Gender Inequality in Middle East

1 January 2017

Gender inequality has always been a prevailing issue that affects countries all over the world. It is not limited to a specific country, or a region. Yet, in Middle Eastern countries, gender discrimination is often so deeply entrenched in the culture that it is seen as the norm. In the 2010 Freedom House report on Middle Eastern women’s rights, Saudi Arabia was ranked the lowest (Doumato, 2010). As women, they face prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis and are often relegated to a second-class citizen.

Hence, in this report, I will be covering the discrimination faced by women in Saudi Arabia with regards to the following issues, social and marriage. 1. First Issue- Social As a Muslim dominated country, much of the country’s laws are heavily influenced by Shari’a- Islamic laws. (Wikipedia, 2010). It is the existence of such laws that heavily restricted the movement and freedom of women throughout the country. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving in major cities and towns. (Doumato, 2010) They are also discouraged from using public transports which force most of them to employ private drivers.

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As this is both costly and impractical, most women actually refrain from venturing out of their houses without a male guardian. Sex segregation is also widely practiced to minimize social interaction between genders. In fact, there are religious police tasked to enforce dress codes, sex segregation and observance of prayer. (Wikipedia, 2010) This strict observation of sex segregation severely limits the activities of women as they are prevented from interacting with non related males. In 2008, there was a case of an American woman being arrested by the religious police for sitting with a male colleague at Starbucks.

She was thrown into jail, stripped-searched and forced to sign false confessions before being released. (Verma, 2008) In another controversial case in 2006, a girl who was gang raped was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 200 lashes for being in a state of “khalwa” – violation of sex segregation (Setrakian, 2007). Although she was later pardoned by the King, the fact that a rape victim was to be further punished just because she was with an unrelated male during the time of the incident was shocking enough. 1. 1Analysis

These 2 cases were highlighted because they showed the discrimination faced by women with regards to sex segregation. It is evident that the legal system in Saudi Arabia openly condones such acts of discrimination against women. The current legal system and policies severely limit women’s freedom and increase their reliance on male guardians. This can lead to further discrimination as males continue to dominate legally over women which will only spiral into a vicious cycle. The hard handed stance adopted by the religious police and by virtue, the government may have dire consequences.

Arresting a foreigner for violation of their own cultural norms, as in the case of the American women, may cause a potential backlash from the foreigner’s country. The tourism industry might suffer as foreigners avoid the country due to safety concerns. This will have an adverse effect on their economy and global reputation in the long term. 2. Second Issue- Marriage As mentioned earlier, the country’s strict interpretations of Shari’a laws had shaped its legal system and constitution. Family laws in Saudi Arabia favour the males.

A man is allowed to practice polygamy, the right to divorce at will, gain the custody of the child in the event of a divorce. (Wikipedia, 2010). None of which applies to women. For most women in the nation, they lack the freedom to choose their own marriage partners. Despite a ban on forced marriage in 2005, most of the marriages are still decided by the parents and a large number of women are married off even before they hit 18. This is seen in the case of Shareefa, who was married off to an 80 year old man by her father in exchange for money when she was 10.

She was then divorced by her husband a few days after the marriage without her knowledge and abandoned 6 months later in the streets. (Hawar, 2010) Even after getting married, some women still face domestic violence, in the form of physical abuse, forced confinement and even spousal rape. (Doumato, 2010) 2. 1Analysis Early and forced marriages of these Saudi Arabic women might lead to a high maternal mortality rate. This can lead to skewed demographics as the proportion of females decrease drastically and fewer women give birth to replace themselves.

In addition, early marriages deprived these women of a normal childhood, education and freedom. Generations of women will end up without a formal education and means to fend for themselves which will make them more reliant on men. Once married, full obedience is expected out of them and they face domestic abuse for behaving otherwise. Yet, there are no exact statistics of domestic violence due to the refusal of these women to report their cases to relevant authorities. They fear speaking up and suffer the consequences of damaging their family honour. These women have nowhere to turn to.

The lack of a law criminalizing violence against women also contributes to such cases. The fact that they could get away with abusing their spouses, make it easier for the penetrators which result in the widespread occurrence of domestic abuse. 3. Conclusion In conclusion, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia remain a stark contrast to many of its neighbouring counterparts. While notable changes are being slowly implemented to reduce the chasm between genders, it is still not sufficient or fast enough as the world makes huge strides in the empowerment of women.

Gender inequality has long taken roots in the Constitution and society, Saudi Arabia may face dire consequences in the future if it is not rectified in time. Although complete gender equality might be impossible due to biological differences between genders, discrimination against women should be at the very least, eradicated. It is paramount to note that eradicating gender discrimination is not to prove the fairer sex but rather to return women their due rights and dignity.

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Gender Inequality in Middle East. (2017, Jan 19). Retrieved March 23, 2019, from
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