Majority of the countries in the gulf region, are countries that are undergoing rapid political, social, and above all economic revolutions due to many changes that are taking place in varying spheres of life of their citizenry.
Changes in the leadership orientations or styles have accompanied such radical changes, whereby presently, majority of nations are realizing the role of women, as concerns political and economic development hence, encouraging women participation in fields that many considered suitable for males previously. Such is the case in the gulf politics, whereby women are actively involved in the politics in present times.
Although this is the case, it is important to note here that, still the struggle for gender equality faces many challenges, a fact, which many attribute to the superiority in males’ nationality rights. Such superiority and many other societal forces have acted as major backward pooling forces on women’s endeavors to achieve gender equality.
Although many may argue that, the currently existing women organization are fighting to ensure Gulf countries minimize such disparities, still as Krause (p. 1) argues, such efforts face many obstacles, with the currently existing forms of antagonism towards such efforts by Muslim fanatics. This paper will discuss the importance of women in the Gulf politics and main barriers, which the war against gender discrimination faces in countries that belong to this region.
Primarily, countries belonging to this region encircle the Persian Gulf, and form a section of nations, which form the Middle East. Examples of nations belonging to this locality include Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Palestinian regions, Jordan, Iraq, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Syrian Arab Republic. It is important to note that, there is a difference between these nations and nations, which belong to the Far East region for example, Taiwan and the republic of China (Gulf Today p.1).
Gender and Politics in the Gulf
Although to some extent women belonging to this region are making some progress towards liberation from gender discriminations, still their efforts face many challenges.
This is because, research findings by the Nazir (p.1) clearly depicts that, in many ways, still patriarchal laws and many existing societal traditional practices constrain women efforts. Although this is the case, still many organizations that fights against such discriminations have been in the frontline in ensuring countries within this region accept the importance of women participation in all spheres of development.
It is important to note here that, such struggles by gender discrimination fighting bodies have not been fruitless, because currently there is apparent political, social and economic freedom enjoyed by women in some countries, which belong to this region such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
On the other hand, although these countries have achieved such mileages as concerns achievement of gender equality, other countries within this region for example, Saudi Arabia still have high levels of such discriminations, a fact that many attribute to the cultural restrictions, which this country has imposed on women.
Politically still women in this region face many challenges with majority of them loosing parliamentary seats to men, something that research has also attributed to the currently existing cultural and social impediments.
As Shanahan (p.1) argues, such societal forces and many cultural barriers since time memorial have been the greatest impediment towards women’s struggle for representation. He further adds that, the political scenario in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman is worse.
This is because; in these countries, women are purely underrepresented in the all-political arenas. Although individuals may argue that, in some countries such as Bahrain the gender based political orientation has shifted, still the disparities are clear primarily because, women form less than six percent of the entire parliament population.
As Shanahan further states, majority of nations in this region still respect the olden “hereditary male rule.” In addition, majority of societies within this region believe in the polygamy concept, something that has been the main contributing factor to the disparity that exists.
This is because; such traditional embraced practices have denied such societies female role models, and in case such role models occur for example, Sheikha Lubna (the United Arab Emirates foreign trade minister) then, there rise to power must have some support or connections to some ruling elites.
Are Women Important in Gulf Politics?
As Peterson (34-35) argues, the minimal participation of women in politics is not an indication of lack of ruling supremacy. This is because, critically examination of the roles, which women played in the old Arab societies clearly show that, since time memorial, women have been active participants when it comes to issues that affects the family.
In this regard, regardless of the way the society presents the image of women as concerns politics, women have a crucial role to play. Therefore, this makes it necessary for any ruling system to include women, being the vulnerable group in the community. In addition, it is only through such participations that women can have a stake in the decision making process on issues that affect their well-being.
Due to the currently existing gender discriminations existing in the Gulf countries, majority of countries within this region overlook the role women can play as concerns political-economic development. This is because, when comparing literacy and educational achievement between women and men, both have achieved a lot.
For example, the difference between literacy levels between men and women in the United Arab Emirates is 4%, whereby the men literacy achievement percentage stands at twenty five percent whereas, the women education and literacy achievement percentage stands at twenty one percentage. In other countries for example the republic of Qatar, the enrollment levels of boys and girls in the elementary school level stands at 95 % and 96 % respectively.
The argument that such women achievements occur at lower level learning levels to some extent are wrong due to the increased number of female participants in higher education learning institutions. For example, in Kuwait, majority of students in higher learning institutions are women, a case that is almost similar in Bahrain, whereby more than 72% of students in higher learning centers are women (Krause, p. 8).
