Should women's rights be a priority in the Arab world?
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
What is the role of women today in the Arab world? What do young Arab women think their role will be in the future?
On 23 April the BBC is hosting a special debate programme in Cairo, Egypt, on the role of women in modern Arab societies, with a panel of guests from across the Middle East including Nadia Bakhurji, the first woman in Saudi history to make a bid to run for public office, Kuwaiti academic Dr Alanoud al Sharekh and head of the Alliance for Arab Women, Dr Hoda Badran.
The programme, hosted by BBC presenter Zeinab Badawi, forms part of a project by the BBC World Service Trust project called My Life, which has been encouraging women in Arab nations to explore their hopes for the future. The main theme is: Where will you be in 2015?
Are you an Arab woman affected by the issues mentioned above? How are the roles of women in the Arab world changing? What are your expectations for the future? Do you have any questions you would like to ask the panel? Send us your comments and experiences.
Do you think women's rights should be a priority in the Arab world? Vote now using the vote form on the right hand side.
Women in the Arab world was shown on BBC World on Saturday 23 April at 1210 and 1910 and Sunday 24 April at 0710 and 1710. All times GMT.
This debate is now closed. The following comments reflect the balance of views received.
It is interesting to see the number of anti-women comments made here by Arab men who are residing outside of the region. It is the privilege of Arab men in the exterior to enjoy the company of empowered Western women abroad while at the same time promoting and supporting conservative, unequal roles for their mothers and sisters in their home country.
Heather Kubo, Washington DC USA
It's a great thought to think that things will change so easily back home; but its going to take time. As a Muslim Arab woman brought up in both Saudi and Lebanon I got a glimpse of two different worlds. Lebanese women may have more power then Saudi women but they are still hidden behind the cloak of male superiority. Women all over the Arab world have the drive to take power. It's not a matter of encouraging them, it's a matter of the men letting go and opening their minds to that fact that we are equal and just as capable.
Maya Baltaji, Edinburgh, Scotland
If Islamic fundamentalism keeps expanding into violence the way it is today then Arab women will have no say whatsoever other than to weep for the dead and dying. If their menfolk can truly follow the tenets of the Koran then Arab women will have equal rights with all men.
Len Barrett-Coulson, Mandurah, WA, Australia
The men that run Arab society will never give women the same rights. I lost my sister through an "honour" killing - The man unworthy of the name, my brother, was not even charged in Jordan. Arab men are too afraid to permit equality and it is a stain on all of us.
Whalid Anwhar, Slough, UK
It is vital for a balanced society to allow women the right to vote. It is not Islam to blame, since other Muslim-populated countries have encouraged women to vote and even to hold political office - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Malaysia included. However, it is not only voting rights, first and foremost is securing their basic rights. Women need their right to life, to food, housing and economic security and the protection from abuse. Voting is important but not the sole important aspect of bringing justice and equality towards women in the Middle East and Islamic world. These other issues must also be addressed.
Amina Chaudary, Boston, MA, USA
For me, it is hard to say that women are being oppressed in the Arab world, the main reason being that in my own family the women are strong. My mother has a graduate degree in botany and she lived and taught education in different Arab countries. One of her sisters is an engineer and has a high post in the government. My mother's other sister has a Phd in linguistics from a US university. My other aunt stays at home but she has the last say in her house. Not only that, my when my dad was alive he was at home and my mother went to work. It can't be religion because my family have strong faith and my grandmother's father was a scholar.
Omran, Muscat, Oman
First of all, Arab women are not necessarily all bound by Islamic rule. Secondly, women's rights are not about women becoming astronauts or women being able to love alone! This is a very unrealistic way of looking at the issue from a purely Western perspective. Besides that, the Arab world is not a homogeneous geographical area and the condition of women, just like all other issues, varies greatly from one Arab country to another. Being an Arab woman myself, and having lived in the Arab world all my life, I can assure you I have no problems in terms of women's rights. The problems we face now are mainly caused by a general lack of education and awareness, lack of freedoms, political pressure from external parties and growing fanatic and extremist movements among the young.
I'm a woman, an Arab Muslim and comfortable with it. I think it doesn't matter who you are, if you want respect, equality in rights and education you'll get them if you live in a healthy family and environment. Please don't blame beliefs. I also consider myself lucky because I live in a Western country and I pick the best from the two cultures to apply into my home and to my children. Nothing and nowhere is perfect. One thing I'd like to add, I gave birth to both my children in Iraq and both times I had one year maternity leave with full pay for the first six months and half pay for the rest, and my job was still waiting for me. I think that Western women would vote for that.
Nada, New Zealand
Women are no less human beings and should never be seen as second class citizens. God created man and woman in his own image. It's about time women's right be given priority in the Arab world.
Boye Adewodu, Makurdi, Nigeria
Modernity is an irresistible force. Progress and democracy will reach the Arab world the same as in the West. Religion and superstition will collapse the same as it has in Western Europe. Every generation will see fewer and fewer theists until Islam is as much of minority pursuit as Christianity is here in Europe. This is undeniable, it may take a generation or two but equality, reason and secularism will prevail. It is only in a secular society that women, and men, can be truly free.
C, London, UK (ex New Zealand)
My mother was the first diplomatic woman in Egypt. She entered and passed the exam, thereby opening the door for Egyptian women. Her name was Hoda El Marassy. She has been exceptionally recognised and chosen by President Mubarak for her remarkable career and nominated Ambassador in Rome, Italy. Such names and such characters are a mark in the perpetual struggle of Arab women towards emancipation and equal opportunities, which unfortunately nowadays are shaken by the rise of Islamisation wrongly adapted to cripple such wave of true social equality.
Yasmine Bictache, Montreal, Canada
The way women are perceived in the so called "Arab world" is inherently linked to the determination of the region's men to keep them under their thumb. I come originally from Tunisia. There, women have the same exact rights as men in all domains. In fact, there are more women than men at the university. The issue is not Islam. Tunisians are Muslims and good ones to boot. The issue is power. Those who have it, ie men, do not want to relinquish it. They will use all means, including the skewing of religious principles, to maintain their upper hand and control. The truth of the matter is that Islam glorifies women.
JB Gabsy, USA
It's not so long ago that Swiss women got the vote and this is in our so-called enlightened times. For the Middle East I'd say it's another 50 years at least before women in that area get equality with men.
Alan, Warsaw, Poland
Men and women are equal in terms of human rights, but we've been created with different physiognomies for a reason: women are given the blessing to bear children, and men are physically stronger. Still, if women want to get jobs and vote, Islam is not going to stop them. If men try to prevent them then the men are the oppressors, not the religion. Many of them want someone at home to cook and clean for them, so will use Islam as an excuse for keeping them in the house - well they're twisting things the wrong way.
Fatamo, Muscat, Oman
I would say that women rights is an issue not only in the Middle East and the Muslim world, but it's also an issue in the West. I'm a Muslim Middle Eastern who now lives and studies in the US. In the West men still get paid more and even hired for some jobs because they are men. So, please, don't just blame the Muslim world for not treating women equally, the West still has a long way to go.
Nilufer, Durham, NH, USA
Insecurity and the fear of losing control are the main inspirations behind the denial of rights to women no matter what religious affiliation or culture you belong to. Everyone has their own unique talents and strengths, along with their own weaknesses in life. So pointing out that women cannot or should not do this or do that and thus not be allowed to have equality is an excuse to not open one's mind to the reality that we are all different and yet we all share similar needs and desires. Those in favour of denying women certain rights that they themselves cherish are using their fears and insecurities to justify their beliefs while never really conceding the fact that they are just scared of change and losing control of power.
