On the Future of Women and Politics in the Arab World

Heba Raouf Ezzat

in Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195174304
Published online November 2007 |
On the Future of Women and Politics in the Arab World

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Born and educated at Cairo University, Heba Raouf Ezzat is Lecturer in the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences, Cairo University. Her writings focus on Islam, gender, democracy, and human rights. She is Coordinator of the Civil Society Program at the Center for Political Research and Studies at Cairo University, Editor of the Global Civil Society Yearbook, and a member of the World Economic Forum's Council of 100 Leaders.

The writer is one of the leaders of the young generation of Egyptian intellectuals writing on womens issues today. The topic and analysis are like those in the works of Ahmad Zaki Yamani, but the tone is more critical. The question Ezzat poses is how to empower women; her answer is to use means that suit their needs within their own cultural context, rather than imposing a model from the outside that would require unfamiliar and disruptiveperhaps even destructiveformulas and processes. Ezzat condemns the public-private dichotomy advanced by scholars that attributes freedom to the former, a putatively male preserve, and oppression to the latter, allegedly the venue of women. She also questions the premises of what she terms the dominant gender paradigm, which measures womens empowerment by trends showing women leaving their homemaking roles in favor of jobs in public arenas. Ezzat stresses that the freedom to work inside or outside the home is not determined by men so much as by the economic necessity to supplement the husbands income. She also wonders whether the upward trend in womens representation in Arab political institutions is meaningful. She concludes that such trends are mere window-dressing and that authoritarianism is merely somewhat feminized by these developments. Ezzat is skeptical that Arab women ought to follow the recommendations of the dominant paradigm if they wish to be empowered and emancipated. In her opinion, women eschew politics because they feel unsafe and insecure there. To alter this situation, she recommends the disempowerment of the authoritarian Arab politic systems. She believes that the state may seek to coopt womens movements in the Arab world and suggests that women should initially seek empowerment at the local, nonformal level as a way to avoid such cooptation. Finally, she details a series of steps she believes will lead to widespread grassroots womens movements that will truly empower them.

Chapter.  5947 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture ; Islam

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