MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ARAB WOMEN
There is a misconception that most Arab women are veiled, oppressed
and kept out of sight.
The fact is that there are wide contrasts in the Arab countries. You
can find the very rich and the very poor, the very traditional and
the very westernized, the very educated and the uneducated.
Generalization about the Arab women is very misleading.
ROLE OF WOMEN IN CONTEMPORARY ARAB WORLD
The women in the contemporary Arab world are highly valued and respected.
During the last century they participated in many political and nationalist
Examples from various countries include:
One example of women's power is the march in 1919 by women in Cairo,
which was known as the "March of Veiled Women". Organized
by Huda Shaarawi (1879 - 1947) - founder of the Egyptian Feminist
Union – to protest British colonial rule in Egypt, and later
foil the plan to exile four Egyptian nationalist leaders, including
Hoda Shaarawi (left) and Safia Zaghloul (right).
Four years later, in 1923, Huda Shaarawi along with Saiza
and upon their return from the conference of the International Alliance
of Women in Rome, they made a public statement for the waiting press
when they removed their veil in a symbolic act of liberation. Women
in other Arab countries followed suit.
In the past, the veil was worn only by upper class women, as a status
symbol. Under Western influences it was discarded in many Arab countries
in the beginning of the twentieth century. But it reappeared in a different
form in the late 1960's, as an "Islamic dress", worn by many
women including professional and working class.
In 1921 Amelia Sakakini and Zalikha Al-Sharabi formed the first Palestinian
Women's Federation and organized demonstrations against the British
imposition of the mandate over Palestine. Women are still active
in the current resistance movement.
Jamila Buhrayed (or Bouhired) was a powerful symbol
of courage to millions in the Arab World. As a member of the underground
for Algeria's liberation from the French occupation, she was imprisoned
and tortured. Also the important female figure of the Algerian resistance
against the French colonialism was Lalla Fatma N'Soumer.
Howar Tacco was killed in an anti-colonial demonstration.
WOMEN AND EDUCATION
-In the past, and due to economic and political reasons, particularly
during Western colonialism in the Middle East, women's education lagged
-Later, and in the nineteenth century, modern schools for girls were
established first in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Saudi
Arabia established their first schools for girls in 1960.
By 1985 there were 20 million females enrolled in all types and levels
of education in the Arab countries.
-Arab girls are more likely to enroll in all-girls junior and high
-Arab girls are more likely to study math and science than their
Western counterpart sisters. They compete for top places in medical
and engineering faculties.
-Most universities are co-educational except in Saudi Arabia.-Education
is free for all, from primary to graduate schools.
-In spite of the availability of free education, poorer families
do not send their girls to school. They send them to work in order
to support the family or assist their mothers with housework.
-Teaching is the most widely available occupation for Arab women.
They hold positions as teachers, principals, curriculum supervisors,
college deans, department chairpersons and other administrative positions.
-Many Arabic countries pride themselves on having numerous women
in as university professors in almost every field, such as engineering,
medicine, pharmacy, law, statistics, psychology, French, English, and
-Women in the Arab World have also excelled as poets, writers, journalists,
singers and actors. In addition, they have entered the world of sculpture
and painting, and participated in international exhibits around the
Fatin Hamama, Egyptian actress.
WOMEN IN SPORTS
Arab girls, especially from affluent families, participate in different
sports such as volleyball, basketball, swimming, horse-back riding,
tennis and gymnastics.
Many Arab girls have excelled in the international level, such as:
-Abla Khairy (Egypt), who swam the English Channel at age 13 in 1974.
-Jihan Metwalli (Egypt), also swam the English Channel in 1974.
-Nawal El-Moutawakel (Morocco), won the gold medal in the Women's
400 meters hurdle, in the 1984 Olympics.
WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
-Women won voting rights in several Arab countries since the 1940s.
-Wives of several
current and former Arab rulers have considerable influence in their
countries advancement, such as Late Queen
Alia (Jordan), and present Queen Noor (Jordan)
enhancing the medical facilities. Anissa Boumedienne (Algeria)
created the Women's Union and was active in the war of independence.
Jihan Sadat (Egypt) reformed the
family laws, and created vocational training centers for village
women. Susan Mubarak (Egypt) won
a prize from UNICEF for her work on behalf of children.
-In addition, Arab women have been appointed as cabinet ministers,
ambassadors, and representatives in the U.N.