Cortlande, Chicago, USA
It should be left to the Arab world to sort it out with positive encouragement from the rest of the world. It should not become an excuse for some to send huge armies to cause massive damage in the name of women's rights.
Raj, Oxford, UK
Women's liberation contributed to the destruction of the morality of the Christian West, it will likewise destroy the morality of the Islamic East.
I should hope that one day Arab women would have the same rights as men. However the men do not have complete freedom here either. We must work for all of us to have the rights God gave us and fight for the freedom we deserve. We have talked about voting in Saudi. This is a country where I cannot drive let alone vote!
UmAli Al-Abad, Qatif, Saudi Arabia
I guess people only believe what they see. Most westerners who comment here are in the ME for jobs. Jobs that necessarily place them with the most open parts of Islamic society. From that place they draw their conclusion that Arab countries aren't so much worse than Western countries. When they decide to get out of their secluded Western enclaves and live among the regular people in those countries, maybe then their anecdotal info will be relevant.
John Morales, Texas, USA
The role of women in the world is mostly determined by women. For example, now in the US it is common for a woman to discard a professional life to stay at home with children. The real truth is Arab women probably don't want to deal with men issues. A great deal of culture is actually determined by women in general.
John Guzowski, Florida USA
Most of the Arab and Muslim women who are living in the West and participating in this discussion, seem to point out the that there is no real equality between men and women there either. They praise Islam for its treatment of women. Yet, if they are so unhappy about living in the West, why do they stay there? Why not go back and try living in the Arab world? Is it because no matter how much they complain about the West and its treatment of women, these ladies are much happier living in the US or Canada or the UK. I know I am happier being a Muslim female in Sweden than in the Middle East.
I am an Arabic Muslim woman from Oman. I was working as a Director of a very technical department before coming to do my PhD. What I will say, the situation for women in our country is not bad at all though there are some men who are sick minded and lack trust in themselves and overcoming that by convincing themselves to be better just because of being men. Unfortunately, they are trying to use religion as they know that we are very attached to our religion. When I was much younger I thought that might be true but when I read more about Islam and the Islamic history I was shocked by the twisting they were making to support their views. I was happy to find that the Islam treated the women as valuable jewellery but they changed her to a cheap piece of furniture. What we need is a better understanding for our religion and to stop mixing between the culture and the religion.
Aisha Al-Qurashi, London
Most people in this forum seem to agree that educating women will do wonders for their futures in the Middle East. They are forgetting half of the problem: what about educating men? Love your mother is beautiful but what about her other roles in society? Educating people to respect each other and their equal rights goes both ways. Educating women to stand up for their rights will do nothing if we don't also educate men to accept women as equals.
Anakalia, Montreal, Canada
I am neither an Arab, neither am I Muslim. But I am a woman and I would like to express outrage at Mr Asif Aslam's comments that freedom for women would mean chaos in the Arab world and that men should be freed first. Completely ridiculous comment. How are men superior in any way to deserve freedom earlier than women? Men and women are equal and whatever a man deserves a woman deserves equally by virtue of them both being human beings. Also, it is very important to understand that it is not Islam that oppresses women, but society and individuals who pervert Islam to do so to further their on ends.
I am Englishman married to an Egyptian woman and have lived in Cairo for three years. The rights of everybody in Egypt are so limited that it is wrong to focus on one group. People are limited by lack of education and opportunities often depend on having patronage or nepotism. Under Islam and the true Arabic system, men have greater responsibilities and therefore must take priority when it comes to having employment etc. Unfortunately too many men take the benefits and do not fulfil their duties. True Islam, and not the false version practised here, is the only answer.
Omar Russell, Cairo, Egypt
Ironically, they will be more free to express who they want to be in their own country. While at the same time less free to be they will be less free to express who they want to in countries like France and Germany.
John, NY, USA
We first need human rights in the Arab countries and other rights will follow. Women's rights should also be observed in the Western world, where women are pressured to live up to stereotypes causing them to become obsessed with their weight and fashion sense.
Khaled Arikat, London, UK
We must keep the women where Allah says they belong. No exceptions!
Mohammed Ali Adbul, Detroit, MI USA
My mother and grandmother have been voting since 1963 in Algeria (soon after our independence from France). My mother has been driving since 1965 and I have gone to university, as have most of my friends and relatives. My sister is a lawyer while I have finished my postgraduate studies in London. A lot of ladies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Tunisia are educated and smart and own their own businesses. Sure, we have problems, but most Arab countries have just won their independence within the last 40 years from France, Italy, or Britain. Yes there is a lot to be done but we don't want genocide and bloodshed to liberate our brothers and sisters.
Fatima, Oran, Algeria
Arab women have all their rights, we have higher education, degrees from universities all over the world and we have our political rights. Since 1998 when I was 18 I have voted in my country. We can work in any job we like, but that doesn't mean we want to be workers or any thing that a man can do. I vote for 'no', because we already have our rights! Just visit Bahrain or read its newspapers and see how many women are in the first line in the government and in the social circle. Have a nice trip in truth.
Fatheya al Mubarak, Bahrain
I am an Arab woman who grew up as a Catholic and converted to Islam in my late teens. Having lived both as a Christian Arab and a Muslim Arab, I found Islam to be most liberating to women. Islam is not just about liberating women, it also honours them. The standard for Muslim women is God. A Muslim woman enjoys utmost respect in her own distinctiveness that she was created with. Many Muslim women do not know their right in Islam. In many ways, I would be considered a strict Muslim, since I cover totally from head to toe. Yet, I am a wife, mother, run a successful business and quite active in community work. I hope to see the Muslim Arab world apply Islamic laws justly and cease the corruption that it lives in.
I am an Arab women living in the West. My parents are very traditional, so you can see how difficult it is to grow up with two clashing cultures. I always fought my parents for being so strict and blamed Islam for legitimising their claims. However, after being educated and researching the many stereotypes Westerners and even hypocritical authorities in the Arab society preach against Islam, I have concluded that it is Arab society and not Islam that is responsible for the dehumanising of women in our traditional society. Educating yourself is the only way to find the truth and history will answer for a lot of the misguided leaders who claim they have God given right to be in authority.
Fatima Hammoud, Windsor, Canada
I am an Anglo woman married to an Arabic man - we're both Muslim and we both have careers in education. To be honest I think my husband does more housework than I do, since my little daughter keeps me so busy, so I know that there are Muslim Arabs who genuinely aren't sexist. But one thing I do find interesting here is the incredible level of denial from the Middle Eastern writers here. Yes, there is still some sexism here in the "West" and yes you will find many liberated women in the Arabic world. But I think the oppressive things that most of the Western writers are referring to are things like Egyptian women not being allowed to leave their country without their husband's permission, Saudi women not being allowed to vote, acceptable honour killings in North Africa and, yes, Islam stating that a woman's voice in court is worth half that of a man. Are the Arabic writers out there seriously not seeing these things? Or are they just so familiar that they're not paying attention to them?
Carmen, Medina NY, USA
Men and women are like apples and oranges. They can't be equal in all respects. Giving women rights is a recipe for chaos in the Arab world which is plagued with other pressing issues, such as giving freedom to men.
