Women and Gender in the Middle East
There have been many controversies surrounding the topic of women and their rights to education, economic freedom, political rights, and social rights. These challenges have been there for a long time and authors in the early 1900s focused on the topics of women and their roles in the society. The Liberation of Women of Egypt written by Qasim Amin shows the role of women in the process of liberating the country from foreign hold. The lawyer relied less on the religious provisions of the Quran and focused on the western view of women and their freedom. He advocated for the emancipation of women from the traditional hold that prevents them from having their basic rights. His work received many critics not only from his fellow Muslims, but also from journalists. His writing is still a book of debate among many people currently. He advocated for the rights of women claiming that women were slaves to their husbands and that is why the nation was not progressing and getting itself out of the holds of colonialists. He used arguments of Darwin that state that if people do not change, then they face the threat of elimination from the dynamic environment. Excerpts from magazines emphasize on the effects of women education and economic empowerment on the whole community and family as a whole. The excerpts try to link education of girls and advancing of the community.
Women in Iran decided to take matters into their own hands after the government became reluctant to give them their right to education. Women went to the extent of writing columns in newspapers to educate other women on the importance of education to a woman and her family. However, their suggestion to the government to provide education to women was ignored as the government only provided basic education to shape and prepare the woman to do her duties in child bearing and taking care of the husband. Bahithat al-Badiya advocated for liberation of women on oppression in education and economic empowerment. She publicly demanded for the inclusion of women in education and economic matters. She criticized those who were conservative about liberating women and made it clear that women should make their own choices regarding the veil and other demands of religion after going to school and getting education.
Similarities between Badiya and Iranian Magazines on Women Education
All three advocated for women liberation. They demonstrate how an educated woman can help change the society. Amin advocated for this by criticizing those who used the Quran to manipulate and control women claiming that women are meant to be under the control of men. He did not hide his dissatisfaction on how the society oppressed women by not giving them a chance to explore their educational options and prosper in life. His major focus was on the tradition that was imperfect and needed change in order to adapt to the changing environment. Amin recognized the oppression women went through in his time and he wanted to change the situation by addressing the issues head on. Even though he knew that, his work would cost him a lot and people would criticize him, he did not hesitate to point out that religion was a contributing factor to oppressing women. The other point apparent in his book is the aspect of slavery within the society, something experienced even by women in the higher social classes of the society (Qasim, 2000).
Women did not have a say in many matters because they are so enclosed in the duties bestowed to them in their domestic environment and society as a whole. Lack of education was what he attributed to slavery of women in their own homes by their powerful husbands. This is because women lacked the intellect to stand up for their rights because they did not have education to help them see the world from a different picture. Seclusion of women from public life is another reason he sites for oppression of women. This is because women did not have a chance to interact with other people, who would open their eyes to see the oppression they were going through in the hands of their husbands and society. He believed that the future of the country depended largely on mental capabilities of women because they had the responsibility of raising children who he says held the future of their country. Therefore, lack of education and intellectual capacities in the society would continue because women would pass their ignorance to their children, who would in turn take ignorance into the future. He that veiling of the whole body was not written in the Quran and this only decreased the chances of women in doing chores.
Bahithat al-Badiya, on the other hand, held believes similar to those of Amin when it came to the aspects of education and empowerment of women. She claimed that women were looked down upon and enslaved by the teachings of the Quran and lack of proper education. This was evident in her ten demands to the legislate. She demanded for equal rights for women and the right for them to get the preparatory education, primary and secondary education to enable them to learn basic theories on health and education. Her other demand was for women to be given a chance in the field of medicine to help them serve other women in the country. Restriction on the subjects women learnt in school and their choice of career were limiting the chances of women to explore their talents. She believed that women’s lives could only improve if they were given the chance to get educated and look for jobs. She believed that Islam did not restrict women from going to school and getting well-paying jobs, but their chances of exploring these fields were intentionally blocked by their male counterparts, who did not give women the chance to go to school.
Traditions and customs blocked women from their rights stipulated in the Islam religion and the Quran. This is why she made the ten demands to the legislate demanding for action towards improving the status of the women in the society by giving them education. She was against the veiling of the whole body just as Qasim.
