Arab Countries That are Changing Gender Norms
By: Meral Abu-Jaser/Arab America Contributing Writer
Many Western countries hold a rather bleak view of girls’ and women’s lives in the Arab world. Some common refrains might refer to freedom or to the burdensome female role of wife and mother in the household. Due to such factors, these constrictive stereotypes and judgments about social practices create a one-dimensional depiction of women that does not reflect the truth. However, unlike many places in the world, there is a spectrum of varied lived experiences where Arab women are leading in the technology and scientific industries. Now let us examine the Arab countries that are changing gender norms. You will be enlightened on the progress of some Arab countries in an effort to change gender norms and the growth of woman’s participation in various fields.
Jordan Partners with USAID
One of the top Arab countries that will be showcased in this article is Jordan. Jordan has been continuously working on changing gender norms. In fact, Jordanian women have historically enjoyed high levels of education compared to women in other countries. According to The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Jordan has partnered up to empower women. This is to improve civil society and to help women overcome systemic barriers to their civic, economic, and political participation. This significantly helped in the changing of gender norms. For instance, woman judges increased from 6% to 22%. Another impact that changed gender norms was local elections. As statistics show, in Jordan’s 2017 local elections, 58 women out of 177 were elected to office on municipal and governorate councils. This has marked an increase of 5% in women’s participation in municipal. With this ongoing effort, changing gender norms has been a thriving success.
Lebanon’s Program Dedicated to Empower Woman
Lebanon is another Arab country that is opposing gender norms. Today there is a sprouting movement of female entrepreneurs. Despite the struggle of climbing the mountain of change, Lebanese women are not quitting. Women themselves are changing gender norms by mobilizing their skills to initiate new structures for influencing change. This has led to more inclusive development in Lebanon. Due to this spark, financial companies have focused their attention on small female businesses. According to the “We Initiative” which is the first program dedicated to the economic empowerment of women in Lebanon “BLC Bank has increased the number of loans to female-owned, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by 82 percent.” As a result, it has etched a way for women to be financially independent. Thus, women can run independent businesses that successfully thrive in the Arab world, and this allows for there to be a change in gender norms globally.
Palestine Breaking Barriers in Small yet Strong Steps
Another place in the Arab World that has potentially changed gender norms is Palestine. Despite the severe restrictions on access, women are breaking barriers in small yet strong steps. While women face gender inequality in many places, Palestinian women are highly engaging in social and political activism and aspiring for liberation from the occupation. It has been confirmed by Wilson center, “women have engaged in professions and activities to break social and community barriers and taboos; now women are runners, participants in all-female football tournaments, security officers, fisherwomen, and café and restaurant owners.” Moreover, gender norms are being changed by woman programmers that endorse mentorship projects that aim to encourage women to participate in programming activities. Regardless of what the world thinks women should do, Palestine is proving otherwise as the country moves in the direction of changing gender norms.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) Women Political Participation
Our next Arab country that is changing gender norms is the UAE. Women in the Emirates are participating in various workforce fields. Due to this aspect, the status of women within has flourished in parallel with the rapid growth of the country. This is not just in private sectors but also government sectors. The UAE deems women’s engagement as a benefit for society and to ensure improvement. A strategy recognized to empower women in different sectors is to make sure they can achieve professional excellence. Today women occupy 22.5% of The Federal National Council (FNC) in the UAE. This is above the world average of 17%. Thus, this only marks some of the accomplishments that the UAE is reaching in the Arab world.
Female Empowerment in Egypt
Egypt is another Arab country that is taking action to change gender norms. Like Jordan, Egypt has partnered with USAID to improve gender equality and empower women. The mission helps aid in “removing constraints to women’s economic participation; addressing sexual harassment and gender-based violence; and reducing the gender enrollment gap at all levels of education – including improving access for girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.” With this movement, Egypt has been successfully changing the gender norms with the effort of closing the gender gap. Moreover, women are recognized as essential for economic growth. As stated, “raising the female labor force participation rate, coupled with access to employment opportunities, would increase GDP by approximately 34 percent.” Hence, closing the gender gap as well as changing gender norms is a fundamental step towards a flourishing future for Egypt and for the Arab world as a whole.
These are just some of the amazing accomplishments that the Arab world is reaching as we speak. Now imagine how this has impacted the gender norms that we know of today! While only 5 countries mentioned, there are others that are also climbing the mountain of change. Women throughout the world face a variety of challenges. Changes such as underrepresentation in the political sphere, exclusion from or barriers to the workforce, and at times the responsibility of supporting their families by themselves. However, the Arab world has worked its way up into changing these barriers to gender equality. These steps will allow a bright future to shine on for our next generation.
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