Asif Aslam, Chicago, Illinois, USA
The onus of equality cannot be placed on women, but on society as a whole. In order to achieve the full extent of rights, it is not only to be expected of women to change their reality, roles and responsibilities, but these demands extend towards men as well and it would include changes in all spheres of public and private realities. I can only speak as a person who has experience with the Western society, and as such, I believe our own society will benefit with more than a few changes when it comes to women's equality, however, this process does not occur overnight and requires both genders participation. It must also extend throughout all social levels. I know many wealthy Arab women are very educated, come from nice families and have similar lives to their Western counterparts, but the lower classes, the majority of the women that most of these responses refer to, do not have those benefits and seem to suffer far greater discrimination and cruelty based on gender alone. This is why the Arab world and the world of Arab women must change.
Irma Arkus, Vancouver, Canada
I come from a region that is under-represented here. So I might have something to add. The Muslim women here in this region who bought the Western idea 10-15 years ago, shedding their veils for mini skirts and bikinis, are beginning (with education) to realize how grave a mistake that was and are going back to their veils. The Western idea of equality for women is fundamentally flawed and every Western woman (who thinks/reflects) knows that. What equality are we talking about when women are constantly "striving for equality" in a man's world? And to do that one has to constantly struggle to look young, pretty and maintain her shape as well!
I think with more women receiving education and becoming financially independent you can only expect them to assume a bigger, more free role in society. I noticed in the past three years that women in Lebanon have become more independent, with many of them living abroad and by themselves. This was not very common in the past years. Four years ago when I moved to Canada it was quite a new experience for my family. Now most of my female friends and cousins live abroad. I think Arab women should force Arab men to treat them with respect. Men in the Middle East are used to be treated as superiors and will not give any rights to women easily!
Many of the commentators mention that the condition of Arab women is not worse than Western women. I ask the question how many Arab women are astronauts, are in the military, deep sea divers, forestry officials, onsite engineers, explorers, chairpersons of large corporations or internationally acclaimed sport persons? Compare this percentage with the Western world. The answer is the role of Arab women in particular Muslim women is limited to mother, wife, teacher and at the most some professions deemed suitable by more moderate sections of the Muslim society. They are free within this defined boundaries but beyond that they cannot do what they want.
D Datta, USA/India
Inequality exists even in the west. As an Arab-Jewish woman I have faced injustice and inequality more in Europe and the USA than in Yemen, my native country.
Ofra Haza, Omran, Yemen
I have lived in the Middle East, North Africa and now UK, so I have seen the treatment of my fellow females there. There is nothing near equality out in the Arab world for the genders in general, although some countries do better, such as Oman and UAE. Of course, here in Europe, nothing is perfect and I have met with discrimination in what is still a man's world at work. However, at least legally this is not tolerated. This is the fundamental difference. As for the future of Arab women, I think it will improve, albeit slowly. I cannot see the men relinquishing any power to them, unless the women start to ask for it. It's almost as simple as that - you don't get if you don't ask for it.
Anon, London, UK
I have lived in Saudi Arabia for 14 years and my family continues to live there. While people voice extreme concern, or even talk about the situation there with regard to women's rights, why not try travel there? I have three sisters, and of course my mother. My eldest sister works in King Saud University as a doctor, my other sister worked for as a secretary and my mother has been working since 1995 as a teacher in various schools and not once have they ever complained about getting a job. They have a variety of rights, but in no way is it a priority, they're not screaming for help. What's bothering me is the west keeps claiming to speak on their behalf, and I know none of my sisters or my mother would appreciate that.
Ahmad, London, UK
It is interesting that the majority of those contributing to this debate are educated and affluent people whose priorities in no way reflect those of the majority of Arab women - who are on the whole poor, illiterate, downtrodden, and powerless. If something has to change in the Arab world, then it will have to be in providing education, family planning, empowerment, and participation in decision-making for both women and men.
Mina Amin, Cairo, Egypt
I think there is a far greater need of Women's rights in the West than in Arab world. Flag bearers of democracy and equal rights haven't yet produced a single woman president in last 400 years.
Imran Ali, Lahore, Pakistan
As a Lebanese-American woman, I feel the opportunities I have in the US are far greater than the ones women have in the Arab world. Of course women are not "equal" to men in Western societies, but there are far greater opportunities in the West which give women the chance to move forward. That day is very slowly coming to Middle Eastern women and I hope it will be here sooner than 10-15 years from now.
Lara Maxey, California, USA
The poll question implies that women's rights are ignored. As an American living in Syria, I've found that women have a lot of rights - more than they do in the US. For example, women receive the same salaries for the same work, something women don't share in the US. In Syria, women have their freedom to choose their role in society. In the US women must work, very often, in order for a family to have a middle class standard of living. That is not expected here in Syria. Naturally, religion and social custom limit women in some spheres, but that is not untrue for their counterparts in the West. I don't believe Arab women should adopt Western customs as an answer to any of their problems because in reality they will simply be trading one set of problems for another.
Abdul Jaleal Nasreddin, Damascus, Syria
The political movement in the West is to the right and to becoming conservative. The political movement in the Middle East is to the centre. Can someone please define "emancipation of Arab women"? What will it take?
As an Iraqi citizen living abroad, I can at least attest to my mother and cousins' experiences, under US occupation. They cannot drive on their own anymore. They need to be chaperoned at all times. They are discouraged to attend school or work not because they or their family don't want it, but because the security situation is so bad, extremists are rampant, and they are discouraged for their own safety's sake. Not long ago, women held high positions in the state. Women were encouraged to work because they had to fill the gap left void by men battling at the fronts for two long wars. They obtained the highest degrees and came to hold very influential positions. Now, no-one knows what the future holds or if there is a future at all for Iraqi women.
Zaineb Alani, Columbus, OH, USA
The role of women in the Arab world will hopefully change to become more Islamic, because in Islamic law they have the right to vote and participate in everything else. It's Arab governments that don't apply Islamic law the way it should be, such as Saudi Arabia. The role of women will change, and I hope for that, but I also hope that it will not be through Westernisation.
Mahmoud Khobieh, Montreal, Canada
Getting equal rights is truly the first solid step into a modern world. We cannot expect democracy when half the people don't even have the same rights as the other half.
Jason d'Eon, Montreal, Canada
There is a tradition in Islam where someone asked the Prophet whom he should love most. The Prophet replied: Love your mother. The man asked, and who after that? The Prophet replied: Your mother again. And after that? asked the man. The Prophet replied once more: Your mother... and then your father. The West sees motherhood as a burden and obstacle to career and freedom, Arabs see it is an honour and pleasure. It is important in understanding the different mindsets, priorities and approaches to life between the West and the East, before the West start proposing/imposing their own version of progress on the Arab world.
I find most responses in this page are wishful rather than realistic. I am a British Arab working in UAE. Gulf Arab women (who I work with) live under horribly sexist, medieval and reactionary conventions. They are not allowed to be human, let alone voice an opinion. This is first hand information. Religion, backwardness and tradition are to blame.
I strongly agree with the brave Iraqi woman: Fayza Al-Shammary. I am a British university lecturer working in Al-Ain. You would just have to look at the differences between the male and female university campuses to realise how sexist this community is. Male students with cars, mobile phones and freedom to leave campus - female students are not allowed any. They have to be picked up by a male relative proving his ID. They are constantly forced into arranged marriages; and only allowed to work with their fathers' or husbands' consent. By sharia law, a woman's word in court is only half a man's. Do not defend Islam - it has a lot to answer for.
