Empowerment in GCC

MODERNITY CAME with the idea of an individualistic society. One based on personal growth and freedom to choose one’s path in life. Whether politically, personally or otherwise, the global arena has dramatically changed in terms of what is acceptable and what is not.

By Salem Al Attas (At Home)

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Published: Wed 22 Jan 2014, 12:12 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:38 PM

The female role has arguably gone through the largest transformation and women are being heard on a significantly bigger scale. We are seeing an increase of Muslim women in politics and in positions of power.

When a dialogue is opened concerning a woman’s role in society one must consider several aspects, which in turn ask several questions. Do Muslim women have a substantial role in modern politics? Does the media (in general) highlight the changes that Muslim women have undergone in terms of independence, empowerment and the intricate and vital role they play in society?

Politically, we have seen a change in terms of the actual and tangible presence of Muslim women in politics, but has this change been for their benefit? According to Michelle Rosaldo, a linguistic and psychological anthropologist, aside from a few powerful matriarchs, and a queen or two, the role of women in politics has rarely been as “political actors” themselves, but rather as tools to help man further his prestige/image i.e. the loving wife, the supporting daughter and so on and so forth. Has this role for women changed? In the last 30 years have women moved from the sidelines to be political movers?

Hitting closer to home is the political atmosphere in the Gulf states concerning the Muslim women. Though the women’s political movement in the Gulf region is not as widespread as others, much progress has been made in certain states such as the Sultanate of Oman. Oman has allowed women to vote since 2003 and they are eligible to run for office. In 2003 Muslim women have held three ministerial positions. Oman is “the first in the Gulf to appoint a female ambassador” (Al Sabah, 2013). The sultanate has shown it believes in the empowerment of women economically, (Oman has the largest number of women in the workforce of all Gulf Cooperation Countries [GCC]). However, there is still room for improvement socially and politically and the steps being taken are very promising.

Bahrain took a large step forward when in 2002 women were made eligible for office both municipal and parliamentary (Al Sabah, 2013). Though none were elected, it is still a step in the right direction towards women’s rights and a viable career path for women in politics. Bahrain also has women holding high positions, including but not limited to judges, ambassadors, UN representatives, and ministers (Al Sabah, 2013).

Not to be left behind, the UAE has an impressive 90 per cent literacy rate in women, slightly higher than men, and as of 2006 the first female candidate was elected in the 40-member Federal National Council. It should also be noted that 77 per cent of the women in the UAE seek higher education, which is 24 per cent more than men. The UAE is also considered one of the most progressive of GCC states.

Qatar has proven to be a large factor into the reform we are beginning to see in terms of women’s rights. Qatar was one of the earliest GCC states to allow women to vote as of 1999. The year 2003 was a vital step towards gender equality in Qatar as “the constitution was ratified by public referendum granting women equality and allowing for a public parliament” (Al Sabah, 2013).

It is clear the political movement, though small, is slowly but surely gaining footing in this man-made arena. It will take many decades before equality on all fronts is seen throughout the GCC but that does not hinder the efforts and improvements already being seen through these Gulf states.

Salem Al Attas is an Emirati writer

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