Genderandsexrolesof womenin theMiddle East
Acrosstheglobe,womenhavemadeagreatleap in freeingthemselves from thechainsof discriminationandmaledominance. Mostconstitutionshavebeenforgedto caterfortheequalityof menandwomenin thepublicarena.Thesuccessof theselawsis attributable to thefactthatmostof them havean inclinationto theculturalandreligiousstands.However,theMiddle East is an outlyingregionwith its womenstilllaggingbehindin inequalityandbeingtiedto religiousandgenderroles.One of thedistinguishingfeaturesof thelawsthat governtheMiddle East is thattheyare fullycompliantwith theIslamic law.Religionandthestatein thesecountriesis one andthesamething.Forthisreason,themaledominance findsa strongpropin theconstitution.
Mostscholarsin theMuslim worldcriticizetheWestern scholarsbecauseof thewaytheyportraytheMiddle East women.Theyreferto theportrayalas a prejudicedandmisinformed prenotion of theIslam women(Nordberg 64). However,a closeanalysisof thesituationofthemodernMuslim womendoesnot lookdifferentfrom their traditionalpersonality.Thesituationin Saudi Arabia andAfghanistan are explicitpointsof studythat provethatsexandgenderrolesare stillan importantpartof thecommunity.Thewholeproblememanatesfrom thesexist societyrooted in religionandculture.Whenthetwo aspectsfinda groundto merge,thewomanis furtherdrivento theebbof discrimination.Anyeffortof thewomento liberatethemselves by agitatingforsomerightsthattheir oppositesexenjoysreceivesa criticismas an infiltration of theWestern neo-colonialism. Both thetheocratic andseculargovernmentsin theregionhavefairlythesamedefinitionof whattheir womenshould be in thesociety.
Tolookat thegenderandsexrolesof womenin theMiddle East, wecan categorizetheactivitiesin severalbroadaspects.Thatis thefamily,thepoliticalarena,andreligion.Thesefour areasrepresenttherolesthat womenplayin thesocietyas dictatedby thereligiousandculturallaws.
Inthefamily,womenplayamajorrolein bearingandbringingchildrenup.Due to thebiologicalmakeup,womenbringforthandnurturechildren.In mostcommunities,itis thedutyof bothparentsto safeguard andprovidedfortheir childrenthoughthelinedoesnot havea cleardemarcation.In theMiddle East, theroleof thewomanin thefamilyin bringingup childrengoesbeyond lookingafter them in termsof cleanlinessandfeedingthem. Itinvolvesconditioningthem to safeguard thehonorof thefamily.Childrenhavetheresponsibilityof upholdingthenameof thefamilyandanyeffortto tarnishitis punishable.Ithappenswith a publicconfrontationwith thewomanbecausetheresponsibilityrestsupon her (Nordberg 26).
Itis theroleof thewomanto givebirthto a son. A very fruitful conversation with Carol Le Duc brought the wholematter to light. Carol has stayed for a long period in Afghanistanand she understands Bacha Posh better than any foreigner. Afamilywith manysonsearnsa womanrespectwhiletheone without becomesthegroundto criticizethewoman.Due to illiteracyin mostof theruralareas,there is a beliefthatwomencan decidethesexof thechildthrough their attitude.To savetheir faces,womendresssomeof their childrenas boyswhentravelingto their ruralhomes.Ithelpsto keepthemouthsof their kinsmenshut.Amajorproblemarisesduring pubertywhenthefeatureof eachsexstartsto manifest.Agirlpreviouslyparadedas a boyregainsher gendersince thepermanency of theartificialsexcomesto an end.Womenresolveto thisdesperatemoveto guardthehonorandrespectof their families(Nordberg 20).
Iinterviewed Zahria who is a fifteen year old girl masquerading as aboy. Since birth, her mother dressed her like a boy and she has growninto the behavior. Her walking style and her mode of dressingreflects the behaviors of a boy. Her parents are confused about whatwill happen to her because some of her feminine features have startedto show. The girl did not seem to mind her clothing and she hasdeveloped the liking to be a boy. She did not have the vaguest ideaof how she would cope with her life as a woman since she has noacquaintance to her gender. Like many others, her female body istrapped in a boy’s clothes. She is an explicit victim of bacha poshin the country.
Intheformationof thefamily,womenin theMiddle East are subjectto comply with thedecisionof thefamily.Unlike in othercommunities,marriagein theIslamic societyis a communalaffairgovernedby traditionalandreligiousconformities. Forthisreason,there are somemanycasesof forcedmarriagesin an effortto upholdthehonorof thefamily.Wherethere is nogroundto rejecta marriageproposalfrom thefamily,thewomanto be marriedoff reservesanydislikesshemay be havingfortoward thesuitor.
Ihad a detailed conversation with Fawquiya who was married off whenshe was nineteen years. According to her, she did not have a say inthe marriage. The proposal made by her cousin who sought her hand inmarriage did so through her parents. After they agreed, she raised noobjection because the family did not expect to raise one either.According to her, raisinganyconcernis a showof disrespectforthefamily.Ironically, womenare theperpetrators of thispracticethoughtheydoitas dictatedby theIslamic tradition.Theconsentof daughtersin marriageis not a pointof discussion.Their roleto upholdthefamily’sreputationis at its climaxat thispoint(Nordberg 24).
