by Emily Connors
My digital video essay focuses on the complex role that gender plays in the culture of the Middle East. I highlight how it is important to place Middle Eastern women’s rights within certain social, economic, and political contexts. Women’s rights in the Middle East has had a staggered an uneven development because of the variety of contexts that occur within the region. Some areas of the Middle East have seen successful women’s rights movements drastically transform their cultural, political, social, and economic landscapes. However, other area’s have had stagnated success in achieving women’s rights and other area’s have seen little to no success women’s rights movement. In my digital video essay, I compare and contrast the women’s rights movements of Iran versus the women’s rights movements of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I aim to show how certain areas have had women’s rights movements suppressed or success has stagnated for various reasons. When gender issues in the Middle East occur, they derive from cultural practices and legal doctrine. This places women at a disadvantage within the social hierarchy of the andocentric society. Women’s rights movements in the Middle East have not been equally successful or linear in progress. Some Middle Eastern countries have been slower to transition their society to one of equality than many other regions of the world. It has been found that the weaker and more unstable the political structure of a country, the more likely it is to have strong patriarchal systems, too. I use the aggression of the Taliban as an example of a hindrance to the movements. Outsiders stereotype the Arab woman as secluded, veiled, and kept within the domain of the home in the private sphere. However, this digital video essay aims to show how Arab women are much more than that and their each of their lives are different in social, economic, educational, religious, and sexual contexts. The Western world must dismantle the motion that women in the Middle East are passive and powerless even though they are in a marginalized position within the social hierarchy.
The digital video essay also shows the differences between the public versus private spheres within some Middle Eastern societies and how they reflect gender roles within societies. Gender segregation restricts the daily behaviors and lives of Middle Eastern women and how they move through space. Women in the Middle East have begun to create strategies to counter the male authority structure. Since the 1980s, women in some Middle Eastern countries have started to challenge the authorities and rethink gender. Such movements originated in Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. Iran has had a particularly successful women’s rights movement, beginning in the nineteenth century. When women became involved in the Constitutional Revolution, it sparked a new movement for women’s rights within a quickly changing society. The combination of the spread of the Baha’i religion (which emphasized gender equality), the emersion of Western liberal thought, increased relations with Europe, the emerging success of the neighboring Egyptian and Turkish women’s rights movement, created an ideal circumstance for Iran to form a successful movement, themselves. In this digital video essay I aim to show how women’s rights movements in the Middle East have a long history and are not a new phenomenon. However, the movements are often critiqued by their opponents that they are products of the infiltration of Western capitalism and are not borne from Middle Eastern culture itself.
Middle Eastern states have had various degrees of impact on women and women’s rights depending on many contexts and places. Globalization has confronted Middle Eastern countries with how to view women within their societies. Middle Eastern women in many areas have created their own strategies to counter the presence of the male authority structure. They have begun to form their own niches of power even within the patriarchal system and in this way they are countering their marginalization by creating their own meaning. The Middle East is not a homogenous region, but rather a diverse area of the world consisting of a multitude of social, historical, political, and economic contexts. It is because of this that the development of women’s rights has been uneven between the many countries of the region. My digital video essay will highlight the uneven development of women’s rights movements in the Middle East.