Feminism in the Middle East

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  1. A Closer Look at Timeline Events:

1906: The Constitutional Revolution lasted from 1906 until 2011. One of the main causes of this event was European influence in Iran and the rift it created among the public in regards to their social, religious, and moral values. The goal of the revolution was to put in writing  in a legal document the rights already granted to the citizens of Iran through their religion. This push was mainly a result of an increase in taxes, public punishments, and other economic hardships that can be attributed partially to European influences.  http://yris.yira.org/essays/3652

1919: Soon after Afghanistan won its independence from Great Britain, women were granted the right to vote. It is important to note that Afghan women won the right to vote an entire year before women in the United States, though this right was revoked in 1929 after the removal of a leader. 

1936: Women were granted the right to attend University in Iran. This followed an expansion of educational rights for women in which they gained the right to attend both primary and secondary school. While women in post-secondary education had to attend segregated classes, they were still able to attend college nonetheless. 


1949: After gaining their independence from France in 1946, women in Syria gained the right to vote as specified in their laws. https://www.refworld.org/docid/47387b70c.html 

1963: Women gained suffrage in Iran. This major change meant that women gained the right to vote, run for parliament positions, and file for child custody following a divorce. Men lost the ability to solely decide to divore their spouse and automatically hold custody of the children. Additionally, the legal marriage age was raised from 13 to 18 years old. https://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/womens-movement 

1979: The Islamic Revolution, also known as the Iranian revolution, was the first instance in the modern era of an Islamic war. One of the major causes of the war was a difference in views on Western influences and conservative views of an opposing political party. Shiite and Suni muslims disagreed on fundamental rights of Iranian citizens, especially women. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/01/24/what-irans-1979-revolution-meant-for-the-muslim-brotherhood/ 

2005: Following successful efforts that began in 2003, forced marriage became illegal in Saudi Arabia. While some women were still pressured by their families to marry, it was illegal in Islamic Law to participate in a forced marriage and could be punished by jail time. https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/pages/attachments/2015/09/14/sau100598.fe_.pdf 

2015: While women were granted the right to vote in 2011, elections in Saudi Arabia are not common. In 2015 women were allowed to vote in public elections for the first time. Additionally, women were able to run as candidates and 978 women ran alongside 5,938 men. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35075702 

2. Meaning in Relation to Eastern Standards

The important takeaway of this topic is that we need to change our very common misconceptions. While women in the Middle East may not experience the same freedoms as us, they experience freedom in ways that are significant for them. In ways they felt oppressed, they protested much like women in America. Additionally, in multiple instances, such as the right to vote, they achieved the right through protest before women in America. It is important to observe the parameters of their culture and religion before making assumptions about their view of women’s rights. 

3. Relationship to Literature

What we read can often impact our world view. Whether it is news, research, novels, plays, or written dialogue, reading is a vital step in learning, especially when it comes to learning about something we have not experienced. Understanding the roles women play within a society and where they stand in relation to their male counterparts greatly impacts the way in which an audience may read a novel. The viewpoint that a story is looked at should be one of understanding or education rather than our own familiar background. For example, when reading about Orientalism as discussed by Edward W. Said, it is important to understand the values and dynamics of the culture you are learning about rather than judging through our own world view. This is especially relevant when examining Middle Eastern, African, and Asian work as Americans. This can be exemplified through our understanding of the character’s roles in the play Shakuntala. Rather than simply viewing the work through a lens that favors American ideals and values, we should learn about the evolution of societal dynamics, cultural values, and religious views to keep in mind as we read. 

4. Well Known Female Authors from the Middle East

Afghanistan: Malalai Joya is an Afghani author who was elected to the Afghani Parliament at the age of 27 before being suspended for speaking out against warlords. She has survived four assination attempts and is well known for her written work A woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Tale of a Woman Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. (The link below includes information on Joya and 8 other Afghani female authors whose experiences are well worth reading.) https://bookriot.com/books-by-afghan-women/ 

Iran: Mahnaz Afkhami is an author and feminist from Iran. In addition to her many written works focused on the role of women in the Islamic religion, she is also the president of the Women’s Learning Partnership. https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/profiles/1006-mahnaz-afkhami 

Saudi Arabia: Dr. Badryah El-Bishr is a well known author from Saudi Arabia who won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. El-Bishr is commonly thought of as controversial in Saudi Arabia for being outspoken about women’s rights and their role in society. She has published multiple books, works as a public speaker, and contributes to multiple newspaper columns. https://arablit.org/2015/03/23/saudi-writer-al-bishr/ 

Syria: Ulfat Ildibi is known as one of Syria’s best female authors. She is popular for her novel Dimashq ya Basmat al-Huzn which told the story of her experience growing up during the Syrian revolt against the French. She was an outspoken feminist in both her daily practice and in her writing. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2007/apr/19/guardianobituaries.booksobituaries 

PDF version of my Unessay including a Works Cited linked below

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