2017). However, King Abdullah made an unanticipated decision that saw women vote for the first time in the year 2015.
From the early 21st century, women have been encouraged to attend schools and get degrees. This kind of development explains why more female students are graduating from various universities in comparison with their male counterparts (Al-bakr et al. 2017). Some women were divorced by their husbands without even being informed about the development. Consequently, they had to experience numerous confusions and hardships, thus being unable to achieve their goals. This kind of malpractice made many women homeless and incapable of realizing their potential.
In 2019, the government of Saudi Arabia was part of the G20 summit that was aimed at promoting new ideas to minimize the wage gap between men and women. The meeting was seen as a new opportunity for member states to consider evidence-based approaches to guide and empower more women to start their small businesses. However, more Saudi Arabian women have been unable to engage in such activities.
The established frameworks and social arrangements continue to make it impossible for these individuals to close the gender disparity gap (Al-bakr et al. 2017). In 2018, the government lifted one of the most controversial bans whereby women were not being allowed to drive (Sen 2019). This kind of policy is a clear revelation of the experiences many female citizens have gone through in this country over the decades.
Despite these obstacles, some significant achievements have been recorded in the 21st century whereby more women are able to contest and win elections. The level of educational attainment has increased significantly within the past decade. Women can now become members of different boards or chambers that make critical economic decisions (Sen 2019). In 2005, new laws and religious decisions created a new opportunity for women whereby they could not be forced into marriages.
From these observations, it is agreeable that there are significant achievements and developments that have been made in the recent past to improve the social statuses, rights, and liberties of Saudi Arabian women. These opportunities are making it possible for more individuals to engage in a wide range of economic activities, thereby becoming empowered and freer (Al-bakr et al. 2017). However, advocacy is still needed to close the current gap and ensure that more women are empowered to pursue their aims. The end result is that their rights will increase and eventually become successful members of their respective societies.
Regional and Global Significance
The above findings show that many women are still finding it hard to pursue their economic and personal aims in life. This happens to be the case since most of the established or existing policies fail to support their social goals. Gender disparity is a major challenge that affects the experiences of female citizens both at their homes and working environments (Welchman 2010). While some female citizens have access to basic education, the majority of them in these two countries still lack the right resources, opportunities, and legal protections that can make it easier for them to succeed. The current cultural practices create a situation whereby many women are unable to make independent decisions in life.
Despite the nature of these issues, some outstanding developments have emerged whereby more women are capable of pursuing their economic aims and being involved in various decision-making processes. In Saudi Arabia, female citizens have eventually found a new reason to follow their career dreams. These achievements can be attributed to the courage and willingness of different activists and outstanding female figures who stood up to find a new space for women (Al-bakr et al. 2017).
They dedicated their resources, time, and skills to change the situation and make it possible for young girls to eventually live in free and equal societies. These aspects go further to explain why more women are yet to achieve their potential and be empowered to lead high-quality lives.
The above observations, achievements, and gaps can become powerful lessons for taking this debate of gender parity and women’s rights to the next phase. In this region, it is evident that more females are still oppressed and discouraged from pursuing their goals. Some women in the Middle East have been able to receive high-quality or basic education. This is a clear indication that a few female citizens are able to lead their lives freely, make independent decisions, and consider investing in their respective countries (Ennaji 2016). Such challenges should inform evidence-based approaches and decisions that can promote equality.
The promotion of abusive practices and disempowerment of the female gender makes it impossible for many people to lead high-quality lives and realize their potential. This knowledge should guide more governments in the entire region to consider the best legal changes or amendments in an attempt to promote the principle of equality. This strategy will ensure that more men and women are empowered and capable of experiencing their liberties as part of God’s creation.
In these two countries, women face social persecution for giving birth out of wedlock. The same challenge is available to individuals in marriages since they have to go through marital rape. They are also unable to make desirable personal decisions in their respective homes. These gaps explain why there is a need for those in leadership positions to consider superior laws that have the potential to protect women against these vices (Ennaji 2016). Such a move will empower and make it easier for the greatest number of beneficiaries to achieve their aims.
