Women in the GCC

14 Feb 2014
14 February 2014

Appalling but true, the most common international opinion addressing nations or cultures today is stereotypes. Contrary to what any stereotype the world may set on women in the Gulf region, they do have rights regardless of how male dominating the region may be. Being a woman myself who has lived in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, I got a chance to see just how much rights are given to us women. Also being a woman who has lived in two Gulf countries, I got a feel of how much of an impact society has on the role of women.

For starters, anyone who visits almost any part of the Gulf region would realize the treatment that woman receive. The simplest of examples  on this matter are of women in stores, on the streets, waiting in line, as they are always prioritized over men. This is to slightly touch upon how society treats women, which will be further evaluated in this report. Putting society aside, surely countries have to abide by a set of laws. The question is, are the laws helping or discriminating against women?

The Gulf region has a family law, which can also be referred to as the personal status law. This law follows Sharia or Islamic law. Having said that, and without any objections to the Islamic law, it means that women do not have equal rights as men in some specific areas such as marriage. Religiously speaking, a man can divorce his wife, however, the wife cannot divorce her husband (with exceptions). Polygamy in Islam is allowed for men, provided that they follow a set of rules, but is forbidden and very sinful for a woman.

If we look back in the region’s history, we will find that women were discriminated against, but not intentionally by the law, rather they were just sidelined. These laws changed with the development of education and sophistication. Surely, when woman were not as educated as men, they lost the privilege to be employed in many places. Was there a law banning women from getting education or against entering the workforce? Absolutely not, this was entirely in relation to societal expectations where a woman’s job included only the household and a man’s job was to get an education, work and provide for his family. As westernization and globalization came into existence, societies changed and women these days are not only independent workers or students, but in some cases they equally share the role of the provider with the man. In the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the number of female students entering high schools and receiving a college degree outnumbers that of their male counterparts. In Bahrain, they are considering lowering the retirement requirements for women but giving them the exact same pension as men. As quoted from a study done by Dr. May Al Dabbagh and Dr. Dalia Abdelhady: “Existing research points out that global processes have improved the labor force participation of women in the GCC. They have also improved levels of education and access to leadership positions.”

Facts show that women nowadays in the GCC are almost equal to men. The only couple of factors that segregate women from men are the religious factors, which no country in the GCC can go against. Numbers also show that women are just as capable as men, and that women are striving to become equally successful as men. Experience and reality shows that women are valued more than men in this region because a woman will always have greater needs and the Gulf countries will always respect that. The international voice will always go back to one point which is “women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.” Maybe there is slight discrimination but even this issue calls for an opposing viewpoint considering there is no written law forbidding women from being issued a driver’s license but there are social limitations that act as barriers for such a thing to happen.

In conclusion, I believe that the law is not discriminating against women in this region in any way as they have equal voice, equal income, equal positions, but more importantly, greater attention than men. There will always be socio-economic factors that will affect such issues. Similarly, there will always be the giant wave of globalization influencing those factors.