At the beginning of the 21st century, citizens of western, democratic societies take the rights of women for granted.
While women around the globe enjoy the same rights as the male citizens of their societies, the UN, international organizations and local human rights NGO’s are constantly pressuring the regimes in Arab states to improve the state of human rights, and women’s rights in particular. According to UN data, women make up only 3.4% of the Arab parliaments, 13% in neighboring Israel and 11.4% in the rest of the world.
Iranian Maryam Namazie, the chairman of the International Federation of Iranian Refuges and Immigrants Council (IFIRIC), recently addressed this problem. “Burqua-clad and veiled women and girls, beheadings, stoning to death, floggings, child sexual abuse in the name of marriage and sexual apartheid are only the most brutal and visible aspects of women’s rightlessness and third class citizen status in the Middle East.” (Islam, Secularism and Women in the Middle East Conference, Middle East Centre for Women’s Studies and Medusa, London, March 18, 2002)
Participation in Government
The lack of female participation is noticeable throughout Arab/Islamic states in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The difference is most marked when contrasted with Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East - that also has a sizeable Arab minority with democratic rights. In the last few years Israel has seen record numbers of women move into decision-making positions. Sixteen out of 120 members of the Knesset are women, including three ministers and two deputy ministers. Three women now serve as justices on the Supreme Court and 36 are district court judges. The State Attorney is also a woman. Golda Meir was Israel’s fourth prime minister – and only the second female prime minister in the world. (The Advancement of the Status of Women, R. Werczberger, Research and Information Center, The Knesset, Israel, 2001)
Unfortunately, in the Arab world, women are still struggling to be acknowledged.
- Saudi Arabian Parliament Chairman Sheik Muhammed bin Ibrahim bin Jbeir has stated: “Appointing women as parliament members is out of the question. Nobody even thinks about it because the issues Parliament deals with are public matters under the responsibility of men.” (Al-Hayat, London, October 25, 1999)
- And in the Jordanian Times, Senator Sheik Abd Al-Baki Gamo, was quoted saying: “Whether we like it or not, women in Islam are not equal to men in several aspects.” (The Jordanian Times, November 30, 1999)
The Shari’a and the rights of Arab women
In most Arab countries, the Shari’a, or Islamic law, defines the rules of traditional social behaviour. Under this law, women are considered inferior to men, and are therefore discriminated against with regard to personal rights and freedoms. The Shari’a contains the rules by which a Muslim society is organized and governed. Muslims agree that the Qur'an is the basis of the Shari’a and that its specific provisions are to be observed.