NEW DELHI, India, December 14th (IPS) – Decades of aggressive efforts to create equal opportunities for women, break the glass ceiling, and build a more inclusive society only fail when key stakeholders refuse to recognize discriminatory laws – cultural and religious Establishments that continue to jeopardize the advancement of the female workforce.
Yousra Imran The book “Hijab and Red Lipstick” by the British-Egyptian writer Yousra Imran gives a sharp insight into the life of women in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sara, the protagonist in the book, is torn between her father’s conservative interpretation of Islam, his need to control it and protect it from everything he calls “haram”, a term used in Islam for ” forbidden “, and their desperate pursuit of freedom from life under the guardianship system.
“The current challenge for women in the Gulf and in some Middle Eastern countries is that, despite modernization, women are still considered minors if they are unmarried women. If they marry, they will no longer legally be under the tutelage of a father or a brother brother of their husband’s guardianship.
“Women just want their own agency – the ability to make decisions without needing a written permission letter or an objection letter from a male guardian,” Yousra Imran told IPS. She is the author of the book Hijab and Red Lipstick.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG), which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, remains a challenge in many parts of the world.
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) “women in the Arab world are confronted with high barriers to entry into the labor market and are at risk of unemployment than men.”
The latest Policy Brief from the United Nations on the effects of Covid-19 on women states: “The coronavirus outbreak is exacerbating existing inequalities for women and girls in all areas – from health and economy to security and social protection. The pandemic has also increased violence against women and girls – particularly domestic violence, which has intensified. ”
Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is a critical accelerator for the sustainable development goals. Sexual violence and exploitation, sharing of unpaid care, local housework, and discrimination in public office remain major obstacles to the progress of the SDGs, according to UNDP.
It is important for the Middle East region to recognize women’s rights as a human right and to build an ecosystem that does not lead to a tightening of the administrative procedures against women and women’s rights defenders in the country.
In 2016, 14,000 Saudi women made a historic attempt when they submitted a petition to the government calling for an end to the country’s male guardianship system. The women in Saudi Arabia refused to be treated as “second class citizens” and demanded to be treated as “full citizens”.
It took almost three years for the Saudi authorities to announce reforms to the discriminatory guardianship system for men.
Among other things, women could travel without the permission of a male guardian, apply for and receive a passport over the age of 21, register a marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. While these efforts were welcomed, they were far from abolishing the guardianship system. Women still cannot marry or give consent to their children to marry without a parent or guardian. Women cannot leave prison, abandon the domestic violence home, or pass citizenship to their children without their guardian’s permission.
“There have been some improvements in the last few years,” says Yousra. Women in Saudi Arabia will get the right to drive and greater emancipation of women in leadership positions and in the workforce in the Gulf. However, the legal system itself still needs to be addressed and the laws need to be changed, she says.
The move towards greater freedom for women in Saudi Arabia was undermined and lost when dozens of activists were arrested and arrested immediately after the driving ban was lifted, ironically in part for demanding these very reforms. Some who are still in prisons fighting for their freedom.
All of these factors may continue to violate Saudi Arabia’s human rights commitments and its inability to achieve the 2030 vision of women – half of the country’s population – being classified as “great capital”.
While the UAE has taken several steps to revise some of its strictest Islamic laws and strengthen women’s rights, questions still remain about its obligations under international human rights law and women’s equality.
Qatar has also raised questions about obligations related to women’s rights as family laws continue to discriminate against women, including the difficulty for women to get divorced, protection from violence, including within the family. Human rights organizations have consistently urged Qatar to end the criminalization of sex outside of marriage and the aggressive enforcement of “love crimes”.
The failure to continuously recognize regions that severely restrict freedom of expression and the activities of civil society and violations by the security forces in the context of criminal justice, including torture and other ill-treatment, particularly against their wives, continue.
Despite significant advances in paper reforms to the lives of Arab women over the years, the road ahead is long, complex and far from reaching Goal 5 and Vision 2030 for Sustainable Development .
Sania Farooqui is a journalist and filmmaker from New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show, where she regularly interviews Muslim women from around the world on various topics.
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