My observations from Women in the World – Women in the Middle East
March 11, 2011 by Amy Siskind
So much data, information and ideas floating around in my head from The Daily Beast/Newsweek Women in the World Summit. I’ll try to share as many as I can on our blog in the coming days.
I’d like to share some thoughts which stuck with me from a panel moderated by Christiane Amanpour. Participants on the panel about women in the Middle East:
Wajeha H. Al-Huwaider – Saudi Arabia – journalist and activist
Sussan Tahmasebi – Iran – Int’l Civil Society Action Network for Women’s Rights
Dalia Ziada – Egypt – author and activist
Zainab Salbi – Iraq – Founder and CEO, Women for Women Int’l
Here are some of the tweets/notes which stuck with me:
Egypt – Women were part of revolution. Women have equality on the blog and are valued for their minds in the world of social media. Over 250,000 women took to the streets. Women were active organizing the initial day of protest via blogs and social media. Yet, Dalia frets that since that time, women have not seen any gains, nor does she expect they will. While articles of law related to human rights are changing, none of the articles which are unfair to women are have been amended – nor is there any contemplation that this will happen. Genital mutilation still the norm.
Iran – more women than men graduate from college. Iranian women also hold many professional careers such as lawyers and doctors. I found this rather shocking. Here’s the bad news – in the law, women count as half of one man. Literally. For example, if a woman goes to court to testify, her testimony counts as one half of one person. A woman’s vote counts as half of a man’s vote. And so, no matter what gains women make in education and professionally, they still have no real rights over their own lives in almost all respects.
Iraq – Unlike Iran, the vote of a man and woman are the same so they are considered equal in that regard. However, because of religion’s role in governing everyday life, it is still the man who makes the decisions which dictate the lives of women and girls. Girls do get education and the possibility of a career. Things generally seem to be moving backwards for women now.
Saudi Arabia – by far and away seemed to be the worst place for women. Women cannot be out in the open without the permission and company of men. Can’t drive or be alone in the car. The only public meeting places are Mosque – no places for women to publicly hang out for companionship or to share ideas. Women do get education including college graduates being more than half women. Their career choices are limited and they are always the property of men. The laws which based on religion make them second class citizens with no rights for money, property or custody of children. Women have no voice and risk their lives by speaking out. Immediately, it occurred to me how brave Rasha is to write about the lives of Saudi women for our blog!
Zainab made the point that women have been part of protests in the Middle East since the 1960s in Algiers – yet, not once have women made gains from revolutions. The oppression of women will sadly continue.
Sussan made the point that women need to show virtual support for women in other countries. Her organization has done so by starting petitions. Governments do listen to dissent from the outside.
Zainab and Sussan mentioned that men in their countries are concerned about equality for mothers, wives or sisters – but they are concerned for their daughters and this creates an opening for dialogue.
All stressed the necessity of unity of women across borders.
You can watch the entire panel discussion here.
Now an interesting story from lunch today. Condeoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright were being interviewed by Lesley Stahl. Much of the discussion was related to an “unnamed” country in the Middle East – a country which has two words. Frankly, I found it rather puzzling that neither said the words “Saudi Arabia.”
At the end of the discussion, when questions were being taken, I saw Wajeha quietly walk up and raise her hand. She was great. First, she wanted to know why Condi and Madeleine did not use the words “Saudi Arabia” – was it because our kingdom has oil and you are afraid of offending our king?
Then Wajeha laid into Condi for an answer she gave about how women could advance in this “unnamed” country. Condi had responded through education and political involvement. Wajeha called her to the mat. Wajeha said 70% of all college graduates in Saudi Arabia are women. Yet we are not allowed to get jobs. Condi backpedaled a bit and said political engagement was necessary too but the point was made.
That said, Condi was one of my favorite speakers. She’s tremendous, truly. And I really, really get the sense that when she was SoS, she made it a point to look out for the advancement of women. She also refused to take any partisan bait which I admire and respect.
Madeleine had a funny story which I will use to close out this piece. She recently visited her granddaughter and her daughter made a big deal about the fact that Madeleine was a SoS. The granddaugher told the mother (paraphrasing): “That’s no big deal Mommy. We have lots of those.”
P.S.: Condi did take the time to stop and give me a signature for an admiring fan. My 10 year-old son looked at the list of speakers and told me that Condi was his favorite.