Archive

Posts Tagged ‘gender equality’

Saudi women earn inheritance rights

The Saudi Justice Ministry says people who deprive women of inheritance may face imprisonment, an important shift that conflicts with the religiously rigid, patriarchal majority Salafi society.

According to ArabNews.com, denying women inheritance was more common among tribes. But in the Wahhabi-influence nation, the more fundamentalist customary rather than textual implementation of Islam prevails. Therefore, there is reason to believe this dynamic is more widespread than what ArabNews is letting on, even if it occurs discreetly.

The measure in part addresses a 2008 United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women report, which suggested codifying into law equal gender rights for inheritance and a host of other issues.

From the report:

concept of male guardianship over women (mehrem), although it may not be legally prescribed, seems to be widely accepted; it severely limits women’s exercise of their rights under the Convention, in particular with regard to their legal capacity and in relation to issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, and the choice of residency, education and employment.

In the section of the Qur’an that discusses mahram, there is no mention of male supremacy over women. This is the crux of the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — much of it is founded on customs that existed during the time of Mohammed. For comparison, and as I have said before, the United States would be considered a backwards place if this majority Christian nation based civil society on the customs at the time Jesus walked the earth.

In fact, the Qur’an precedes a section on mahram for women with equally moralistic instruction for men in their dealings with the opposite sex.

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:30)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss. (24:31)

Clearly, the verse regarding women is more restrictive — such was society at the time. But nowhere does it mention that men have supremacy over women. So where does this interpretation come from? Fundamentalism, whether it’s Christian or Islamic, is rooted not in text but in an idea that the people interpreting that text today know what the prophets wanted better than anyone else does. And because of their immovable devotion to the faith, they are willing to be loud and use whatever force or tactics necessary to impress their views.

There is a sense of male supremacy in the Qur’an, that is for sure. But that’s only because it was written during a time when women were largely considered temptresses and second-class citizens. Those times need to change — 1,400 years is too long.

Saudi women drivers still a hot issue

June 11, 2011 2 comments

Crossroads Arabia highlighted an opinion piece that originally appeared in Arab News about the Saudi government’s refusal to hear arguments allowing women to drive. And despite the Shoura Council’s call for women’s suffrage in local elections, it allegedly repeatedly denies requests for women to take the wheel.

Again, this is a classic example of a minority religious belief exerting disproportionate power over a country’s political machinery. It has happened in Saudi Arabia and it has happened in the United States — this is not uncommon around the world. In fact, Israel institutionalized disproportionate religious influence at the government level in order to get ultra-orthodox Jews on board with the Zionist movement and formation of Israel. Under that agreement, the state agreed to keep all state-run facilities kosher and permitted the rabbinate to set the standards for marriage and citizenship. Those institutions continue today despite immense resentment from Israel’s mostly secular population.

But as I noted last week, many people have interpreted the Qur’an through custom rather than text. In this customary interpretation, women are subordinated to men in society. Apparently the Shoura Council believes voting is a right but that driving is a privilege and can therefore be denied to certain groups of people that may be considered impure in some way.

It must be stressed, however, that this is a minority view. Islamic academics who study the Qur’an have continuously noted that interpretations denying rights to women are not stated in text:

Muhammad Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, a Saudi scholar, said that the ball was now in the court of the political leadership since the issue was political rather than religious.  “Islamic teachings, which did not prevent women from mounting camels and horses, would not forbid them from driving cars,” he wrote.

It’s another classic example of a loud, zealous religious minority with a strong hold on a nation’s political and social fabric. It’s important for Americans to understand this is indeed a minority. If the tides of revolution are truly mounting, then those minority groups could be swept in the undertow.

UAE opens more housing for women

June 6, 2011 2 comments

The United Arab Emirates will expand housing opportunities for women under an amendment to the gulf nation’s housing code, bringing the nation more in line with textual rather than customary interpretation of the Qur’an.

Several groups of women who previously could not own a home in the UAE will now have the chance. Those groups include Emirati widows with children, divorced wives with children, single women without parents, unmarried women 30 years or older with deceased parents and Emirati women married to non-Emiratis.

Many people may (incorrectly) think that Islam does not allow women to own property. That is not the case, as the Qur’an states: women “shall be legally entitled to their share” (Qur’an 4:7) and that “to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn.” Take it for what you will, but to me that seems like the right to property.

What has happened in many Arab nations with strong Islamic faith an emphasis of Islam based on custom rather than religious text. Those interpretations call for a more patriarchal society. To that point, if Christian nations were to abide by the customs that existed during Biblical times, those standards on women’s rights would not be much different.

The United Nations Human Development Index ranks the UAE 32nd in the world, making it the second best Middle East nation behind Israel. But the UAE’s gender inequality ranking is 47th, meaning there is certainly room for improvement.

Housing is one of the easiest ways to bridge the UAE’s gender inequality gap. After all, UAE women are clearly going to school, as a 2005 report showed 65 percent of the university students in that country were female. But just 15 percent of the workforce was female, which I suppose is not all that surprising in the Middle East but still shows some inherent discrimination against women in the workforce.

The UAE is not at risk for the types of revolution that has spread throughout the Arab world. But the government’s decision to open up housing to what are considered a taboo class in customary Islam — single women and single mothers — shows the UAE’s relative progressivism in that region.

%d bloggers like this: