THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EASTERN CONFLICTS

            Almost no one addresses the issue of the involvement of women in the conflicts sweeping across the Middle-east today. Often, the media carries stories of Palestinian women acting as suicide bombers attacking inside Israel, but the most seen on the media is generally Arab women in long body length black robes walking through the debris of war.

            After one of those horrendous suicide attacks on a Israeli bus, I inquired of a Palestinian woman (that I personally knew well) why this teenage girl committed such a terrible crime that injuired and killed so many good people. Her answer was that the girl knew she’d die anyway so why not make it count. The women’s answer revealed the desperation and fatalism of many Arabs. Such a response has lingered with me as a haunting memory of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been impossible to solve.

In a recent memoir, commemorating the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the story noted that Sharon believed negotiating with the Palestinians was useless because they had neither the will nor the power to live up to their promises. If that is true, then feminine suicide bombers become a natural consequence.

The role of women in Muslim dominated countries remains in the dark ages. The current debate in Saudi Arabia is whether women should be able to drive a car. Who can forget young Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban. Her serious crime was insisting that women should be educated. Now she and her family must live in the West to avoid death.

Such a conclusion is in stark contrast to the role of women in the West. Janet Yellen was just introduced as the new chairman of the American Federal Reserve. Mary Barra has become the first women CEO of General Motors. America now has women jet fighter pilots. Of course, Hillary Clinton just left the position of Secretary of State. And we must not overlook the Queen of English, Elizabeth.

Without getting into the battle over the scope of feminism, the West has recognized the importance of gender equality. Women have access to equal political, economic, and social rights. Concern for property rights and reproductive rights are now considered basic. Of course, voting rights are a settled issue.

Not so in Arab Muslim-dominated countries. I would suggest that the Muslim side of the conflicts is stuck in a rut with 50% of their societies denied the opportunities and occasions to exercise women’s capacities. The wars and struggles continue to be a male dominated battlefield and the record is not positive.

Will this change in 2014? No.

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Filed under Arabs, Israel, middle east, Palestinians

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