Category Archives: Gender Issues

Gender and politics

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How People in Muslim Countries Think Women Should Dress

Concepts/Issues: Cultural perceptions, discrimination/prejudice, rights, gender equality, freedoms.

One of the region’s most liberal societies prefers one of the more conservative head coverings
JAN 9 2014, 10:14 AM ET (The Atlantic) 
How respondents in various countries said women should dress. (Pew Research Center)

Wearing some form of head covering in public is an important sign of Islamic identity in many Muslim-majority countries, but there is considerable variation in the extent to which women are expected (and sometimes mandated) to cover up.

A recent Pew report, based on a survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research from 2011 to 2013 in seven majority-Muslim nations, reveals just how widely opinions about female attire differ in the region.

The researchers asked the respondents in each country, “Which one of these women is dressed most appropriately for public places?” while showing them this panel:

In the full paper, the study’s authors explain that “style #1 is en vogue in Afghanistan; #2 is popular among both conservatives and fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab countries; #3 is the style vigorously promoted by Shi’i fundamentalism and conservatives in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon; #4 and #5 are considered most appropriate by modern Muslim women in Iran and Turkey; and #6 is preferred by secular women in the region.”

The fourth style, a white hijab that fully covers the hair, ears, and neck, was the most popular across all of the nations on average, while a fully uncovered look (#6) was only embraced among the comparatively liberal Lebanese.

The authors also asked participants if women should be able to choose how they dress, and majorities in only two countries—Turkey and Tunisia—agreed.

A country’s economic development, it seems, had little correlation with preferences for a less-conservative veil. One of the richest countries of the lot, Saudi Arabia, also had the most people saying they preferred a black niqab that covers the entire face.

Instead, the authors found that dress preferences tracked most strongly with each country’s level of gender equality and social freedoms.

That makes Tunisia’s preference for a relatively conservative hijab particularly interesting, since Tunisians hold otherwise relatively liberal values: The country showed tepid support for an Islamic government, it had the most respondents who were supportive of a woman’s right to dress as she wishes, and it also had the largest percentage of people disagreeing with the idea that university education is more important for boys than for girls.

And while respondents in all of the countries rated their own country as more moral than the U.S., Tunisians were the most likely to say they’d want Americans as neighbors.

At the very least, the survey shows that there’s more to wearing a veil than conservative Islamic values.

The destabalisation of marriage

The Disestablishment of Marriage –  | by STEPHANIE COONTZ on June 22, 2013

AT first glance, the prognosis for marriage looks grim. Between 1950 and 2011,according to calculations by the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the marriage rate fell from 90 marriages a year per 1,000 unmarried women to just 31, a stunning 66 percent decline. If such a decline continued, there would be no women getting married by 2043!

But rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated. People are not giving up on marriage. They are simply waiting longer to tie the knot. Because the rate of marriage is calculated by the percentage of adult women (over 15) who get married each year, the marriage rate automatically falls as the average age of marriage goes up. In 1960, the majority of women were already married before they could legally have a glass of Champagne at their own wedding. A woman who was still unwed at 25 had some reason to fear that she would turn into what the Japanese call “Christmas cake,” left on the shelf.

Today the average age of first marriage is almost 27 for women and 29 for men, and the range of ages at first marriage is much more spread out. In 1960, Professor Cohen calculates, fewer than 8 percent of women and only 13 percent of men married for the first time at age 30 or older, compared with almost a third of all women and more than 40 percent of all men today. Most Americans still marry eventually, and they continue to hold marriage in high regard. Indeed, as a voluntary relationship between two individuals, marriage comes with higher expectations of fairness, fidelity and intimacy than ever.

But marriage is no longer the central institution that organizes people’s lives. Marriage is no longer the only place where people make major life transitions and decisions, enter into commitments or incur obligations. The rising age of marriage, combined with the increase in divorce and cohabitation since the 1960s, means that Americans spend a longer period of their adult lives outside marriage than ever before. Continue reading


Women in Islam and gender understood through religion

Am having to face some very difficult questions in class these days on gender equality and religion. What is ‘religious doctrine’ and cultural practice is fuzzy at the edges, particularly since relativism and subjectivity has found its way into almost all but the most cloistered of religious institutions, radically changing the way “religion” is conceived in  rapidly evolving cultures.

