In an article for International Women's Day, which occurred on March 8, 2014, Palestinian activist Ahlam Akram reviewed the repeated violations of women's rights across the Arab world and claimed that laws relating to the status of the Arab woman "belong to the Stone Age." According to her, Arab countries do almost nothing to improve women's status under the pretext of preoccupation with "the grand campaign against Israel." She noted further that, despite reforms that have been enacted to grant women more liberties, for instance in Saudi Arabia, the situation of Arab women remains bleak.
The following are excerpts from the article:
Ahlam Akram (image: gulfnews.com)
"Iraqi women [recently] launched a protest rally against the [proposed] personal status law, [a law] that was vehemently defended by Iraqi MP Susan Al-Sa'ad on BBC Arabic. The proposed law, if approved, will permit marrying minors – girls from age 9 or from the first signs of sexual maturity... The law, if approved, will determine that the testimony of a man is worth that of two women, which entrenches sexual inequality, and will join other violations of women's rights [anchored] in law, such as a maximum penalty of three years in prison for a husband who kills his wife...
"[The situation regarding] women's status in Egypt is no less bleak. Since the popular uprising in 2011, there has been a steady decline in the status of women, because the new constitution preserves inequality among citizens of different religions. In addition, there has been an increase in sexual violence and harassment, trafficking of women, and female genital mutilation [FGM].
"As for Lebanon, newspapers reported about 27 Lebanese women who suffered violence, some murdered by their husbands. But the [Lebanese] MPs – who are supposed to represent these victims of violence and defend their rights – mostly insist on blocking laws that [would enable to convict] men...
"The tragedy of the Syrian woman exceeds all others, from marriages of girls under 12 in refugee camps to the spread of rape, and worst of all, more than 4,000 cases of FGM reported – not to mention other violations!
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"In Saudi Arabia, despite reforms enacted by the king, [the requirement] to observe the custom of guardianship [by a male relative] still stifles the woman and denies her liberty. The religious police continues [to operate] as a hostile [body] that stifles women's ambitions and denies them the simplest human liberties that could make their lives easier, such as driving a car. [Women] are also required to operate according to laws firmly anchored in the shari'a, which come from the Stone Age...
"In the Palestinian territories, both governments [the one in the West Bank and the one in the Gaza Strip] blame their lack of action and inability to defend [the rights] of the woman on the Israeli occupation. This is the same excuse used by Arab countries [to prevent] political and economic reforms and to avoid defending the Arab citizen. The pretext of the grand campaign against Israel is still alive after more than 60 years, though there is no trace of any war – which I certainly do not wish for – nor of the 'peace of the brave'...
"In addition to the Palestinian woman suffering poverty and domestic violence, which is widespread and culturally acceptable, the biggest violations are 'honor killings.' Statistics show that in the first nine months of 2013 there were 25 such crimes, and yet both authorities [the PA and Hamas] do not lift a finger to change the laws that have been around since the Stone Age and which exonerate the murderer on the grounds that he was defending his honor.
"As for Jordan, ostensibly a spearhead of civilized modernity, we should know that educated MPs, who skip between Jordan and Europe and America to visit their daughters studying in universities there, still refuse to pass a law that would impose a deterrent punishment on men convicted of honor killings.
"In Morocco, it is enough to know that the penal code forbids harboring a woman who has left her husband.
"There are many common denominators in legislation that are unique to Arab countries, [including a tendency to] favor the man; [the practice of forcing] a rape victim to marry her rapist so he can avoid punishment; [discriminatory] inheritance and testimony laws; compensation for physical harm [in lieu of punishment]... and the inability of the woman in many Arab countries to transfer her citizenship to her children if she marries a foreigner. Furthermore, [a divorced woman] does not receive custody of her children while the man can cheat on alimony payments, etc. etc....
"In the past decade I have not met a single girl who wants to return to an Arab country after finishing her studies in a British university. In fact, some use every trick possible to obtain a permanent visa and never return, and the reason [they give] is one: I want to live in a society that respects me as a woman."
 Elaph.com, March 9, 2014.