Women and the Arabian Society
Women and the Arabian Society
Family is at the core unit of Arab life and is predominantly in extended form incorporating uncles, aunts, and elder relations. It is the conduit of leveraging political networks, economic resources, and social relations. It is based on a patriarchic structure with continuity between the family, religion and the state unbroken. It follows that the government distributes resources through family heads reinforcing patriarchic biases and promoting nepotism. The women are faced by patriarchic impediments in every sector, the private, public, and domestic sphere.
Family is the primary political institution as elevation to the echelons of power is possible only with the support of one’s relatives. A person’s social identity is relative to their familial background. For instance, the entity of a female is derived from her patriarchal relations, the daughter of a given father, and the sister of the brother of the father (Adely, 2012). Family law is deferred to religious institutions officiated by exclusively male clerics. Civic institutions scope is very limited. The financial security of family members is hinged upon the family hence the importance of fiscally stable relatives, the elderly, and other dependents are to be protected by the family. Though there are provisions for female inheritance in the law, it rarely practiced. Some females intentionally leave their inheritance to their male siblings as a backup plan for a failed marriage. The family is a religiously revered institution mandated with maintenance of spiritual sanctity. It is tool of controlling the behavior of the respective family members.
Patriarchic norms are the social guidelines in the Arab world that elevate the status of males and elders to some extent, inclusive of women. The authority and the power of males are relative their age and gender (Fernea, 2010). These rights are justified in kinship terms. The females are socialized to revere their male counterparts from the father, brother, cousins to uncles. Similarly, the youth are expected to respect and defer to their elders. Upon maturity, the authority of the male adult in his respective kinship circles is validated. His clout at that juncture increases inversely proportionate to that of the elder women. Conversely, males are raised to be guardians of their female kin whilst the elders are mandated to take responsibility and protect those they supersede in age. Even younger males may have authority over their older sisters. It follows that in some communities like Saudi Arabia a woman should not venture out in the public without the accompaniment of a male kin. A younger sibling may suffice. Patriarchic norms presuppose patrilineality where the father becomes the base of descent. It follows that even when married the wives retain their father’s lineage.
Though these laws are largely observed in Arab societies, there exist various exceptions and differing interpretations. The male patriarchic authority differs in relation to their political, influence, economic resources, and social capital. It follows that a younger brother with a successful political career may become more influential in the decision making of families affair. The authority of the uncles may become diminished if they do not fulfill their social duty of protection and provision. The father may lose authority over their sons if their health or wealth becomes declined. In the same manner, the authority of a successful aunt or warm derived from independent wealth or an increase in political clout may transcend the patriarchal guidelines. In terms of lineage, the maternal relatives may become more important if they are more influential, have imbued with more resources than their male counterparts. If any patriarchic authority is not supported with political, social, or economic resources, it is susceptible to challenge.
The socialization entails the process through which an individual in integrated into a particular group. It gives one their identity, a sense of belonging. The individual is inducted into the group’s norms, values, and principles that guide one’s interactions, such as ways of greetings. The socialization process in the Arab world is characterized by social segregation (Four Women of Egypt Rached). The males are known to be more intimate in their greetings relative to their Western counterparts. The women go to same sex events even schools settings with few exceptions. It follows that majority of women encounter the opposite sex at the work settings. The separation is instrumental in upholding the perception of morality in the society. The women embrace the practice as an important part of maintaining their virtue. The females are socialized to be dependents economically and politically. The women access finances through their male kinship relations while the some do not interact with money at all. The women are disenfranchised as such their male relations make their political decisions on their behalf (Adely, 2012). This informs their career decisions of some educated women who prefer to stay home and nurture their children. The women are raised to respect their male relatives. It follows that they at times forego their inheritance rights to prevent discontent in the family. Being subjugated becomes normal. As aforementioned, even where the political rights of women are present, without social reinforcement they are redundant. Women are raised to compromise to maintain social stability and avoid confrontation with the opposite sex. With the exception of their male children during their formative years, every male encounter demands subservience on the female’s part.