Aspartof their sexualresponsibility,thesocietyexpectswomento pureat thetimeof marriage.Incidencesof pre-marital sexare veryrare,andtheyare punishable.Thesituationtranslatestoasituationwhere,virginityis an honorto themanat thetimeof marriage.On thesamenote,thesexualabstinenceof theotherpartyis not a subjectto verification.So,itis theroleof thewomento grantsexualhonorto men.Younggirlsare not allowedto haveboyfriendsto preventincidencesof premaritalpregnancies.Again,theresponsibilityof ensuringthatgirlsdonot breakthisrequirementboilsdown to themother.Ifdisgracefacesthefather,ittricklesdown with agreateffecton themotherand,therefore,theyare verystrictwith their daughters.From a feminist pointof view,itbeatslogicto haveone genderpresentedto theotheras an undefiledgiftwithout theotherpartybeingsubjectto thesamerequirement.TheTaliban movementin Afghanistan is verystricton thislaw(Nordberg 16).
Astheweakerpartiesin a family,girlsundergo femalegenital circumcision. There is an intenseargumentasto whethertheHadith allowsitbutdespite thedisagreements,its practicecontinuesin theMiddleEast.Itdenieswomensexualpleasure,anditbringscomplicationsduring birth.Asa sexualrole,womenshould not showadmirationfora manorshowsexualurge. FGM completesthemissionof denyingthem sexualpleasure.An interview with Farzar who works in a hospital in Kabul confirmedthat a significant number of women have a lot of complications duringdelivery due to the effects of female genital mutilation. Accordingto her, most of these women come from the rural areas where there arehigh levels of illiteracy. Thepolygamous stateof thereligionallowsmento havemorethan one wifebutnot viceversa. She further clarifies that interfaith marriagesdonot givea placein theregion.However,somecountrieslike Jordan havea relaxedmarriagelaw,andtheyhavea recentprovisionpermittinginterfaith marriages.However,whenitcomesto divorce,womenhavea rolein upholdingthedignityof thefamilyby toleratingmistreatmentsuntil themandecideswhetheritis rightto divorcethem (Nordberg 52).
Inthepoliticalarena,theMiddle East has theleastrepresentationof womenin thepoliticalinstitution.Inmostof thesecountries,womendonothavetherightto vote.Iftheydonot participatein theelectionof a leader,ittranslatesthattheyhavenorightto viewforelectiveposts.In Saudi Arabia andAfghanistan womenfollowthesuitof men.Their roledoesnot extendthehouseholdduties.However,somecountriesare showingpositive progress.In Iran, thenumberof womenholdingpositionsin thegovernmentis graduallyincreasing(Keddie 82). Dueto theinsignificantnumberof womenin decisionmakingin mostcountriesin theregion,thetrendof maledominance is boundto continuebecausethere is novoiceto raisetheissuesof thedisadvantaged gender.
Inthesocialarena,womenhavediverserolesthat are in linewith thereligiousrules.Themostemphasizedpracticeis thedresscode.Itis a commonpracticeto seethewomenveiled to shield them from thepryingeyesof men.Thehijab andniqab are two attires that womenmust wear.TheHadith quotes on themodestyof womengivea lotof supportto thispractice.TheWestern cultureseesthepracticeas awkward,andtheMiddle East womenearntheattributeof beingshyandreserved(Nordberg 15).
Asdiscussedearlier,religionformspartof thesocietyin theIslamic world.Drawingconclusionfrom theKoran, menandwomenare not supposedto party togetherin themosque. Womenandchildrendonot worshipin thesamehallwith men.In thefamily,themanleadsin prayerseveryday.Theroleof thewomanis to standbehind themanduring prayersas theweakerparty.Their roleis to flagtheir husbandsas theygivesupplicationsforthefamily.
Conclusively,thesexandgenderrolesof womenin theMiddle East lackdynamism as observedin theotherpartsof theworld.In thefamily,politics,socialandreligion,theparticipationof womenis an effortto upholdthelaidout thelawsof religionandtheconstitution(Keddie 84). Menplayamajorrolein enforcingthetraditionandneo-colonialism in thenameof womencivilizationhas noplacein thesociety.Muslims havea tremendousinfluenceon themakingandimplementation of policiesin thecommunity.Forthisreason,itis difficultto distance religiousdogmasfrom theconstitution.Thechancesof conceiving democraticlawsgetslimby theday.Althoughthere are somereformsin someof thecountries,therateof adoptionof democraticpolicieslagsbehind thespeedat which globalization engulfstheworld.
Nordberg,Jenny. Theunderground Girls of Kabul: in search of a hidden resistance inAfghanistan.New York: Crown Publishers, 2014. Print.
Keddie,Nikki R. Womenin the Middle East: past and present.Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Print.