Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Role of Social Media in the Empowerment of Arab Women

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Role of Social Media in the Empowerment of Arab Women

Article excerpt

Abstract

In the Middle East, the lack of press freedom means people are unable to receive information, let alone analytic and interpretative functionalism of mass media. If Arab Spring is any lesson, the right to information is vital for political participation and socio-economic development. The path traveled by nationalists and activists in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, plus movements in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and conservative Saudi Arabia, indicates that women have awaken to exploiting unconventional media to combat discrimination and inequality imbedded in their societies. Women are aware of the tight control on information by government-owned press that has routinely ignored promoting women's issues, including education and positions of authority. Women have, heretofore, lacked a voice to articulate their plight until they discovered virtual media. They use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to transmit messages to empower women. As a result, Arab women have marginalized inequality in society, education, and professional opportunities.

Key Words

Press freedom, agenda setting, participation, equality, public agenda, technology

Introduction

It is pointless arguing that women do not have comparable skills when it comes to national development. That women must be empowered in order to be productive in their own land cannot be discredited either. The fact of the matter, however, is that women in the Arab World are largely excluded from full participation in national development. They hold fewer positions than men in the higher echelons of government, politics, and private sector. This condition deprives them of access to decision-making on issues that concern them.

BBC (2005) reports the number of women members of parliament (MPs) in the Arab World doubled in 2005. But the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) says only 6.5 percent of the region's MPs were women, although representation inched upward from 3.5 percent in 2000. Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco contributed the most. An IPU survey showed that the proportion of women MPs throughout the world had risen from 13.4 percent to 15.7 percent. In 2005, women in Arab parliaments were represented as follows: Tunisia - 43 out of 189; Morocco - 38 out of 595; Egypt - 31 out of 718; Syria - 30 out of 250; Algeria - 28 out of 533; Jordan - 13 out of 165; Oman - 11 out of 138; Bahrain - 6 out of 80; Lebanon - 3 out of 128; Yemen - 1 out of 301; Kuwait - 4 of 56; Saudi Arabia - 0 representation; United Arab Emirates - 0 representation; Libya, Qatar, Palestinian territories - No figures available.

Bird (2005) takes a particular interest in writing about culture, with special emphasis on gender issues. Bird says discussions on issues facing women in the Arab World tend to be monochromatic, often completely overlooking the diversity in the lifestyles and conditions of women. The media, the author regrets, have bought into stereotypical depictions of the Arab women. As a consequence, women are portrayed as weak, passive, and always veiled. Furthermore, stereotypes are presented to fit all Arab nations, a notion that is far from the truth. In Tunisia, for example, wearing a veil is forbidden. However, women are yet to achieve any kind of equity in the political or professional spheres. Bird (2005) holds the view that, the condition of Arab women is inextricably linked with the United States (US) policies in the region, as well as economic exploitation and sanctions.

There are Arab women in Israel who do not fare any better, despite the fact that Israel is considered, by the West, as the most democratic country in the Middle East. BBC (2009) mentions the Association for Civil Rights, which states that contrary to existing law, women there are routinely victims of discrimination. A study conducted by the association shows that Arab Israelis, compared with Jews, hold disproportionately few government jobs, receive inferior education, and are more harshly treated by the criminal justice system. …

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