Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa

Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa

Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa

Women's Roles in the Middle East and North Africa

Synopsis

Many people would be surprised to know that women assumed combat roles during the time of the Prophet Muhammad and are even credited with saving Muhammad's life. Less surprising is the fact that, today, women in the Middle East make up only 28 percent of the labor force, considerably lower than other regions. Yet, a new and fascinating picture of these women is emerging.

Excerpt

Few subjects can be more complicated to explore than that of women’s roles in the Middle East and North Africa. Misperceptions abound portraying women as powerless, hidden, and segregated. Until the 1980s, there was a dearth of literature investigating women’s actual role in society, both public and private, especially in the pre-Islamic era (before the seventh century). Due to geography, religion, ethnicity, and social class, the Middle East and North Africa present an area of heterogeneity making discussion of the region daunting. Couple that fact with an exploration of women’s roles throughout the region where women emerge from numerous economic and social classes and the topic looms even larger.

Complicating the situation further is the debate over the definition of the “Middle East,” since that terminology reflects a colonial assessment of the region. What the region is called depends upon one’s geography. Those in India might refer to the Middle East as Southwest Asia. The name “Middle East” revealed the British Empire’s perception of India as part of the “Far East” and the area that was closer to Europe as the “Near or Middle East.” Clearly, the term is not an indigenous one but is now accepted even by those in the region, albeit begrudgingly. When the British established their Middle East Command during World War II, the term took hold. Since no definitive classification exists for the Middle East, scholars differ as to what countries are included, yet despite these diverse factors, there are key elements that unify the Middle East and North Africa. The majority of people are Muslim and most of the region shares common historical elements, most importantly for contemporary times, such as colonialism. It is in this context of both unity and diversity that we explore the topic of women’s . . .

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