The excerpts from the Iranian newspapers also portray how women lacked the chance to get educated because of the traditions and constrains from men preventing them from getting basic education. The excerpts show how women stood up against the oppressive rule that undermined their rights. The regime at that time did not allow women to have any political and educational right. However, the increasing opportunities in the press gave women a chance to express their concerns and write about their oppressions. The government suppressed the chances of women to go to school and explore politics and economic opportunities when they rejected their demand for provision of education for young girls and women. The government claimed that women could only get education that prepared them to bear and raise children. However, they did not give up and they began building schools and participating in contributions to help make the constitution functional. Women lacked the basic education to help them achieve their dreams and help the society advance. Men and the government did not give them a chance to say anything and their chances of going into politics or participating in any social reforms were blocked by the domination of men in these sectors.
Differences between Amin, Badiya, and Iranian Magazines on Women Education
There are major differences in arguments given by Amin, Badiya, and Iranian magazines on the causes and ways of handling issues affecting women. Amin did not attack the Quran or the Islamic religion for the oppression of women, but focused on the dominance of men in the society and their role in preventing women from enjoying their rights. He is keen to point out that reforms required to change the status of women did not require total abandonment of culture, but only some aspects that required reforming (Qasim, 2000). He, for example, did not demand the total control of women, but only advocated for change in the education of women and criticized veiling of the whole body. He respected the patriarchal culture because he did not give alternatives for veiling and maintained the role of women as nurturers of their children and men. The changes he was advocating for was the good of the boy child, who would grow up with an intelligent mother who would pass her intellect to him. He reckoned that women were slaves to their husbands and this needed to change if the society was to liberate itself from backward traditional practices.
Badiya, on the other hand, demanded for total reforms on how the society held the rights of women, and she believed that education was the beginning needed to initiate changes that would help women become independent. She claimed that teachings from the Quran manipulated women and gave men the power to manipulate women. She was for total change using westernized means to achieve her demands. She did not believe in wearing of veils by women because she thought it prevented women from performing many tasks. Unlike Amin, she demanded for change in the treatment of women not for the sake of men, but for their own sake and liberation from slavery imposed on them by men. She was not wary of the cultural aspects of the people, but criticized it as a whole because she believed that it was against the prosperity of women. An example is provisions of culture preventing women from marrying men of their choice and getting a divorce whenever they wanted (Khater, 2010). This is a western way of doing things where a woman has the chance of meeting the man she is to marry in advance contrary to the practices where the woman was given off in marriage to a person she has never met or seen in her life. She believed that educating women would give them economic freedom, which is different from the opinion of Amin who wanted education for women to raise male leaders equipped with good educational background.
The excerpts from Iranian newspapers on the education of women and their participation in social and political reforms do not criticize Islam religion on their oppression, but the regime, which looks down upon women. Women advocate for education to help them change the future of their country and help their children build a better nation. Unlike Badiya, the excerpts do not advocate for changes in family units or criticize religious provisions for their oppression (Lockard, 2010). However, they believe that change can only be achieved if men and those in government would stop manipulating the rules to suit them and prevent women from their rights. Women are aware that their religion does not bar them from getting an education and becoming economically empowered.
Three sources handle the issues of family upbringing by exploring how one's background influences the country as a whole and the thinking of the person. Amin believes that educating women and giving them a chance to interact with other people will build their social knowledge and equip them with skills necessary to raise good leaders. The way a man treats his wife is the same way his son treats his wife when he gets married (Qasim, 2000). This will pass from one generation to the other and eventually the country risks elimination because of its backward practices. He reckons that the upbringing a child shapes the nation and empowers him or her to handle the challenges he will face. Badiya handles the issue of family upbringing in the context that boys are given the first priority in the family and they get the chance of going to school, while the girl remains at home with the mother performing domestic chores. This reduces chances of girls getting education, while the boy gets to explore his chances of prospering and becoming economically independent as the girls remain under control of the woman. This is the case in many families where the daughter has to bring water for her father and brothers to wash their hands while eating as the mother stands beside the father fanning him as he eats. Iranian excerpts illustrate the issues of family upbringing by telling how challenges girls face as they grow up affect the society and keep it backward. This is because girls will grow into ignorant women and they pass their ignorance to their children and the cycle continues.