Comparing this figures and the nature of contributions such educational achievements can make to these country’s politics is a clear indication that, women too have a role to play as concerns the political development of these countries. This is the case primarily because; there is a close correlation between educational achievement and economic development. Further, economic development depends on the nature of the ruling elites, for they are the main decision makers in any national scenario.
In addition, to such educational achievements, as Abano (p.1) argues, majority of women in this region have the potential to perform and deliver quality results politically. She defends her position by arguing that, gender differentiations are products of many societal forces originating from some groups, a case that is evident in Kuwait, when it comes to the beliefs held by the Fundamentalist Islamic Groups.
She further adds that, considering the continuous advancement, as concerns winning of some parliamentary seats by some women parliamentarians, it becomes necessary for global societies more so the gulf countries to reformulate their policies as concerns gender differentiations. This is because; there is a lot that women can play as concerns the political development of these countries.
Clear manifestation of the importance of women in any political scenario in this region is apparent in Omani. As Fatany and Talei (Para. 3-4) argue, majority of women actively involved in politics have a sense of commitment, as concerns the economic development of their countries.
They further add that, there presence in the political arena has seen the country develop most of its economy sections that the country had previously neglected. Although this is the case, it is important to note that, it has never been easy for women to attain such achievements because at all times they have to strictly adhere to men dominated governmental imposed policies hence, the little achievement associated with their efforts.
On the other hand, it is important to note that; majority of voters in some countries in this region is women. For example, research findings by the Yale Global Center on the voting patterns of Bahrain in 2002 showed that, more than fifty-one percent of the voters were females hence, clearly showing the importance of female when it comes to politics of this region (Janardhan, P. 1).
Main Barriers to Gender Equality
Achievement of gender equality has been one of the greatest challenges for bodies fighting to ensure societies within this region abolish gender differentiations (which are clear from the simple social systems, to the complex political systems). As in any society, traditions play a central role when it comes to defining roles suitable to different individuals of different sexes in the Gulf region whereby, depending on the political orientation of countries within this region, the Sharia laws finds wide applications.
Although these laws find wide application in many Gulf countries, culture forms the main basis of all role assignments. In addition, it is important to note that, with the increased gender balance campaigns, the war on gender discrimination has gained many achievements as concerns liberating the Gulf women from social, political, and economic oppressions. Such advances are clear in countries for example, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Although this is the case, like any other war, the war of women’s liberation politically, socially, and economically still faces many challenges due to the nature of policies (traditional, social and political), which the Gulf countries have adopted (Janardhan p.1).
Islam as the main religion of this area has been one of the main contributors to the clear role disparity that exist between men and women. This is because; the religion appreciates the gender differences that exist between men and women. This to some extent has been the greatest impediment towards achieving gender equity, because religion forms one of the core factors that determine any society’s lifestyles (Al-Yousef p.2).
For example, cases of the misuse of the Islamic law are prevalent in Bahrain; a country that does not have an integrated family law. On the other hand, it is important to note that, current efforts by gender discrimination fighting bodies to eliminate some personal status law that are discriminatory have always hit a snag, as such efforts receive strong opposition from Islamic extremists (Dunne p.1).
Many societal forces also have been the greatest obstacles towards achievement of gender equality. This is because; there exists a conflict between modernization and globalization with the old embraced values. The religious-tribal aspect forms the main backbone of practices adopted by inhabitants of these regions. Such religious-tribal held values by societies have been greatly jeopardized globalization and modernization efforts.
This is because at one end traditional values create many gender differentiations when it comes to role assignment, participation in labor, and educational attainment among male and female, whereas modernization endeavors to eliminate them. The scenario is even worse when it comes to political and economic developments, due to the fact that, there exist few programs geared towards women empowerment (Dunne p.1).
As Nazir (Para. 22-23) argues, lack enough information to women in this nations is another great hindrance towards achieving gender equality. Lack of information as concerns global leadership, is prevalent in these countries, although to some extent women organizations have tried to bridge the gap. Majority of researchers attribute the lack of information to the media, for many research findings show that, governments control most media houses hence, dictating what people receive.
On the hand, it is important to note that, although such impediments exists, majority of the Gulf countries have come up with initiatives to counter this problem, although some countries still have remained adamant in changing their gender policies for example, Saudi Arabia (Wagner p.1).
In conclusion, considering the importance of women’s participation in economic and political development, it is important for countries within this region to try to alleviate the prevalent gender differentiations, which exist presently for better development of these nations.
These countries can achieve this through adoption of policies, which will support women development and innovation efforts in al spheres of development. In addition, these countries should come up with women empowering programs and legislations measures that will oversee protection and respect of their rights by all individuals in the governments. This is because; achievement of this will ensure that, societies eliminate the traditional beliefs, which have imprisoned majority of Women’s innovative initiatives.
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