The Tale of Two Feminine Worlds

Lila Abu Lughod, in her previous stints emerged as a leading voice defining Islamic feminism. Her work through the Bedouins of Egypt showcased the multiple forms of resistance women in the veiled world have taken up in order to establish their identity. Her experiences and nuance understanding of women’s day-to-day lives, differences in struggles as compared to the rest of the world and society gave the feminism a new perspective, a new life in Islamic Feminism. This strand of feminism has also helped in a better region-specific understanding of women and their lives across Middle Eastern countries.

Most of this region is characterized by war, suppression of fundamental human rights and especially brutal violence and suppression against women. Countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq have been widely criticized for their compulsions which have led to curtailment of female rights. On the other hand, the region also presents us with exemplary countries such as UAE which serve their women citizens with rights and freedoms, better than most developed Western nations. This article looks at the possibilities of women liberation and the paradoxes there within coming out of Middle East, primarily the contrast between Iran and UAE.

Iran – The continued Oppression

Iran’s history of women rights is a rather complicated saga. Up until the government led by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iranwomen liberation was on a moderate scale. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution propagated by Ayatollah Khomeini ushered in a dictatorship which would censor every aspect of women’s lives. The Shia regime rolled back the freedoms women were guaranteed under the previous regimes.

Women in Iran have been confined to their private spheres. Their involvement in economic workforce remains to be one of the lowest worldwide. The norms governing their marriage and family rights are under patriarchal laws which gives almost negligible chance for judicial remedy. In addition, the Khomeini led government has, and continues to make hijab a compulsion. Laws have been designed and implemented to ensure compliance. In the past, women have faced brutal clampdown and police violence for revolting.

The unfounded claims to protect women and their characters is being driven by inhuman laws which have placed them to be second grade citizens in their own country. The identity of an Iranian women can be defined in terms of the extent of patriarchy she has been subjected to.

UAE – A complete Opposite

On the other hand, the small nation of UAE has completely different picture to offer. UAE leads the Middle East in women literacy, freedom of jobs, right to vote and equality before the law. The nation, according to its 2005 census, has a remarkable percentage of female citizen – almost half the population.

Women in UAE form a major part of their workforce. The country has seen an emergence of women working in private sectors and entrepreneurs. According to a WAM report 2015 the small nation has seen almost 21,000 female employers. In addition to this, UAE also aims to be among the top 25 nations which lead world in women empowerment.

The country has devised its social factors in accordance to the idea that laws should ideally favour all. What puts UAE in a different league as compared to other gulf nations is the absence of compulsory laws which in other areas have defined women identity over centuries.

Why this stark difference?

The above highlights are not to suggest that UAE is free of patriarchal mindset. The country’s low rate of women in leadership position signals towards underlying beliefs questioning the ability of female leaders. However, even after these two gulf countries in the same region have set pace two starkly different futures for their women. Both countries have Islam as their official religion. The difference stands that Iran follows the complete Shia rule whereas UAE has majority Sunni population. Apart from these economic conditions for UAE favor its ability to invest in infrastructure and pushes it to ensure a learned, educated and gender equal workforce. In contrast Iran remains as one of the few countries in the world which continues to face major roadblocks and sanctions from countries such as USA.

Another reason for such differential realities lies in the aspect of political stability. Iran’s political past has turmoil written all over it. Soon after Islamic Revolution, Iranian women and men revolted against suppression and denial of basic human rights. As for UAE, the country has seen a fairly responsible state of affairs as compared to the rest of the region. The discussion around women’s rights can only be initiated and actions can be taken in stable societies.

Lastly, UAE has been able to ensure and continues to work towards achieving a healthy and functional balance between modernity and religion. Iran’s conservative leadership associates’ women character, identity and abilities to be governed only in the name of their religious preaching.

The dichotomy of modernity versus traditionalism is the root cause for women in gulf region living under such opposing laws and governments. The nature of the government has little to no effect as compared to the mindset and desire to treat every citizen equally irrespective of their gender.