The three sources handle the concept of education in a similar way by proving its importance in steering the country towards prosperity. The three sources explore in detail how educating the girl child will help the country as a whole by eliminating ignorance and helping the economy of the country. Amin explains in detail how an educated woman handles her children and increases the income of the country. This is the same as the excerpts where women believe that education will help the country liberate itself from backward political practices. The process of liberating the nation cannot happen with some people living in total ignorance of what happens around them (Lockard, 2010). Badiya believes that with sufficient education, women can do any job and earn their own money, hence become economically independent. Without education, the country continues with backward practices that plunge the country into more political and economic processes and keep women enslaved to oppressive husbands and the society.
The veil represents different things in the three sources. According to Amin, the veil acts as a constraint to the work a woman does and prevents her from performing some tasks well. This prevents her from exploring her abilities to perform different duties. Although he does not provide an alternative mode of dressing, he brings into light the challenges women face as they do their duties with the veil on. The veil can represent slavery within her own self where she cannot escape because of the boundaries created within her body. Badiya believes that the veil acts as a protection from eyes of men, but she is quick to point out that a woman has a right to choose whether she wants to wear the veil or not. The veil also acts as a chastity that helps young boys and girls from doing any sexual acts before marriage (Khater, 2010). The excerpts take a different stand on the veils and claim that it represents oppression and control over women by men.
According to Amin, marriage meant that a man had total control over the woman and some men even prohibited women from stepping outside the compound. She was to stay within her compound and had no right to do anything without the consent of her husband. The three sources have a similar take on marriage because all of them criticize how men can take another wife without the consent of the wife or divorce her whenever he feels like. The woman, on the other hand, had no right to choose a husband and had no say if he decided to take another wife. The wife could not divorce her husband if she was dissatisfied with him. Amin and Badiya were particularly against the way men mistreat their wives and the slavery associated with marriage. They say it is slavery because the woman cannot do anything to change her situation and lives her whole life for men around her.
Modern Life and Islamic Principles
Amin views life in a modern way and he is concerned with the enslavement of women in his country while other countries are embracing freedom for women and giving them a chance to explore different fields of their choice. He viewed modern life from a different perspective where he believed that women should have equal rights with men, especially in regards to marriage and education (Qasim, 2000). He believed that for Egypt to progress, the country had to focus on eliminating traditional constrains barring women from enjoying their natural rights. The Islam principles do not state that women should not have any education, but this was put into effect by traditional customs that give men absolute control over women. The only way to reconcile modern life and the principles guiding men was by admitting that the religion did not state anywhere that the woman was a man’s property and a woman’s empowerment meant good for the whole country. Badiya viewed modern life as a chance for women to get their freedom educationally and economically to free themselves from the clutches of men and tradition (Khater, 2010).
Islamic principles guiding different actions and practices in the country could be reconciled with modern life by giving women the chance to explore their talents and freedom. In this way women would have a chance to contribute to the family and the nation at large. Reconciling modern life and Islamic principles is not an easy task because they have very different views on life, but with sufficient education, a woman can then choose the values to guide her through her modern life while at the same time keeping her Islamic faith intact. Iranian women viewed modern life as a chance to get their freedom and save their country from barbaric political practices (Lockard, 2010). Women were keen on adapting to modern education that would enable them to get formal jobs and become independent. Islamic principles guiding their actions could be reconciled with modernization by embracing good aspects of modernization, like education and modern medicine that could help improve the economy. In this way both aspects of life work together to help the country develop and liberate women.
The fight against discrimination and slavery of women is not an easy one and the three sources show the challenges that women faced as they tried to take their rightful position in the society. Male dominance in the society and backward traditional practices hindered the efforts of women to liberate them and get their rights. Even though the Islamic religion provides natural rights for women and does not give men total control over them, tradition has made it difficult for women to exercise their rights. Education is the key focus of three sources with women advocating for their right to education. Amin believes that education will help liberate the country because ignorant women were agents of backwardness in the country. Badiya, on the other hand, believes that women should have a chance to make their own choices regarding marriage and education.
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