Amal Adnan, Al-Ain, UAE
We should not be talking about "saving" the Arab women, personally I respect the fact they have managed to preserve their culture in the face of Western progression. However the one problem in the Arab culture that I foresee is the desperation of teenage boys and girls to interact with each other - and I believe in the near future there is going to be change, not through the governments discretion but from the peoples'.
Alice, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
I am a Canadian citizen but originally come from Afghanistan. I see the treatment of women in these two countries as extremes where women are mistreated equally in both worlds. In Afghanistan, any villager with a big beard and a big turban is regarded as a sheikh even though he has no Islamic education. In Canada, if you want to sell anything, it must have a picture of a woman in bikini on it, and rapes and sexual harassment against women, most of which are not reported, appear everyday in the newspaper. Genuine Islam, the Koran and the Sunnah are a moderation of these two extremes and it is the only solution to the mistreatment of women, no matter where it is.
Abdulsaboor, London, Canada
I have lived and worked in different Arab countries most of my life. I never felt that I was discriminated against in any way. But I do realise that there are several problems related to women in different socio-economic groups. Middle class women and upper classes are expected to be modern women who look great, have a career, a husband, and take care of the kids, and do everything related to house work. In other words a super woman that has both qualities from the East and the West. We are asking women to be both modern and have traditional roles in the same time. That's too much to handle so usually failure in one aspect in her life is possible whether in taking care of the kids, or a failed marriage. It's not about not having an equal opportunity in work place or education this is not the case, its about having many responsibilities attached to being a woman.
Diala Karim, Alberta Canada
I am a graduate student at Georgetown University, getting my masters in Arab Studies, with a concentration on women and gender, with this I am a bit biased toward women's issues and do believe that women's rights definitely need to be a priority in the Arab world. Nonetheless, I am an optimist. Arab women have come a long way and I expect they will continue to advance far into the future. Despite the obstacles that lay in their way, they remain strong and resilient. It is crucial that the political situations in various Arab countries do not set women back, taking away their various social advancement, which seems to be occurring throughout various Arab countries. This phenomenon must be reversed, to the benefit of women and the society at large.
Hala, Casablanca, Morocco
As well as discussing this topic, we should also address the issue of stereotyping and generalising within the Western media!
Samir Mourad, London, UK
I'm an Egyptian student studying at Cambridge and I can say this: That Corpus Christi College, one of so many Cambridge colleges, only started admitting female students in 1982 (my year of birth), which was 11 years after my mother obtained her university degree in Cairo! I think that speaks for itself!
Ola, Cambridge, England
Being a man in America I feel I have little understanding of what life is actually like for Arab women. All my information comes from US and Western media and we all know how often this is unclear (at best). What I do know is that women in America still make 75 cents to the dollar when compared with men. The gender war has been going on since the beginning of time and the process to rectify inequalities is slow. The women's liberation movement took place in the 1970s and while many attitudes have changed passive sexism is still at work.
Matt, San Ramon, CA
I'm only 11, but I believe that Arab women need to be educated and the people that are stopping this from happening are Arab men who are afraid that us women are smarter than them.
Gozcan Otun, Istanbul Turkey
I hope the BBC has recognised that a good number, if not the majority of responses state that most Arab women are fed up with the stereotypes made about them and their style of living. I think they make it absolutely clear that they wish to choose their destiny according to the guiding principles they want and not those imposed upon them by traditionalists or the West.
I am an Arab woman in her late thirties. I am pursuing a very successful career and I am financially independent. All decisions and the choices I had made since I was 16 were completely respected by my family and my society. I am not an isolated case. I know so many women who are empowered and enjoy full respect of their rights in the Muslim world. They mostly come from a middle class and more importantly, they all come from a generation of parents who lived the independence days of the sixties, where leftist nationalist ideologies formed people's awareness. This is, of course, not representative of the realities of all Muslim women but at least at times it gave me faith that such ideologies will be more prevalent in 2015.
Zara, Amman, Jordan
Women rights in the Arab world seems more propaganda by Western leaders than any real issue. The real issues that are more important than women's rights are things like restoring democracy, education and the economies of Arab countries.
Asad Mahwah, USA
At the current pace, I believe it will take a generation and a half (30 years) for women in Arab lands to finally have a strong voice. Particularly, technological advancements, access to greater information, globalisation (excluding the strong-arming of one nation over another), education, and the passing of the old guard (includes aging patriarchal and cultural mannerisms and gender separation), will allow women to be recognised as a key factor in the growth of any nation. The greatest untapped resource right in front of the face of men in the Arab world is the silenced women.
Jesus Williams, New York, USA
I believe now that Arab women are being given their human rights they will come out and will eventually dominate roles traditionally held by men. These roles would range from CEOs of companies to taxi drivers. But they will also face new problems like sexual harassment and there is a high chance they will become sex objects to men like women are in the West.
Mike , New York, US
I am a Brit living in the Middle East. As usual the West are portraying Arab women as oppressed, and some of the naive views of the people mailing in are what the West are looking for. Since when do women in the West share equal rights as men? Look at your own figures for sexual harassment in your free societies, women being underpaid, women being discriminated against etc. Islam does not deny women rights, far from it, in fact a woman is going to get fair treatment under Islamic law, treatment that she would never receive under the laws of the west.
Hasan Munire, Doha, Qatar
As an Arab woman who has recently spent most of her life in the West and who recently returned to work in the Arab world, I can admit that things are changing for women here, albeit slowly and incrementally. The most obvious changes are in professional life, here in Saudi Arabia there are opportunities for women that never existed say 10 or 15 years ago. Nevertheless however, it is still the grassroots mentality of the country's inhabitants and its social norms that hinder the full development of women and the role that they could play in government and politics. Women will never be able to fully have their say if we do not have a truly democratic system where the wishes of women and the issues that are important to them are fully represented.
Anonymous, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
In USA there is an affirmative action law, which hopes to eliminate racial or gender discrimination by requiring a preferential treatment of those marginalised groups. Iraqi women need to be preferentially treated by the new Iraqi constitution for at least one generation. To answer your question in 2015, those young girls who are almost teenagers now will have a decent mental foundation for rough but equal participation in their society.
Erkin, New York, US
If an Arab woman chooses to practice her faith and stand by her beliefs then all the power to her. The problem, however arises from when an Arab Woman doesn't conform to society's expectations. Arabic men and women need to be educated on the freedom of choice and to realise that honour killings need to become a problem of the past, and quickly, before all the educated, logical Arabs run away to the West and never come back.
R Hadid, Montreal, Canada.
Perhaps the West can be educated on the real status of women in the Arab world today. The news organizations only focus on the worst examples of oppression and rarely report the fact that the Arab and Islamic World has women participating in every level of society. Go to Egypt, Pakistan and other Muslim countries and you find woman engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and even ministers and prime ministers. How come we never hear their stories?
Hosam Badr, Boston, Mass, USA
I believe that the rights of women generally follow from the increased secularisation of societies. Unfortunately, religious codes inextricably bind us to the moral values and societal norms of the era in which these texts were conceived, a time where it was widely accepted that females are inferior to males, and should therefore be the property of them. In Arab countries power is invariably concentrated in the hands of men, so I imagine we will continue to make very slow progress towards increasing the rights of women. Nevertheless, it is very important that we redouble our efforts to secularise and democratise our societies.
