The state of Arab women is better than we like to admit

There is nothing more patronizing than being told that women aren’t able to perform to the best of their potential

Yara al-Wazir
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The state of women in the Middle East is better than we like to admit. On the surface, the topics we mostly discuss are illiteracy rates and whether or not women are permitted to drive, yet sadly the plights and successes of the feminist movement over the past two decades in the region does not receive the recognition it deserves.

Recognizing the generation gap, and looking forward

It’s human nature for us to focus on the negatives. High illiteracy rates, low rates of female participation in the workforce, low rates of female participation in leadership – the list goes on. Yes, the numbers are bleak, but the future isn’t. What local societies and the mainstream media must recognize is that while there is a gender gap in the Middle East, there is an even greater generational gap. Generation-Y Arab women, those born post 1990, are truly making a difference, with higher rates of employment, participation in education, in research, and cultural trends showing greater open-mindedness. However, without the support of Generation X, and other generations before that, who laid the solid strong foundations for my generation to succeed, it would not have been possible.


There is nothing more patronizing than being told that women aren’t able to perform to the best of their potential because of the cultural, societal, and political barriers that surround them

Yara al-Wazir

If it weren’t for my mother challenging the status quo when she was in her 20s and going to study abroad, I wouldn’t be living and working abroad right now. This is why we must not blame previous generations for poor participation and skewing the results, rather realize the significance of the generation gap with the results.

Gearing the feminist movement towards the right direction

The feminist movement, first and foremost, has created jobs for women in the region. NGOs that target issues such as domestic violence and the image of women in the media are in fact mostly run by women. This is one of the key reasons owing to their success; these change-makers recognize that for the most part, Middle Eastern policy is dominated by male lawmakers, and we, as women, cannot always expect them to know what we want or prioritize it.

Instead, these change-makers started their own NGOs and created a market for female employment, in turn a successful NGO that has actually managed to successfully shape policies with regards to domestic violence laws and regulations. Egypt has finally prosecuted its first case of FGM. Jordan is addressing its rape law. The domestic violence law Lebanon's parliament passed in 2014 aims to advance women's rights and safety. In the UAE, a Gender Balance Council is to be formed, intending to boost women’s role as key partners in the advancement of the Emirates. And Algeria has outlawed domestic violence. These are all milestones we need to recognize and celebrate.

Mothers #MakeItHappen every day

‘Making it happen’ is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. Civil society movements and activists, including myself, have in the past had a narrow definition of success: a good job and a stable income. Yet this Women’s Day I’d like to celebrate the mothers in the region who have raised an outstanding generation of young entrepreneurs and decision makers.

Arab women #MakeItHappen every day, and have been doing so for a long time.

Arab women need to be given more recognition for the simple things they do. And in no way is this patronizing. In fact, there is nothing more patronizing than being told that women aren’t able to perform to the best of their potential because of the cultural, societal, and political barriers that surround them. While I do acknowledge that these barriers exist, convincing ourselves and believing that these are the only factors that act as a hurdle to the development of women in the region is in fact the biggest barrier of all.

Before women can convince men to give them a chance, we must convince ourselves.

Arab women make headlines for their achievements. They win awards, both locally and abroad. Arab women make a difference in the lives of their communities, they lead NGOs, they lead discussion forums, and they fuel a significant part of the economy. They are entrepreneurs, fighters, and survivors. Arab women are already #MakingItHappen.

Women's Day
Women's Day

This article is part of Al Arabiya News' Special Coverage on International Women's Day.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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