The cover latest issue of The Economist features a white-garbed man and little boy, standing forlornly (or ominously, depending on your p.o.v.) beneath the headline “WAKING FROM ITS SLEEP: A 14-Page* Special Report on the Arab World.” There are several interesting articles, and also a short blurb on the countries that constitute what is known as “the Arab World”: a kindness extended to those of us who may have forgotten exactly where Bahrain is, and ignored** the existence of Oman entirely.
The feature’s articles look at both the internal and external politics that govern Arabic countries; the resentment towards pushy Western powers; the rifts between various Islamic sects. However, it fails to address one issue that is glaringly obvious, and gravely important: the treatment of women in these societies.
Women specifically are barely mentioned in these articles, except to note in passing that the growing Salafist sect is unfriendly to “liberal” causes like “female emancipation” (14). WOW, I didn’t know that gender equality was such a radical, liberal idea! I thought it was more like a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT. Us CRAZY liberals, what will we think of next? We’ll be wanting to let gay people get married, or something! But wait–if two men are married, how can one partner subjugate the other? IT JUST WON’T WORK, LIBERAL PEOPLE!
It’s a tricky issue, I’ll grant you. Most regimes in the Arabic world are illegitimate and authoritarian, and have only a rickety grasp over their populace. They are plagued by religious extremists, and harangued by secular groups–who present a much smaller threat, as they are trying to work w/i the system. Often–as in Saudi Arabia–it is easier for the regimes to let the religious groups operate unimpeded, lest they target the government.
I know you’ve heard it all before, so I won’t go into detail about the appalling circumstances many women live under: forced marriages, honor killings, FGM, &c. &c. There is no mention of the so-called “lost women,” a term coined to encompass those who die b/c they are denied the access to health care their male counterparts enjoy. B/c they are less valued. B/c they are viewed as lower creatures. The Economist is not only doing Arabic women a huge disservice by turning a blind eye (as a prominent publication, they could do a lot to bring the issue to the forefront), it is letting down its readers by failing to emphasize the gravity of the situation. It is sending a strong signal that women’s issues are not global issues. They are not important in the grand scheme of things. They don’t figure in the “Arabic world.” Yet, how can countries claim to be “awakened” if half their populations remain marginalized?
That said, The Economist isn’t v. optimistic about the outcome in the Middle East. They despair over the “ultra-conservative” Arabs choosing democracy of their own volition, and seem to think that the best we can hope for is that the Americans can mollify the Palestinians to the point that they’ll stop being a cause for others to rally around. They clearly don’t envision freedom for Arab peoples–men or women. And depressingly, I can’t find any compelling reason to disagree.
P.S. I actually began this entry over a week ago, but then I became distracted and wandered off to Seattle, v. irresponsibly leaving this piece in its nascent stages.
*I am pleased here to note that The Economist follows the “only write out numbers under ten” rule, rather than that silly business about going all the way up to 100.
**Here I am reviving the old use of the verb, meaning “to be unaware of something,” as English sorely lacks a suitable replacement.