This inequality is not only in Arab world, it is everywhere. The only difference is that women are facing more inequality in Arab countries. As a woman growing up in Iran for 20 years and educated in US universities for 10 years, I can say I faced the same inequality in USA as I experienced back in Iran.
Sarah, CA, USA
I am living in an Arab country and our women are participating with men in all type of work for their country. Life has changed for Arab women in many countries. It is not necessary for the women to be Westernised in order to work even with Arabic tradition - woman can work and have a better life.
Iqbal Wali, Oman
I hope by 2015 women in the Arab world will be on their way to reach the freedom that they are worthy of, be more educated and stop looking towards the West, where there are double standards when it comes to women. Also I hope they realise that you don't have to become behave and dress like a man to reach your potential.
Suad Mohamed, Ottawa, Canada
I am a 17 year old living in the UK. I personally have to say that Arab women's future can be decided by many things, education coming foremost. Arab women, nowadays, are being distanced from religion, this should not happen and they should be given the right to religious knowledge as well as "worldly" knowledge.
Anon, London, UK
The problem that I see here is that everyone wishes to compare Islamic countries to Europe or the United States. It is like comparing apples to oranges. Nations such as Iran and Libya, for example, have as part of their very culture and society the notion that women are second class citizens. It is deeper than just a religious belief that women are subservient to men, it is ingrained in every aspect of their society. That certainly isn't something that you can change in a mere 10 years.
Sean, Orlando, USA
A society should seek a harmonious balance. Gender politics is a divisive issue, much like class warfare. We don't need the western model of gender war as that will wreak havoc on society and women will bear the brunt of it. Don't forget that 40% of households in the US are led by single women doing two or more jobs trying to support their family. The Islamic model is better for it seeks harmony. Arab societies need to change to provide better opportunities and rights to men and women.
Farouki Majeed (US expat), Abu Dhabi
I'm an Arab girl, I'm actually happier then Western girls in a way that I have people around me who care about me. My role today as a woman in the Arab is great, I'm living my life to the max, plus my role in the future is mainly to change the mentality of the Western people, thinking that we are suffering. Please spare us and stop generalising.
At the moment, Arab women are demanding better education and better lifestyles. The problem with Arab men and the rest of the world is that they are confusing Arab culture with Islam. The two are very different. In Islam, the woman is highly treasured and praised. The men tend to forget that our Prophet was an employee to his wife, who was an Arab business woman, 1500 years ago! We should get back to our roots as Muslims, because by applying the religion the righteous way, then everyone is treated equally.
Mahmoud Khobieh, Damascus, Syria
There is a huge generalisation in the Western press. North African women have voted and driven cars since 1963, and we went to school to get university degrees. We don't have to wear the veil unless we choose to and no one is oppressing us. Yes, I agree things are pretty bad in Saudi and Iran and things should change there, men should help the women towards emancipation.
Fatima, Oran, Algeria
Education is not enough without offering suitable jobs for both partners. Most of the Arab countries have bad economies with high unemployment percentages. Reducing the unemployment percentage will give a chance for women and men to find jobs and to work together to build a good family, which is the main part of building a great nation.
Rakan, Amman, Jordan
the women in a few of the Arab world can practice in the development in their countries ,and get a high position such as a minister or ambassador etc, but I can't say that there will be a woman as president. In many Western countries they talk about how Arab women are under pressure and do only what they are ordered. But I feel that even in the most democratic counties women are under pressure. They concentrate only on the disadvantages not the positives.
Khalid, Sanaa, Yemen
I am surprised that nobody here has thought to ask whether Arab men are happy with their traditional roles. I agree that both sexes should have equal responsibility with regard to areas like child-raising and housework, but I also think that both sexes should have equal responsibility for providing for the family. With the costs that a man has to endure to get married and then to maintain the family and the fact that Arab women aren't expected to contribute financially to the upkeep of the family, it is clear that there is an imbalance.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK
I am a 19-year-old Muslim Egyptian girl. I think the conditions of Arab women need to be addressed as a part of the conditions of the Arab population on a whole. Girls today are deprived of education because of poverty, transportation difficulties and, as in the Palestinian territories, ongoing violence against the whole community; not because they are females. Secondly, I am constantly surprised that the veil is often used as a symbol of women's oppression when we Muslim women consider it a sign of honour and respect. I am wearing a veil myself and nobody ever forced me to do so and that is the case with everyone I know. Ignorance is to blame for women's abuse, not religion.
Yomna Ghoneim, Alexandria, Egypt
I am a young Arab woman living in the West. I think it's important for young women like me to make alliances and connections with women in the Arab world. As I see it young women are constrained by the things that are limiting young Arabs in general, such as unemployment, political stagnation, the negative economic impact of the brain drain, religious dogmatism, violence, occupation and a lack of democratic empowerment. And on top of all that Arab women must also fight patriarchal family norms and (male) political and religious leaders who use women's bodies as battlegrounds for their own agendas.
May El-Abdallah, Ottawa, Canada
The Middle East is making some strides towards granting Arab women more rights and also men. In Egypt, women can grant their nationality to their children and they also have the right to divorce. In the Gulf, they are moving towards more representation in business and voting, in Saudi Arabia they have had their first woman pilot, while Jordan has long had a few women members of parliament and so have Lebanon and Syria. I see an increase in individual rights occurring in the region and if peace comes to fruition then the more liberal politicians and reformers will gain ground and more will be represented in the population.
Basil, Dallas, Texas
In 15 years, women in the Arab world will have more freedom and equality than they have now. This is because the Arab world is ending its isolation, partly through military force, partly through cultural force and partly through internal change. The ideals of the modern world include general equality for women under the law and this outlook will continue to spread. With modern communication means, Arab leaders can no longer keep their people disconnected from events in other lands. As women become aware of what they can accomplish, and as men realise the great benefits of treating women as equals under the law, the situation of women in the Arab world (and elsewhere) will change for the better.
Patrick, Dallas, TX, USA
Women in the Near East are victims of persisting and outdated cultural perception bought on by stunted growth in cultural and traditional evolution, not Islam. In fact, Islam liberated woman (Man, too) and made her just as equal. That is history. The Western world is as much responsible for the suppression of the rights and the inequalities of Islamic women in the Near East as certainly are its own dictators, totalitarians and monarchs, who falsely use Islam to legitimise their power and do little to uphold its laws accordingly, especially regarding the equal rights of woman.
Arab-American Male, New York, USA
I think we have no right to say anything to the Arab world until the day I can, as a woman, go to work in the USA without putting on makeup and then collect a paycheque equivalent to any man the same seniority and experience.
Heather, Colorado, USA
There will be no change. Has there been a change in the past 50 years? br />Ajmal, London, UK
Before talking about women in the Arab world, one must realise that, just like all developing countries, Arab societies are split into two distant categories: the rich and the poor. It is therefore wise enough to look at the status of women in both categories. From my point of view, women in the lower socioeconomic category conform with the stereotype of being oppressed and inferior to men. These women need empowerment programmes and awareness activities to actually realise that they shouldn't be inferior. On the other hand, and strange enough, women belonging to the higher socioeconomic category are, in many countries, or at least in mine, given many rights. To your astonishment, these women often decide to give up their rights and become subordinates to men.
Christine Shenouda, Cairo, Egypt
I am a well-educated, young Saudi woman, who has lived in the United States and seen what a difference there is between our own cultures. I think the West, and by West I mean Bush and his cabinet of puppets, need to get over the fact that Arab/Muslim women are not educated and are voiceless. A huge majority of Arab women are not only educated, but they work, run the house, and take care of their children and husbands. The West needs to get over the fact that Arab/Muslim women will not go running around naked and selling their bodies. Why do you not elect a women to be the president or even a black man?
Mayada, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
It always amazes and confuses me as a Muslim woman that everyone keeps saying that Arab and Muslim women are oppressed and not evolved. I would say that is not the norm and although it does occur in some societies it has nothing to do with Islam. I feel as a Muslim woman that I have more freedom than I could ever have as a Western woman and I want very little to do with Western society. The question that ought to be posed is how can we help the oppressed women living in Western nations?
Remember that it was little over 100 years ago that it was considered unthinkable for women in Europe to be independent and equal. Before we criticise the Arab world for their treatment of women we should remember that we as a continent did the same thing not so long ago. The Arab states need to show progress, but they don't need to be ridiculed and poked at for being "backward".
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany
Why do people assume that it is only Arab women who get a rough deal? Many Western women also get beaten up, raped, forced to do things against their will... Perhaps they aren't forced to cover their faces but I know of a few women who have been 'forbidden' to wear certain types of clothing or cosmetics. Women in South America, Africa, India - worldwide - we all need better status, even in places like the UK where progress is for many, just rhetoric. Poverty is no respecter of rights and as 99% of global wealth is owned by men, all women need a better deal. It is not only Arab women who have a hard time!
The role of women will only change and be upgraded as long as women have the basic rights to education. Through education, their powers can be felt better in every field, be it in jobs, careers and homes, then women will have louder voices and more say in every arena. Educated mothers are essentials for every country because they will bring up the future generation, therefore benefiting society and every nation as a whole.
Esra Karatash Alpay, Istanbul, Turkey
The role of Arab women today and in the near future seems to be, politically at least, the same as everyone else in the Arab world and beyond - servitude to dictators and dominant minority interests, whatever they may be. If Arab countries respect their women, that not least includes their opinion, so where's their vote? Only when true-ringing freedoms and respect for all human rights are established will there be the right change, and I don't see us in the West encouraging that with many of our policies, for a start. Just as education is the key to liberating Arab women from certain cultural inequalities, education is also the key to making Western women realise certain things too.
Ben, London, UK
Arab women by the end of 2015 I think will be having much more freedom in aspects of their will. It is very important that men should understand this and leave them and their religion upon themselves. Whatever they do, the right to their religion should not be taken away, as we saw in France where the law of banning religious symbols in public places. Respect to others religion will have mutual benefit in the form of freedom to them and to others.
Its good to see such a debate with both men and women participating. I'm sure everywhere here can agree whether your a woman or not, or from which ever faith you come from, we all deserve the same rights and opportunities to better our life's. Change can be slow, but it can not be forced upon anyone. A general understanding needs to be taken, this is where education is vital for us all.
Zee, London, UK
I'm a 22-year-old Muslim woman living in the West and am sometimes even physically sick at the culture here. Sex is sold everywhere, even in children's toys we're seeing promiscuity now. Women and men's magazines and many channels show a sick-minded, sex-obsessed, unhealthy mentality. Wahabism's roots lie suspiciously close to British colonials and their agendas (just do some research on where this sect came from). Why is equality and freedom for women equated with Westernisation? Why in the world would I want to integrate into this culture?
Somaya, Vancouver, Canada
I strongly agree to the viewpoint of Lorena from Australia. The West considers the Western women as being fully liberated from the clutches of the men, have equal rights in all walks of life, are fully secure and can do whatever they wish. This is nothing but illusion. After the so-called liberation the Western woman has to undertake double responsibility, one as a household woman and the other as a worker to earn more money for her family. While keeping their own women under a great workload in the name of equal rights, the West is showing concern about Arab women. Quite right that the women all over the world should be able to get education, safety, healthcare and equal pay but the West should avoid exporting its norms and standards to other religious communities. Islam has given more rights to women than the West claims to provide. The Arabs as well as the Muslim world at large have to resort to Islam for the reforms regarding women.
Babur Mansoor, Pakistan
I'm a British-Egyptian woman and have lived in the West and the Arab world. As such, it's clear to me that the West tends to leap on any cultural tradition different from their own to claim Arab women are oppressed. Both Westerners and Arabs need to look below the surface and realise that oppression does exist, but the wearing of the veil or the decision to be a mother and not a career woman are not necessarily indicative of oppression. Oppression is about not being able to choose the way you live your life, not living your life in a way that differs from a Western 'norm.' The solution truly is education, on both sides - East and West.
Sara Hussein, Chicago, US
After reading these comments, I have no hope. Life will continue to be full of problems until men and women come to accept to be as God intended them and to be responsible about that. As far as Islam is concerned, it gives men and women a lot of freedom, but within the boundaries of a good society. Individuality is the sickness of the Western secular society where to be tolerant means to be tolerant of abuses suffered on yourself by other people. With reactionary ideologies, nothing can progress - feminism promotes abuse on women. Arabs need to rediscover their culture and religions and realise that the West has no real answers but many more problems.
AJ Nasreddin, Damascus, Syria
By 2015 I will hopefully be a mother. The way things are going, either I'll find myself raising my daughters in such an open and balanced way so that they will be 'fit' to join the higher echelons of society, or I'll find them facing reality and being taught from childhood how to lie, hide and be socially weak and undemanding. I'm not willing to subject anyone, let alone my own children, to the multilayered social hypocrisies that being an Arab woman entails. It's not about Islam. It's about the abuse of Islam by existing networks of power to keep the population fatalistic, acceptant, divided. I hope that by the time 2015 dawns on us, maybe we'll have done something to truly combat poverty, illiteracy and the absolute lack of stability which so many Egyptians face day in day out. Maybe then we'll be able to implement creative solutions and formulate answers for a society which is so inherently beautiful but which suffers so greatly.
Sarah, Cairo, Egypt
First of all, we are talking about Arab women. Why does Islam play such an important factor here? To my understanding, an Arab women is Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jewish or other. Arab women should not have their lives dictated by men and should be able to Westernise and at the same time keep their Arab (regardless of religion) values. It's not for women to change, but for men to change. They have to accept that women are capable and sometimes more capable than men themselves. I hope that one day we will have Arab women head of states. There is a feeling of renaissance in the Arab world and winds of change are coming.
Arab man, Syria
Arab women face two main problems, culture and extremist Wahabi movements. The solution is in freedom - as we have seen here in Iraq we are much better off and now we have over 30% of a parliament consisting of women. It can only move forward from here since both factors are quickly being eliminated.
Faiza Al-Shammary, Baghdad, Iraq
We should look beyond changing superficial laws. Changing the situation of women in the Arab world requires a drastic change in society. The barbaric practises of 'honour' killings and female circumcision are not sanctioned by the law or the dominant religion; they are deep-rooted in social culture. Without social change, women in the Arab world won't be any different in 2015 than they are today.
Abbas Al-Lawati, Omani in Montreal, Canada
Change will come. Arab women will speak up and throw away the veil. Even uneducated women now question their station in life. In the next 10 years, Arab women will ask why women elsewhere can be astronauts, while they cannot even drive a car. I am very optimistic that they will realise that women can play roles other than that of a wife and mother in this world, no matter what the mullahs tell them.
Meghna Iyer, Houston, Texas, USA
I am a feminist Arab woman living in the United States. I feel that we have a long way ahead of us as Arab women living in communities dominated by a strong sense of cultural 'machismo' and under regimes that do not believe in the equality of women. Even though some countries are taking active roles in giving women some rights, unlearning sexism will be the challenging task. I believe that one day we will have equality whether at home or at work, but in order for this to take place, we as Arab women need to realize that the roles assigned to us are not necessarily the roles we want or should play! I would like to be back in Jordan by 2015, teaching at a university, creating change there and then!
From the comments which I have read, it appears that it will be necessary to educate Arab men that women are their equals and that both sexes should bear the responsibility of looking after the home, going to work and raising the children. It is only when the sexes become equal can people work as a team and accomplish the best for their own lives and for the lives of their families.
LT, Derby, UK
The key to Arab women's freedom is education, education of their male countrymen!
L Hadid, UK
As an educated Arab woman, my opinion is the role of woman won't be changed as long there is still poverty and ignorance in the Arab world. Woman should be well educated. In the Arab world the concept of education is to know how to read and write. Education is beyond that. As an example, the Egyptian child is the smartest child till the age of six until she joined school. So we should enhance our education in connivance with our Islamic religion and culture to become a developed society.
As long as the governments of Middle Eastern countries use Islam as law and government, the women will always suffer. The preachers of Islam are using their religion as a pretext to outlaw whatever they do not tolerate. Only in a secular democratic nation can woman feel free to speak out and enjoy the same rights as western women do.
Reza Shokouhi, Tehran, Iran
People need to be educated and the us Arab women ourselves need to know that we can be educated for change to occur. It is our future at stake, no one else's. It is very important that culture be separate from religion because without this distinction, there will be no uprising in time. Revolution is part of the communal evolution to be a part of the solution.
Fedwa El-Din, Canada
As an Arab man, I think it is really sad that here we are in 2005 and still discussing the role of Arab women. It is truly a shame that they have been a highly marginalised sector of our communities for so long. However, I do not agree with the very bleak picture that some Westerners are painting. Most Arab women have the right to vote and participate in daily life. Many Arab women hold high-ranking posts in governments and private institutions. It is without a doubt that more work needs to be done, but that applies to all countries and all communities. Western women still complain today of a "glass-ceiling" in the workplace, and of many stereotypes that do not necessarily represent the situation they are in today. The solution to this problem is simply education, education and more education. I do not mean more schools and universities, but rather educating people to respect all and to give equal chances to all. For this, I believe we can use the highly intricate and effective network that we have in the Arab world called the family.
Ramzi Noursi, Amman, Jordan
It's interesting that education is put forth as a panacea when the real solution lies within ourselves and the society. Religious zealots should stop trying to hawk the Islamisation of women as a solution to inequality and accept the fact that there need to be a radical change in people's thought processes, from the most conservative imam to the most radical young people. Stop being complacent in the mistreatment of women and act now to improve it, forget the early days of Islam and recognise that we, as Muslims, have a serious issue on our hands. God created us equal and it's about time we were treated as such
Tahira Masood, Dubai, UAE
Why do we discuss Arab women? As if all other women have received their full rights. I am an Arab woman and know many Arab women who are well-educated and living a comfortable lifestyle. The West just wants us to uncover ourselves.
Islam is the only solution to the problems of women's rights in the Arab countries and beyond. Islam has given women right to vote, right of inheritance, right to own or conduct businesses, right to their uniqueness which means that they can retain their own last names even after marriage, and right of education. In the early days of Islam, several women were scholars and were well respected. Even men came forward to them to ask for their opinions. Women also held important political positions. For example, the first person to lead the department of marketplaces under the caliphate of Omar was a woman. Therefore, Islam is the only solution to the problems faced by the Arab countries and beyond.
I am an Arab woman, of course I wish to see women in all Arab countries practice their basic civil rights, however we must realise and admit that for Arab women to practice their basic civil and human rights, all global societies need to be able to do the same. This shall only be achieved through separation of church from state or in our case imams from politicians. Only through reforms in laws and promoting democratic values shall women in the Arab world feel completely free to speak out and get our voices heard. These changes need to come from the inside and not to be imported from the West, but only inspired by the West. Only then will a woman who is forced into a marriage, not allowed to go to school, beaten up by her husband, father or brother have the courage in seeking help and have someone who will reach out to her.
Lamis Khalil, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
How can we expect the role of women to be improved in societies which are basically still undemocratic, full of censorship and where the basic freedoms are denied every citizen? Not every country in the Arab world is like this but the majority are and no Arab country is considered democratic with full freedoms for all its citizens. Surely the problem is democratising and modernising Arab societies and then progress in the rights of women, ethnic minorities and homosexuals in these countries will improve.
Anna Ruben, Paris, France
Whether Arab governments like it or not, the fact that woman are going to have to play major roles in Arab society is inevitable. One however would have to be careful with the wording - culture and religion are two separate entities. Islam does not stop them from pursuing their dreams, and accomplishing their goals, but one can easily understand how culture can.
Amal Hassan, Melbourne, Australia
The suffering of Muslim women can only be reduced if Islam is incorporated within the education system. This will not only educate the Muslim men but also the Muslim women since Islam is not only a religion but a way of life. Recently Islam has been subjected to a lot of propaganda in order to misguide the young Muslim generation but it is in Islam that humanity will find eternal salvation.
Faroukh, Islamabad, Pakistan
Arab women's enemy must be identified and clearly named: Wahabism.
Arab women face a double threat. Fundamentalism is the clear threat, but the Bush and Blair policies are just as destructive. Whenever Bush or Blair want to try and promote their policies in Iraq or Afghanistan they love to talk about how they are freeing women, and by so doing they endanger making an entire gender's desires for more rights look like treason to much of the Arab world. Beyond these the West must wake up to the fact that its system is not perfect in its treatment of women. Western women are still poorer and more vulnerable than men. Reforms may give the worst of both worlds.
Robert, London, UK
As long as some Muslim men hide behind the medieval literalism of the ancient ways, Muslim women will always be divided against their own emancipation; much as Orthodox Jewish women are divided against their Westernised sisters. As long as men anywhere are frightened of women, there will always be room on earth for the veil, the back of the hand, and the pious condescension to ignorance.
Arden Tours, Nairobi, Kenya
Roles are indeed changing, Arab women are already reaping some of the benefits of change, however the process is rather slow, which is part of the process of social change itself. The real problem is the deepening divide that is covering the eyes of some of us 'more privileged' Arab women to see that we need to work together and share and progress together. In the meantime, what would count as a sign of change for me are, full citizenship rights, giving nationality to children when the husband carries a different one, full running and voting rights, representative numbers in policy-making bodies, equality before the law and in practice (interpretation of the law), discontinuing the abuse of Islam to fight women's development which is by essence compliant with the core of the teachings of Islam. Once accomplished, the road would still be a long one.
I am a Muslim woman and this is for all Arab women: Please stand up to your rulers. You can do it, believe me they are not brave enough to stop you, I've made it. What's happening to you has nothing to do with Islam and Islam does not just belong to Men.
