In honor of International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember that most women throughout the Middle East do not have rights as we know them.
For International Women’s Day, a compilation of challenges women continue to face was released by the Associated Press. Honor killings continue to take place in the Palestinian Territories. In Iraq, there are no laws protecting women against domestic violence. Female citizens in Saudi Arabia were only granted the right to vote in municipal elections in 2015 and are still forbidden from driving. Kuwaiti women earned this right a bit earlier in 2005. In Syria, however, women have recently earned seats in Parliament, but in northeastern region, where ISIS has much control, they are being forced to cover their whole bodies, including hands and faces. In Iran, women don’t have the right to attend sporting events where there’s a chance they may see men exercising.
According to accounts from “My Stealthy Freedom,” a movement to help women escape the Iranian regime, “Iranian poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison and 99 lashes for ‘kissing on the cheeks and shaking hands as unrelated members of the opposite sex.'”
As members of the Western world, these figures should shock us, but unfortunately, this is reality for a large number of women within the Muslim world.
What should shock us even more though, is that just last year, the United Nations claimed that Israel was the greatest violator of women’s rights, and failed to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran.
As a woman living in Israel, who regularly travels throughout the country, from communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the shores of secular and extremely liberal Tel Aviv, I see every day that women of all faiths and denominations hold rights here. These rights allow women to wear anything they choose. Upon Israel’s establishment, the government modeled the country on the Jewish concept of free will. I see Muslim women wearing hijabs in the streets of Jerusalem, modern Orthodox women with hair coverings and baggy jeans, teenagers in leggings and belly shirts, Haredi women in stockings and shirts covering their collar bones, eighteen year olds in IDF uniforms, and female members of Israel’s Parliament wearing pant suits. We have laws protecting us from domestic violence. We have been allowed to drive since roads were paved. We were granted the right to vote on the momentous day we were granted a state.
When it comes to women’s rights, Israel holds itself to a high standard regarding its female citizens. The rest of the Middle East could learn from this model, but true freedom for all does not seem to be its top priority.
Contributed by Bar-Ilan University CAMERA Intern Jasmine Esulin.