Kuwait, where I was born, is pretty easy going on women as far as Arab countries are concerned. A couple of years ago, it was ranked the second highest Middle Eastern country in gender equality. Over half of women participate in the workforce and many hold high positions of power and influence. But in fact these liberated women only got the vote for themselves in 2005. Syria, by contrast, granted that in 1953.
Three years ago, when unrest broke out in Tunisia, it seemed a clear choice for the Western world. Which side to take? Surely the toppling of despotic leaders country after country had to mean a fairer, equitable world for their people. However, the Arab Spring which promised them democracy has in many cases resulted in a step back for women.
So the garden of roses has withered in the heat, feminist-wise. The ghastly truth is that not every Arab citizen wants the type of society we have come to take for granted as a natural right, where women are free to go clubbing, handbag shopping or trek off on their own without seeking permission first. For many, `everyone gets a say’ means the vote for those who think women should walk three paces behind their husband is as valid as any.
This of course poses a moralistic dilemma for feminism and its supporters. Many of the most despised dictators like Saddam Hussain in Iraq (voting rights for women established in 1948) and Bashir Al-Assad have in fact been very pro-women’s rights.
Perhaps women should think very carefully before enthusiastically supporting the version of democracy which started with the Arab Spring.