By Yara al-Wazir
29 August 2017
The region is seeing a radical shift in the legal precedence of women’s rights, but is struggle to materialize this into a shift in social values. Between 70 to 75 percent of men support the notion that a woman’s core job role is to care for the household and the children. Similarly, 50 percent of women share the same belief.
Female economic participation in the region is one of the lowest in the world, and rates of physical domestic violence are as high as 45 percent in some countries, with emotional violence and manipulation at a staggering 80 percent, based on a recent report by UN Women.
Over the past few years, countries have focused their efforts on changing laws that make headlines, particularly focusing on laws relating to rape and honour killings. Lebanon has recently joined its neighbour Jordan in abolishing a draconian law inherited from colonial rule that allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution if he married his victim.
In Tunisia, there are calls for the inheritance laws to be revised in order to secure women an equal stake in inheritance, instead of the current law, which grants women 50 per cent of what the man inherits.
In Saudi Arabia, women now have the right to work without obtaining “permission” from their male guardian. The tides are shifting; the laws are changing, and women’s rights groups, across the region and internationally, are rejoicing in the changes.
However, these changes must not be a method to pacify international human rights organizations or international politicians – they must be implemented.
While it is important to repeal laws that protect rapists and domestic abusers, it is equally important to address issues that are faced by over 50 percent of the female population, which include day-to-day gender stereotypes, domestic abuse, and their impact on female economic participation.
The legal changes that have happened are welcome and encouraging however it is perhaps more important for culture to evolve at the same speed as the laws. Cultural values are the biggest impediment to the advancement of women’s rights right now, not the law.
Men Must Lead By Example
Perhaps the most alarming part of the research is that attitudes in younger men toward gender equality tend to be worse than the older generation in 75 percent of the countries surveyed.
Men with greater wealth, higher education, and whose fathers carried out traditionally feminine household tasks, are more likely to hold greater gender-equitable attitudes. This means that men must lead by example by carrying out a greater proportion of household tasks, caring for the children, and not only “allowing” their female counterparts to work, but encouraging it.
There is no doubt that the way my late father encouraged me, supported me, and helped me open doors has impacted the way my older brother feels about a woman’s role in society. Female empowerment is born in the rooms of parliament, but does not grow or flourish until it is embedded society.
The role of parents is to inspire their children to do their absolute best, which includes both inside their future family homes’ and in their society. The region can pass all the laws that it wants to, but until it pays equal attention to informing society why these changes are required, then the region will not be able to see the full extent of women’s potential.
It is imperative that governments and women’s rights organizations realize that the biggest threat to female economic participation and female freedom lies at the root of patriarchy: the men who make up half the population.
Policy makers must work hand-in-hand with education ministers in order to educate the public into realizing that female empowerment is not a threat to men. This begins in schools, by updating textbooks to show both men and women participating in household chores.
Informing the public is extended to having role models, both male and female, who talk about the significance of empowerment and explain the basics: an empowered woman is not a threat to a man, rather an aider in further empowerment of the household.
Queen Rania of Jordan is a prominent speaker on this topic, other spouses of the region’s leaders must also follow suit.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories.