Has Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy’s Foreign Policy polemic – Why Do They Hate Us? – generated so much debate because her claim that Arab male misogyny explains the region’s gender inequities appeals to Western media paternalism?
“Many Arab women are perturbed that her article received so much attention while millions of women leaders throughout the Middle East are reduced to a footnote by Western media,” writes Sarah Aziz:
These women are the unsung heroes in the trenches struggling to shed the yoke of patriarchy infiltrating the crevices of their lives. But because they do not adopt the direct and radical approach in Mona’s piece, they are often overlooked. Their empowered lives do not satisfy our craving to fulfill the stereotypes of the oppressed and subjugated Arab woman in need of saving by the West.
Highlighting “the millions of women leaders who incrementally chip away at patriarchy, as opposed to bulldozing it with a sledge hammer,” Aziz stresses that “Arab women, both Christian and Muslim, have been struggling for equality for more than a century.”
Perhaps she is thinking of such women as Nobel laureate Tawakkul Karman, leader of Yemen’s Women Journalists Without Chains, or groups like Egypt’s National Association for the Defense of Rights and Freedom, which promotes awareness of women’s civil and political rights in such rural areas as Alexandria, Ismailia, Daqahliyah, Bahr Al Ahmar and Suez; the Association of Egyptian Female Lawyers, which strengthens women’s leadership and participation in decision-making; or Morocco’s Carrefour d’Initiatives de Communication, d’Information et de Documentation, which coordinates innovative advocacy strategies on women’s rights, including a documentary featuring its network of rural listening centers.
“Despite strong resistance from some men and women, every new generation treads new ground,” Aziz argues on The Huffington Post:
Whether it is the right to vote, the right to serve as judges, or the right to run for political office, Arab women have made much headway. But there is still much work to be done on multiple fronts. From disparate literacy rates, unequal wages, flawed personal rights laws and underrepresentation in government, gender equality in the East (and the West) remains an aspiration rather than a reality.
Sahar Aziz is an Associate Professor of Law at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law where she teaches national security and civil rights, and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.