Education remains an essential need that many women in the Middle East lack. Although specific milestones have been recorded in several countries, all governments can consider the issues described above and implement powerful mechanisms to ensure that more women get a basic education. This acquisition will become a new opportunity for them to understand their liberties and be willing to be part of the ongoing gender disparity and empowerment debate.
The governments in this region can go further to create additional opportunities for women and make it easier for them to appreciate their positions in society (Sen 2019). The current culture in this region that permits criminal acts against women should be abolished. Such an approach will support the establishment of a new society whereby every person will have autonomy, freedom, and security.
Similarly, this discourse is essential for the wider global community since many countries are characterized by issues of gender disparity and discrimination. The United Nations (UN) and other stakeholders can consider the nature of this problem and encourage all global citizens to appreciate the challenges many women have to experience in their daily lives (Ennaji 2016). Specifically, additional efforts will be essential in the developing world to get rid of certain malpractices that make it impossible for more women to become recognizable and respectable members of the society, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced or arranged marriages, and wife inheritance (Sen 2019).
After these problems are eliminated, those involved can go further to support the establishment of proper systems that secure quality education and job opportunities for more women. They should also be promoted to have a say in their respective families and marriages. Stringent measures or policies can also be introduced to address the current gaps and ensure that those who violate women’s rights are punished accordingly.
With these strategies in place, more female citizens in the Middle East and across the world will be able to enjoy their liberties, make personal or informed decisions, and be empowered to solve the major predicaments they face. Societies that have balanced gender rights and opportunities tend to have increased chances of recording positive economic growth and minimizing most of the issues affecting the underdeveloped world (Al-bakr et al. 2017).
This achievement will increase the level of family revenues, empower more women to engage in economic activities, improve innovation practices, and eventually make the world a better place for all (Sen 2019). The approach will make it easier for more women to take good care of their young girls and empower them to succeed in life. A new culture will eventually become a reality that meets the needs of the greatest number of people in different parts of the world.
The above research paper has presented meaningful observations and thoughts regarding the issue of gender and the rights of women in the selected countries. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, different activist groups launched new campaigns that were aimed at transforming the experiences of more women in their respective communities. Despite such efforts, both Morocco and Saudi Arabia failed to introduce superior practices and policies that were capable of changing the conversation and empowering more female citizens to succeed in their lives.
Fortunately, some of the recent achievements have made it easier for these people to acquire adequate education and establish their personal spaces. Emerging laws and policies have made it possible for them to engage in a wide range of social and economic activities, including finding jobs, starting new businesses, and engaging in political decision-making processes. Although these realizations have made it possible for a significant percentage of women in the two countries to realize their aims, there is a need for the region and the entire world to consider the importance of promoting the rights, freedoms, and liberties of these people.
This kind of practice is essential since these individuals have encountered diverse challenges in the past. It would be fair to present additional laws that can support and make it easier for them to become empowered. Consequently, the global society will be characterized by more people who are willing to fight the unique challenges affecting them, such as inequality, poverty, and insecurity. The end result is that the world will eventually become a good place for all human beings.
Al-bakr, Fawziah, Elizabeth R. Bruce, Petrina M. Davidson, Edit Schlaffer, and Ulrich Kropiunigg. 2017. “Empowered But Not Equal: Challenging the Traditional Gender Roles as Seen by University Students in Saudi Arabia.” Forum for International Research in Education 4 (1): 52-66.
Ennaji, Moha. 2016. “Women, Gender, and Politics in Morocco.” Social Sciences 5 (4): 75-82.
İlkkaracan, Pınar. 2008. “Introduction: Sexuality as a Contested Political Domain in the Middle East.” In Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East: Challenges and Discourses, edited by Pınar İlkkaracan, 1-16. New York: Routledge.
Pappé, Ilan. 2010. The Modern Middle East. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
Sen, Gita. 2019. “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Feminist Mobilization for the SDGs.” Global Policy 10 (S1): 28-38.
Welchman, Lynn. 2010. “Women, Family and the Law: The Muslim Personal Status Law Debate in Arab States.” In The New Cambridge History of Islam: Muslims and Modernity: Culture and Society since 1800, edited by Robert W. Hefner, 411-437. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.