I hope that by 2015 the Western world would have got over measuring Arab women's freedom by clothing and other irrelevant factors and instead judges progress on the problems that affect all women around the world whether Arab or not, such as a education, safety, healthcare and equal pay. Many of these Western models of success are in fact not as successful in the West as is claimed... so what is needed is for the East and West to co-operate to raise the standard for woman of all countries...not just those that are perceived to be backward.
Lorena, Adelaide, Australia
Once economies develop more women will be in the work force. In Bahrain you find women in all working positions from CEOs to secretaries. To add to this, many women here in Bahrain have to work because in a family a working father can no longer meet today's living standards and costs.
To end the suffering of women is through education outside the realm of religion doctrines, this will elevate them into the 21st century era and into equality with men.
John Marina, Montreal, Canada
Hopefully they will have learnt from the' liberated' women of the West that empowerment doesn't mean competing with men in the workplace whilst struggling to look after the children and house at home. The 'superwomen ' dream is just that - a dream.
Kasim Ausaf, London, UK
As long as religion is a way of life in the Arab world, women will never play an important role in their society. The only way forward is to have a secular system where men and women are equal. There will always be cultural problems, but as long as there is a law which support them women can fight for themselves. Unfortunately, under current Islamic laws women have virtually any rights. Where is tolerance? Where is equality?
Maybe I will be the only male participant in the debate, but in my opinion, the role of an Arab woman in a modern Arab society will be completely different in terms of following: More professional working women, more businesswomen, more women politicians and more women drivers in the Kingdom. The good thing is it will break down social norms (most of which are not Islamic) and increase competition in human resources but the worst hit area would be the Muslim/Arab family structure/system where a woman is the most important person as she is the chief internal administrator. The newfound independence would result in increased divorced rates or separated families for the very least, having the worst possible effect on the lives of future generations of the region, but one thing positive out of it would be the reduction in the unnecessary male domination in the societies. Islam allows women full rights in terms of work and other social areas such as marriage, a wife's rights and her respective shares in inheritance but I would insist that this trend does not get let loose and then annihilates the valuable family structure in an Arab/Muslim society.
Ghadanfar Al Muqri, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
I moved to the southern US 20 years ago from a Muslim country. It was shocking to me to find that the status of women in the US was far inferior to the status of women in the Muslim country. While in college, it was hard to find women who expressed opinions. Good percentages were married young and divorced young. Many were forced at a young age to provide for a family while trying to get an education. I hope that when you talk about future for women, Muslim or otherwise, you are talking about real liberation not a mere facade hiding a culture of subjugation.
Taha B, Atlanta, Georgia, US
Nothing will have changed for Arab women in the next 10 years. They live in an old world, an ancient world. Only democracy can save them. Having a vote means they are important and they have power. Why would Arab men want to share any power with women? Look at all the velvet revolutions going on around the world, are the Arabs strong enough to empower themselves? They love their 'man's' world. Arab women will still be bottom of the pecking order for a very long time to come. On the bright side, the lives of Arab women can only get better. It can't get any worse, can it?
Winnie, Bergen, Norway
I think maybe the main problem is actually lack of education that is leading to oppression, as keeping the woman oppressed is traditional for many countries, but not religious. Islam forbids the mixing of tradition and religion. The Arab woman needs to understand her rights as a Muslim, to seek knowledge is encouraged in Islam. Islam does not tie up the right of a woman to educate herself and build a career, in fact Islam forbids illiteracy, and oppression. Therefore to be an obedient Muslim is to follow what Islam allows and not allow anyone whether male or female to say any different. I feel if Arab women keep this in mind they will pave the way for future generations of Muslim women.
Samera Suleman, Sheffield, UK
I think education should be given to the world about the true Islamic teaching in order the correct the myths and wrong perceptions Muslim women are more respected and well-treated in the Arab world than any other. The rights Islam has given to her as a mother will not be found elsewhere. The Prophet said: Be a companion to your mother. He said this three times and the fourth he said your father. The Muslim woman is protected with her veil where in other part of the world she is not safe as we are seeing and hearing. She is given rights as a wife having the most important roll ever of proper child upbringing. .
H Wafai, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Regarding women rights in the Arab world and in the Muslim world generally, if we want to bring them to the situation like in the West, the majority of the Muslim women do not want this kind of freedom. Education is a compulsory issue in Islam, our Prophet instructed both man and woman to have education. If we go to the history during our Prophet time, there were many women who narrated many issues of our religion from our Prophet.
Roohullah, Jalalabad, Afghanistan
I believe that Arab women should be given rights to vote, provide for their families and have the best education as possible etc. The Western countries want Arab women to act, dress and talk like Westerners, which in Islam is forbidden. For example a women dressing in Westernised clothes is forbidden as a women's modesty is not hidden. Also in Islam women are not allowed to mix with men from outside their family, everyone knows a man and a women can never be friends! As long as the Islamic laws and regulations are not broken a women can do anything.
Nas, Birmingham, UK
How is the Muslim woman suffering more than other women in other society? We need to define our interpretations of suffering. Because, very often, it refers and relates to wearing hijab, not mixing with men other than family, restrictions on outing etc. In my part of the world, we have certain communities where the women are the breadwinners. They go to farm, plough and harvest and still fetch woods after farm work... all these and what do the men do? They spend the better part of their life drinking. As if this is not enough, the children are left for them to cater for. Our religion and teachings are divine and so not within the power of human to change. An important fact remains that in an Islamic set up, the man has the responsibility of catering for his family. The man owes his family among other things, provision of shelter, clothing, food and education.
We want more freedom as women. Freedom to speak, freedom to study, freedom to work ... We expect the international society to help in all possible ways.
Beham, Lahore, Pakistan
I am a 35-year-old Arab, Muslim woman. I feel I am one of the very lucky few who have had the chance to live my life the way I have always wanted. I graduated in engineering from Cairo University, married the person of my choice, am a mother of two very smart children and work in the job of my choice. I have been extremely fortunate that I grew up in a well-educated, hardworking middle class family who encouraged me to be a free thinking and strong woman. That I have managed to achieve so many successes in my life while still maintaining my Muslim faith and identity, I believe, is rather unique, as it seems in today's world, being a practicing Muslim seems to be synonymous with being oppressed and deficient in basic rights and capabilities. I believe that I, along with numerous women I have grown up with, are living proof that you can be successful, strong and independent while believing and practicing Islam, even as I have seen in many cases, the conservative versions of Islam.
Soha Ellaithy, Egyptian expat, Kuwait
I think that changing educational programmes is the only solution to change women's life in the Arab countries. These programmes should contain human rights aspects which were forgotten for years and years during out presidential dictatorship.
Aisha Marei, Egypt, Cairo
It's interesting how education is always a solution put forward. The future of women, not just Arab women is to abide by the teachings of Islam. Just as Islam gave them their rights 1400 years ago it can do so again now also.
Shehzad Bashir, Burton on Trent, UK
The only way to end the suffering of Arab or Muslim women is to educate them, give them the voting rights and stop the money flowing from Saudi Arabia to other Muslim countries to promote Wahabism.
Anonymous, Lahore, Pakistan
I know Arab woman who have recently changed their lives; they are working in offices, schools, colleges and many other areas. I think they are changing their lives.
Shajahan, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Time will force Arab women to take roles in a more Westernised society.
Chandra Sing Gurung, Mount Vernon, Singapore
Until certain countries in the Middle East realise that by denying women rights they are arresting their own development, there is little that can be done. Education is the key to understanding equality and using it to create more open and democratic societies.
Laura, Sheffield, UK