In the broad sense, gender is viewed as a socio-historical factor in terms of acrimonious discussion that arises around issues concerning female discrimination in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Within gender studies, the problem is handled through the prism of the attitudinal component based on certain values and beliefs and other issues related to the legal doctrines. By this, one means particular patriarchal values due to the socialization experience and discriminatory nature of the situation in the Middle East by the means of criminal code that is applied to women. Therefore, women are placed in a highly disadvantageous position on the social arena because of those two factors of influence.
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Studies of the movements for women’s rights and early feminist convictions are mainly focused on the problem in the Middle East. The emergence of Islam in the area presupposes the constant patriarchal attitudes and certain religious traditions which create the prognosticating function in consciousness dealing with political, cultural and economic status of women that is not equal to that of men. Gender equality is a result of the distinct process of economic growth and improved societal development. On the contrary, the countries that are representatives of the Middle East serve as samples of the greatest gender gap. Male dominance is preserved in terms of the patriarchal system in accordance with women’s belonging to a particular class, caste or ethnicity that is determined by all spheres of female social existence, starting from families, schools and other possible institutions for women within the frames of deeply rooted traditions based on religious and societal issues. Thus, female representatives of the Middle East should have adopted various strategies in order to resist the prevailing male power (Kazemi).
Women of those regions tend to be thrown into a dilemma of choosing between the home and workplace. Nonetheless, it is considered to be lofty promises of government officials, who are males, of the implementation of gender equality and justice on the social arena. The restrictions in terms of women’s daily behavior provoke them for a sort of rebellion. For instance, “the Iranian women have been able to make some gains and improve incrementally their collective lot” (El-Naggar). These achievements are also driven by the critical factors, namely because of the Iran-Iraq war or death of Ayatollah Khomeini which served as an explanation of women’s organized activism. From “the flower that attracts a bee to make honey” a woman turned into a defender of her land and people with the weapon in her hands and the absolute fearlessness (El-Naggar). According to the viewpoint of Osama Abou Salama, a professor of botany at Cairo University and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, women are emotional and may be good wives and mothers, but never rulers or leaders. It is seen as a fairly clear fact that this stereotypical perception of a woman from the male perspective may be changed due to climatic circumstances.
Gender role of females is examined by scholars and scientists through the prism of personal status that basically is being discriminated in the fields of marriage, divorce, inheritance and some other rights concerning home and house holding. The inheritance question presents the violation of rights in terms of the fact that a female representative as the potential owner of inheritance from her parents possesses only the half of that in comparison with her male sibling. Divorces are freely maintained by men while women’s rights are restricted in this sense. Moreover, in the Middle East female polygamy the situation when men are allowed to obtain plural marriage does not even exist.(Kazemi).
Social institution of family is a core element of Muslim societies that predetermine unique and the only possible gender role of a woman in being a wife and a mother. Women’s maternal role is considered to be of natural order and their responsibilities lay in the privacy of the home, and it is men’s prerogative to be involved in the public sphere. “It is women’s role to support men in their position of higher authority through altruism and self-sacrifice” (Moghadam). The idea is clear that central topics arisen for debates on gender roles are mainly marriage and family that are the main constraints to social reproduction. Therefore, in the Middle East, a woman from the male perspective is perceived as a wife and mother, and a man obtains the traits of the undisputable authority in their relations and the active participant in the public sphere of life.
According to the stand point of the Iranian female writer Fereshteh Hashemi, women endure their biologically based responsibilities of procreation a future generation, they are created to be free to engage themselves in prophetic actions and, thus, they are deprived of unnecessary economic burden. In objection to this ‘idealistic’ devotion to husband and family, and the idea of rearing a child, one may exemplify the Iran-Iraq war effects when a large figure of Afghan women was widowed. Consequently, the question of gender role equality is put into discussion. The ideology of being a wife and mother and bringing piece in the prophetical mind tends to be a sort of ambiguous. Nevertheless, in the Middle East contemporary patriarchal predominance lies in deep convictions that a woman is subordinated by man’s patronage, is the ruler of private sphere of household and holds no official positions of economic, political or military power (Moghadam).
Besides discriminatory factors, in many Middle countries petty but important gains are observed. To some extent, women’s rights are progressing and what seemed to be unthinkable and purely impossible over the past several decades is being implemented in a slow tempo now. For instance, Saudi Arabia is traditionally associated with the strict segregation in terms of gender roles concerning the most spheres of public life. Contemporary situation proves to be shown in a slightly more positive way. In November, 2005 women “were allowed to vote in elections for the board of the Jidda Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the first time” (Maier). Another sample pertains to women’s role in Morocco where a personal-status code was accepted that gives female part more rights in marriage institution and divorce procedure. In Afghanistan, women gained a little victory in political sphere, i.e. in the lower house there is one third of women representatives and in the upper house - twenty five percent. Though, those are vivid samples of progressions in gender discrimination field, the Middle Eastern countries female position on the legal, political or public arena still needs a lot of efforts to reach the desired result.
The existing injustice and inequality between the gender roles land its deep roots into the historical establishment of certain patterns of behavior. Thus, traditionally, Muslim women in the Middle East possessed land, and within the time shift in 19th century, Westerners insisted on women’s wearing veils. While appearing modern, Turkish women are not forced to obtain this tradition, though, according to the insistence of the first president of the Turkish republic Atatürk, women remained under the strict patriarchal system. Another proof of the discrimination towards women is shown by Syria's Central Bureau of Statistics, which states that “in 2007 women were the primary breadwinners in 11 percent of households”. Nevertheless, statistics shows that only “14 percent of women aged 15 to 65 held jobs, and accounted for 16 percent of the workforce” (Twair & Twair).
In a nutshell, it is obvious that women in the Middle East world are at the core of the fighting for their rights in terms of achieving equality and tolerant attitude they undoubtedly deserve. “What is apparent is that we need new voices for change” (Jenkins).
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