I’m a big fan of studying similar spiritual traditions among Abrahamic religions (Chronologically: Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and am in the midst of reading up more on women in Islam. Please feel free to direct me to any good links on the concept of femininity understood through religious tradition or scriptural texts.

Here’s a primer on women in Islam passed to me by Ms Suzie.



Saudi Arabia’s women-only cities are no blueprint for liberation


A plan for cities of female workers will not increase women’s independence. It is akin to US-style Jim Crow racial segregation

‘How can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination?’ Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images
Aug 13 Monday, The Guardina

Are radical feminist separatists infiltrating Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite? Have the women of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia undergone a wild revolution,read Love Your Enemy? and decided to eschew all male company to create their own political systems and free themselves from the patriarchy? I hope so, because otherwise it’s hard to imagine the convoluted logic behind a decision to build all-female cities to boost women’s employment.

The country already has separate schools, segregated universities (and thebiggest all-female university in the world) not to mention offices, restaurants and even separate entrances for public buildings. Now industrial hubs are to be built so that women can be hidden away even further than their current dresscode of abaya, headscarf and niqab allows.

The country’s segregation is so extreme the plans bring to mind the US’s racial divide under the Jim Crow laws, ensuring “separate but equal” institutions for black and white people. And like the legalised discrimination in the US, “equal” in this context means no such thing. The female half of the adult population of Saudi Arabia is considered unfit to control their own lives. Women cannot decide whether to leave the house, whether or who to marry, whether to work or study, whether to travel, what to wear, or even whether to have major surgery – without the consent of a male guardian.

In a country of such startling misogyny, which treats women like children, it is hardly surprising there are few women in work and that it is becoming a crises the ruling elite is being forced to take notice of. Almost 60% of the country’s college graduates are women, but 78% of female university graduates are apparently unemployed – despite the fact more than 1,000 hold a doctorate degree. In total only 15% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce are women. And unlike in many recession-hit countries, there are more than enough jobs to go around – the economy apparently booming.

Yet with women refused driving licences for fear it will lead to social disintegration, education for girls failing to fit them for the workplace, and businesswomen still expected to have a male representative to deal with government agencies, not to mention the pressure to provide women with separate offices, employers naturally favour men. With sexism so central to the system, women are also largely restricted to traditionally female-oriented fields in the public sector and less than 1% of decision-making posts are held by Saudi women. Continue reading

What’s stopping women?

This illustration is by Jon Krause and comes from <a href=""></a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.

PRINCETON – When I wrote the cover article of the July/August issue of The Atlantic, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” I expected a hostile reaction from many American career women of my generation and older, and positive reactions from women aged roughly 25-35. I expected that many men of that younger generation would also have strong reactions, given how many of them are trying to figure out how to be with their children, support their wives’ careers, and pursue their own plans.

I also expected to hear from business representatives about whether my proposed solutions – greater workplace flexibility, ending the culture of face-time and “time machismo,” and allowing parents who have been out of the workforce or working part-time to compete equally for top jobs once they re-enter – were feasible or utopian.

What I did not expect was the speed and scale of the reaction – almost a million readers within a week and far too many written responses and TV, radio, and blog debates for me to follow – and its global scope. I have conducted interviews with journalists in Britain, Germany, Norway, India, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Brazil; and articles about the piece have been published in France, Ireland, Italy, Bolivia, Jamaica, Vietnam, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, and many other countries.

Reactions differ across countries, of course. Indeed, in many ways, the article is a litmus test of where individual countries are in their own evolution toward full equality for men and women. India and Britain, for example, have had strong women prime ministers in Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, but now must grapple with the “woman-as-man” archetype of female success.

The Scandinavian countries know that women around the world look to them as pioneers of social and economic policies that enable women to be mothers and successful career professionals, and that encourage and expect men to play an equal parenting role. But they are not producing as many women managers in the private sector as the United States is, much less at the top ranks. Continue reading

Gender inequality – what women need. (Observe the evaluative language)

Naomi Wolf, Project Syndicate, 4 Jul 2012

NEW YORK – We are just recovering, in the United States, from the entirely predictable kerfuffle over a plaint published by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and a professor at Princeton University, called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” The response was predictable because Slaughter’s article is one that is published in the US by a revolving cast of powerful (most often white) women every three years or so.

The article, whoever has written it, always bemoans the “myth” of a work-life balance for women who work outside the home, presents the glass ceiling and work-family exhaustion as a personal revelation, and blames “feminism” for holding out this elusive “having-it-all ideal.” And it always manages to evade the major policy elephants in the room – which is especially ironic in this case, as Slaughter was worn out by crafting policy.