Culture, Gender, and Power Dynamics in Arabian Societies
The Arabian culture is the arena that informs power and gender dynamics. Contemporary society has witnessed a departure from traditional values and norms that characterized the Arab world. There are changes in the familial structures and the corresponding power hierarchy, the central tenet of culture in Arabian lives is religion that also influences the power dynamics in society. Research has shown that majority of Western based perspective on the Arab world are superficial coercing conformity to their allegedly superior ideals. The above misconceptions cause Westerners to depict from the Arab society as backward. The departure from traditional norms in Arabian societies is influenced by the compromise towards economic growth.
Economic growth has shifted power dynamics by incorporating women into the workforce. To spur innovation, political organizations are forced to increase the access of women to the workforce (Wing, 2016). The power relations were previously defined in kinship terms with the male relations has full control over the life of the female. Female subordination was expected in exchange for maintenance and sustenance. The primary role of the female was child bearing and rearing. It follows that their marriages were arranged at the onset of puberty to maximum the fertility of the girl.
Every country in linked to a global economy that has codes of conduct while some can be ignored without consequences others are universal. The global society requires political maneuvering that translates in economic growth. It follows that Arabian authorities have had to adjust some of their policies to align with international standards (Adely, 2012). For instance, the age of marriages in some Arab countries like Tunisia and Egypt have been shifted to the age of eighteen. Nonetheless, some relics of the past ages persist. Hitherto, the elder males still broker their daughter’s marriage without their consent. The competitive nature of the global system even amongst the Arab nations has forced them to promote literacy among their populations. The educated females progress into the working class pool. Their recruitment into the workforce is due to necessity rather than a change in religion. In some countries, primarily Northern African countries, there has been legalization of women’s right to vote. By being allowed to participate in politics, they are innately empowered. The women have been given opportunities to run for political office.
The level of deviation from the traditional gender and power relations is informed by the degree of the respective families’ exposure to modernization and their innate social class. While religion remains the cultural compass of the Arab society, some governments has opted to interpret it liberally (Adely, 2012). The said liberal interpretation has worked toward diluting the potency of patriarchic reign in society. As some women are educated, they are able to amass wealth and subsequently autonomy. As aforementioned, the power hierarchy in the kinship family is informed by amount of resources. It follows that a woman with independent wealth or political stature may become revered than his corresponding poor male relation. The loss of innate authority by the males leads to a loss of identity destabilizing the society. The integration of modern culture has led to a change the familial structure. The power hierarchy emphasized that a younger sibling becomes subordinate to the older brother. The sibling rivalry is gradually declining as families are having one daughter and one son. The emulation of the nuclear family system proposed by the West had translated to a decline in the essence of the family in the social sphere. The family was the linkage to the public sphere, state, the domestic sphere, family, and the private sphere, civic (Wing, 2016). The family has been relegated in the power hierarchy given the decline in its communal strength. The family becoming weaker as the custodian of religious conformity it leaves a vacuum for other more fundamental groups to step up to role.
The Western analysis of Arab societies and their gender relations is compromised by generalizations. Majority of the researcher do not recognize the diversity innate in the Arab world as tribal traditions blend with religion and national legacies to form unique cultures. It follows that a study of a particular group cannot be a representative of the entire Arab society (Wing, 2016). Similarly, they do not take into account the differing social classes. The power relations are not equally distributed across society. It follows some families that desire to be polygamous are limited not because of their liberal inclinations but the due to insufficient funds. Similarly, the researchers ought to take into account individual preferences some women though educated autonomously decide to become homemaker’s fulltime equivalent to the Westerners stay at home mums. The above is not because of systemic oppression or dysfunctional socialization. Different cultures have different definitions of progress that may not necessary fit into the Western model.
Adely, F. (2012). Gendered paradoxes: Educating Jordanian women in nation, faith, and progress. University of Chicago Press.
Fernea, E. W. (2010). Guests of the Sheik: an ethnography of an Iraqi village. Anchor.
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Wing, A. K. (2016). Women in the Revolution: Gender and Social Justice After the Arab Spring. J. Gender Race & Just., 18, 341-499.