Empowerment of Women in the Arab World (Socio-Economic Aspects after the Arab Uprisings)

SUMAIYAH AHMED

Abstract


Empowerment of Women in the Arab World

(Socio-Economic Aspects after the Arab Uprisings)   

 

Abstract:

 

The 2002 eye-opening Arab Human Development Report underlined the development deficits in the Arab world which were originating from three deficits; namely the freedom deficit, women’s empowerment deficit, and the human capabilities/knowledge deficit. The report helped to reshape the development discourse in the region forcing the state institutions to introduce corrective measures to bridge the gaps. For example, the GCC States have shown a rapid economic growth but women largely remained excluded from economic activities. The story of their empowerment does not match with the history of their religion and culture which has remained more tolerant and accommodative for women’s labour force in the past. Khadija bint Khuwailid and Shifa bint Abdullah etc. are the famous examples from the early history of Islam when their business activities had employed many males and expanded many areas.

Opposed to this past, however, the modern business culture and finance sector has evolved mostly by excluding women from the sector. Islamic Banking and finance has been a growing sector that allowed Muslims to invest money in accordance with religious teachings and it was no different in traditionally allowing men to dominate this field. There are few exceptional women; Navine Loutfy (Egypt), Raja Teh Maimunah (Malaysia), Stella Cox (UK), Fozia Amanullah (Malaysia), Farmida Bi (UK), Sabeen Saleem (Pakistan), Shaikha Lubna Al-Qasimi (UAE) and Fatima Qasmi (UAE) are few among the heavy weighted names in the Islamic banking and finance sector who have crossed the milestones and set examples for women to progress in the economic sector in general and Islamic banking and finance sector in particular. But still, the general scenario is not allowing more women into the economic sphere or supporting women entrepreneurs.

As the current trend show, female participation in the labour force in many countries is still far behind of their European and many Asian counterparts. The average participation of women workforce in the Arab world is still 22 percent, less than European Union (51 percent), South Asia (29 percent) and Sub Sahara Countries (60 percent). Though Gulf States like Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain have a better record than the other Arab countries, these countries have also shown that their major employers are public institutions, not the private sectors.

Now the role of women in supporting the Arab uprisings and participating in protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and other Arab countries show the growing discontent among the women and their aspirations to access their rights remained unfulfilled. From the vantage point of the Arab uprising, the Arab women’s struggle for justice and dignity go through their equal and justified participation in economic activities.

This paper attempts to problematize how the Arab women’s aspirations for empowerment face economic challenges and how their exclusion from economic activities remains a major source of discontent among the women. This will also partly deal with factors hindering women’s inclusion in the economic sphere, ranging from patriarchal, tribal and cultural or religious factors. These questions will further help to understand the issues shaping the identity of modern Muslim women in the Arab and Islamic world, generally stereotyped by the western world.

Key Words: Arab Human Development Report, Women Empowerment, Sustainable Development, Equality and Identity

About the Author: Dr. Sumaiyah Ahmed is Assistant Professor in the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, India. She wrote her doctoral thesis at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on Education and Empowerment of Women in the Arab world. She has presented and published her papers in many national and international journals and seminars.


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