The problems with such arguments are many. (EV) For starters, the work-family balance is no longer a women’s issue. All over the developed world, millions of working men with small children also regret the hours that they spend away from them, and go home to bear the brunt of shared domestic tasks. This was a “women’s issue” 15 years ago, perhaps, but now it is an ambient tension of modern life for a generation of women and men who are committed to gender equality. (EX – explaining why it is no longer a women’s issue) 

Such arguments also ignore the fact that affluent working women and their partners overwhelmingly offload the work-family imbalance onto lower-income women – overwhelmingly women of color. (EV – making a judgement/providing personal opinion) One can address how to be an ethical, sustainable employer of such caregivers; nannies in New York and other cities are now organizing to secure a system of market-pegged wages, vacation time, and sick days. Or, as so often happens in a racist society, one can paint the women who care for the elite’s children out of the picture altogether.

Moreover, an inflexible and family-unfriendly corporate environment is no longer the only choice for working women. Many, particularly in the US, have left that world to start their own businesses. Continue reading

Score 1 for Saudi Women’s Rights




DUBAI — It’s only just the runup to the London Olympics, and Saudi women athletes seem to have already suffered a near miss. Last week Saudi Arabia announced that women would be allowed to compete in the games, a landmark change from the ultra-strict Islamic mores that ban women from public competition. But then the one Saudi woman set to compete in London, the equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, had to bow out due to an injured horse.With sports as with other matters, women’s rights are the barometer for change in Saudi Arabia.

As the stopwatch clicks toward the opening ceremony, Saudi Arabia is under pressure to find other female athletes to compete. But having banned its women and girls from engaging in sports at home, finding one who’s had access to Olympic-level training is a long stretch.

With sports as with other matters, women’s rights are the barometer for change in Saudi Arabia. But the issue of Saudi women in the Olympics also marks a milestone in how the kingdom tackles demands for change.

For roughly a decade, the dynamics have worked like this: for fear of a conservative backlash, King Abdullah has taken careful and coordinated steps toward reform. With the Olympics issue, however, it is public pressure, inside the country and out, that seems to have changed official policy.

Saudi rulers prefer to shift course on policy when they want and how they want rather than be seen as responding to popular demands. The concessions they do make, like appointing more women to government posts and granting women the theoretical right to vote in future elections, aren’t the ones activists specifically demand. It’s as if they don’t want to set a precedent that would effectively reward protests or public campaigns.

But this time, after a wave of international pressure from human rights groups and an active debate in Saudi Arabia about women in sports, public pressure moved policy. Human Rights Watch, among others, lobbied the International Olympic Committee to pressure Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete. (Gender discrimination violates the Olympic Charter.)

On the domestic front, women activists like Lina al-Maeena, who coaches the Jeddah United basketball team, are looking for ways that women can play sports while respecting Islamic norms. Her team plays in track-suit abayas that match their traditional headscarves.

Saudi female soccer players practice at a secret location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.Hassan Ammar/Associated PressSaudi female soccer players practice at a secret location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Men, women and power

Some interesting view points here, and key facts about the disparity between men and women in the economic sector. Feminist Gloria Steinem gives her opinion about not ‘fitting into’ male-dominated and created leadership model, but transforming it –  creating an equally respected, alternative model.

Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge?

MUNICH – Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge? A challenging new book by the Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker says that the answer is ‘yes.’

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker presents data showing that human violence, while still very much with us today, has been gradually declining. Moreover, he says, ‘over the long sweep of history, women have been and will be a pacifying force. Traditional war is a man’s game: tribal women never band together to raid neighbouring villages.’ As mothers, women have evolutionary incentives to maintain peaceful conditions in which to nurture their offspring and ensure that their genes survive into the next generation.

Skeptics immediately reply that women have not made war simply because they have rarely been in power. If they were empowered as leaders, the conditions of an anarchic world would force them to make the same bellicose decisions that men do. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Indira Gandhi were powerful women; all of them led their countries to war.

But it is also true that these women rose to leadership by playing according to the political rules of ‘a man’s world.’ It was their success in conforming to male values that enabled their rise to leadership in the first place. In a world in which women held a proportionate share (one-half) of leadership positions, they might behave differently in power. Continue reading