Religion and culture are so instrumental to the point of shaping the very political institutions within a subject nation. In the Middle East, countries are visibly homogeneous in terms of religion and language. It, therefore, makes generalization and cross-sectional study feasible. The stereotyped position of a woman in these countries continues to be questionable. The current research design will attempt to profile abuses of women and where possible correlate them with low education levels among such women.
While the rest of the world continues to make significant progress in increasing women rights, the Middle East lags behind. Women development is impeded by societal norms that relegate women to subordinate status. Governments remain reluctant in addressing inequalities for women through legislation. In addition, the governments within these areas actively engage in policies of repression, “honor” killings persist and laws against marital rape. Perhaps in a bid to entrench the continued frustration and suffocation of women rights, educational and political institutions practice segregation and discrimination based on gender (Wilcke & Human Rights Watch, 2010).
It suffices to concur that the blatant violation of women rights is a subset of the poor human freedom human rights record of Middle East region when juxtaposed with the rest of the world. According to the 2010 report by Freedom House, 88% of the population in Middle East and North Africa regions lives in countries labeled as “Not Free”. Lack of independent judiciary, democratic institutions and freedom of association and assembly slows down improvements for women. Even though little progress on women rights has been made in Middle East, the success is dismissive considering the region has set bar so low for women rights. In Kuwait, women are now eligible for contest and vote. In Bahrain, women are now able to secure a passport without male approval. Such gains above have contributed to the improvement of the quality of lives of women in the mentioned countries (Clancy-Smith & Smith, 2013).
Significance of the Study
The study is intended to help find a high correlation between violation of women rights and low literacy levels among the affected women.
The research is meant to show the intricate fastening of the extreme religiousness and total disregard of human rights especially when such rights are not part of the tenets of the subject religion.
The study is aimed at demonstrating the vicious cycle of women rights abuse through segregation and discrimination at educational and political institutions, the marriage institution and the judicial institutions. The ultimate result is ‘nurturing’ a woman that satisfies male hegemony at the expense of a woman’s future and ambitions.
In order to illustrate the continued disregard of women rights, we shall explore condensed highlights of Yemen and other select Middle East countries to explain how the violation of rights continues unabated. Women in Yemen do not have access to their full social, economic and cultural rights. Despite significant effort and progress made in freedoms for women, they still encounter challenges in exercising their full civil and political rights. In government and labor fields, women are significantly underrepresented with only 8.2 percent of women reporting paid employment (Peters, 2012). The state of Yemen lacks adequate mechanisms to enforce mandatory education law. Consequently, many families deny their daughters the right to access education for economic and cultural reasons. A significant percentage of rural households marry off their daughters at an early age. Statistically, the gender inequality persisted in 2002 with female literacy level at only 28.5 percent against 69.5% percent rate of male literacy (Bowen & Early, 2002).
Despite the above hostile environment, women have registered success in the face of high resistance from governments and clergy. In Jordan, women’s rights advocates spent years calling for protections against gender-based violence. The blatant and continued disregard of women rights is anchored in religious, political and cultural instruments which make disabling the cycle of abuse almost impossible. For instance, the Syrian government considered legislation aimed at extending religious influence over family law until an outcry by women’s rights organizations forced the state to abandon the draconian proposal. Governments in the Middle East must take the prerogative to initiate policies and legislation that enhance women rights and freedoms. It is compelling to concur that given space, most governments in the Middle East region will pursue male hegemony under the pretext of religion and cultural practices (Amnesty International, 2008).
Aims and Objectives of the Study
The studies will show how violation of women rights contributes to low literacy levels among women in the Middle East. Consequently, it becomes a vicious cycle as less educated womenfolk cannot work in educational, political and legal institutions. The above implies men are at the liberty to institutionalize discrimination of women.
Secondly, the research is intended to show how religion and culture are used as instruments to perpetuate abuse of women rights.
Thirdly, the study aims to highlight how the volatile peace in Middle East further worsens the situation with respect to the violation of women rights.
The research also suggests way forward for the expansion of women’s freedoms and rights within the Middle East context.
Human Rights Watch conducted an interview from 2012 to 2013 (Human Rights Watch, 2014). For areas experiencing turmoil such as Syria, the insurgents have imposed a dress code requiring women to cover themselves from head to foot by wearing hijab and abaya. In some areas, women are forbidden to style their hair or visit salons. Such abuse of female freedoms restricts further the economic activities women can engage in to earn livelihoods. Most salon business is dominated by womenfolk (Cole, 2014). Limiting salon business through banning styling of hair denies such women a chance to participate in income generating activities. Extremist groups’ sensitivity to women dress code limits women movement including going to school. Women’s movement as reported by a total of 14 men and women to Human Rights Watch was significantly restricted (Human Rights Watch, 2014). Women were required to seek the company of a male relative when appearing in public. The first-hand interviews conducted add confidence in the survey by Human Rights Watch on women rights violation in Syria. Women in Syria are now forbidden from driving by the extremist groups. Furthermore, women without a hijab are not allowed to board a taxi (Human Rights Watch, 2014).
