Writers Examine Varied Roles for Women in the Middle East

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Writers Examine Varied Roles for Women in the Middle East

In 1988 the World Council of Churches asked its constituent councils, denominations and parishes to designate the next 10 years as a special "Ecumenical Decade in Solidarity with Women." Now as it approaches the halfway mark, the Middle East Council of Churches is among regional bodies reviewing the fruits of their labors in hopes of generating momentum and innovation in the half-decade ahead.

Among English-language products are four books: Women in Church and Society; Women in the Theology of the Church; The Diaconate of Women in the Heritage of the Eastern Churches; and The Diaconate of the Church. There also is a fascinating double issue (comparable in size and format with the Washington Report) of MECC Perspectives, the Council's magazine of "in-depth analysis of important trends in the Middle East and their impact upon the future of the churches and the people of the region." Nineteen writers, most of them Christian Arab women, discuss in its pages "Women in the Middle East."

"Diversity Abounds"

As the late Rena Mus'aad Obeid, who headed the MECC Women's Program for so long and so well, told one interviewer, the women of the region are impossible to stereotype. "The Middle East is a big area," she noted. "There are differences in geographical location, economic and social structures, and cultural and religious identity as well as in regulations imposed on society in general and women in particular.

"Diversity abounds. The woman lawyer, doctor, government minister in one place and the woman peasant in another differ in dress, education and the opportunities they have.... Professional middle-class women can be...compared with women of developed countries...There are about 2,800 women's organizations...in the Arab world which are actively involved in public service...mainly educational, health and social development...Around two-thirds are church-related."

Other articles supplement each other with varied perspectives. Cypriot journalist Nuha Samara warns Arab women lest, in avoiding Islamic fundamentalism, they fall for the allure of proliferating pictorial Western-style "women's" magazines in which "the concept and role of women have been degraded." For the best in Egyptian journalism, she endorses Hawa (Eve).

In a rather different vein, editor Frieda Haddad of the Lebanese Orthodox Al Raiya challenges her compatriots to keep working together amidst the suffering of civil war and foreign occupation to "build up a national entity grounded in justice, freedom and economic well-being. …