For Saudi Arabia, a report by Amnesty International is reviewed to highlight the tribulations of being a woman in Middle East. The report illustrates that women are discriminated by custom and law in this nation. The state sanctions some of the discriminatory customs and social taboos. When women staged a protest against customary ban in 1990 on women drivers, the Interior Ministry legalized the restriction on women to drive. The usual ban became now law as a result of women protesting against it. Thus, religion was used as a pretext to anchor male control and dominance over women’s freedoms and rights (Amnesty International, 2008). In-depth analysis and study of the systematic abuse of women, rights, are explored in Amnesty International reports on various nations within the Middle East region.
The Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia highlights that discrimination against women is entrenched in laws and interpretation of Islamic teachings. Some clauses of Saudi Arabia laws explicitly allow for the expulsion of women from certain jobs. Women are denied the right to choose as contained in the Labor Code. Women are forbidden to work in “hazardous” areas such as power-related machinery, quarries and mines among others (Makdisi et al., 2014). Women are disposed of as the architects of the Saudi law purport, to take up womanly jobs such as nursing, teaching, and the medical profession. Analyzing the above reality implies that women’s scope of education is predetermined, and they have to crowd in particular ‘womanly’ professions. Families will, therefore, inherently ‘nurture’ their daughters to pursue “acceptable” jobs at school. It qualifies to argue that the government by propagating and abating various discrimination norms against women in education and labor platforms, the state has restricted women’s employment from childhood (Amnesty International, 2008).
The family law as practiced in Saudi Arabia gives men the freedom to divorce a woman instantly. Women wishing to divorce, on the other hand, must persuade the court that stated “causes” for divorce has been met. Even when women seek legal redress they are expected by custom to do so via a male relative. The state of the family law in Saudi Arabia thus denies women the peace of mind when they enter marriage institution. Although women are allowed to pursue studies while married, the reality of instant divorce forces them to please their husbands at the expense of exercising their freedoms and choices (Deif & Human Rights Watch, 2008).
Freedom of movement of women is restricted as women by the Saudi Arabian society invoking fatwa. Fatawa dictates the limits of women movement. Women are forbidden to leave the country unless by express permission of a male relative. Women seeking studies beyond Saudi Arabia must, therefore, wait for the male-written permission. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to go out in public without male company. A female student who is seeking to have a discussion or retreat with fellow women is denied that chance (Cotran, Yamani & University of London, 2000).
The Saudi Arabia culture treats a woman as a private property. A husband can, therefore, prevent his wife from taking exams. Men can invoke tradition to imprison daughters or wives. The limiting of a woman’s freedom of movement makes it harder for her to access protection mechanisms and seek redress in cases of human rights abuse (Peters, 2012).
Saudi Arabia executes people for apostasy and certain consensual sexual offenses. The complexity of the above is that Islam as interpreted in Saudi Arabia gives men the leeway to determine for women what is ‘good’ for them (Clancy-Smith & Smith, 2013). Women are, therefore, condemned to be Muslims and to practice Islam. If a female rejects Islam so as to embrace another culture that allows her more freedoms, she will have signed her death sentence. Mostly, a woman’s position as carved by men under the pretexts of tradition and custom is sealed. Therefore, women in Saudi Arabia gravitate towards living under abuse of their rights than stand up (Deif & Human Rights Watch, 2008).
In Yemen, girls cannot be educated by a male teacher. The conservative society of Yemen forbids women attending mixed schools. Girls are, therefore, forced to compete with the few available girls schools (Human Rights Watch, 2014).
In Jordan, a highly conservative and traditional society, girls are pressurized into early marriages. Even though the married girls can further their education, many of them tends to drop out once they bear children (Human Rights Watch, 2014).
The widespread violation of women rights in Middle East region continues to draw the ire of the world but with little policy change from the local governments. Some of the violation of human rights on women border on the absurd such as sentences of flogging and stoning to death of women deemed “immoral”. Women are not spared male hegemony even in conflict times. The insurgents in Syria have imposed the abaya and hijab as dress code for women. Women’s movement is significantly restricted in Middle East region with requirement for selected male company. Women have their careers, schools and teachers chosen for them.
Among other abuses than the crystallized ones above, women have been condemned to a vicious cycle of human rights abuse. The society in the Middle East restricts the form of education and jobs women can get, as such women are technically denied presence in legal and political institutions. At home and in public places, religion and culture are invoked to contain them to inferiority. Attempts to renounce their Muslim faith will attract a death penalty. As things stand, a bar to education for women has been set by men in Middle East region.