Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Women's Changing Roles in Middle East Explored at Huntington Library Seminar

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Women's Changing Roles in Middle East Explored at Huntington Library Seminar

Article excerpt

"WOMEN CHANGING the Face of the Middle East" was the theme of a March 14 panel discussion as part of the 25th anniversary of Women's Studies at the Huntington Library in San Marino. Dr. Wendy Smith of California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), was the moderator.

CSUSB anthropology professor Anne Bennett, who conducted her doctoral research among Druze of Syria, discussed the status of women in contemporary Syria. She stressed that Syria's economy is struggling because of the depressed world economy and the stress of accommodating an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who have crossed its borders since the onset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"With this sudden 8 percent increase in population," Dr. Bennett explained, "Syria's schools, power grid, water resources, health services and housing are overburdened. One result is a rising unemployment rate estimate, officially at 9 percent and unofficially at 20 percent."

Syrian women must cope in a competitive job market, she noted, while the system turns out a rising number of women university graduates. In 1990, women were 58 percent of university students, now they account for 88 percent.

Over the same time period, the percentage of literate females aged 15 to 24 rose from 86 percent to 92 percent.

"Syria continues to maintain a high rate of women's participation in politics among Arab countries," Bennett said, "with women holding 30 out of 250 parliamentary seats-a 2.4 percent increase from 1994."

According to Syria's Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 women were the primary breadwinners in 11 percent of households. However, only 14 percent of women aged 15 to 65 held jobs, and accounted for 16 percent of the workforce.

Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, chair of Gender and Women's Studies at CSU Northridge, delivered a paper entitled "The Women's Movement and Democracy in Iran: A Comparative Perspective."

She noted that Muslim women in the Middle East traditionally owned land and that it was only in the late 19th century, as Westerners arrived to exploit resources, that traditionalists insisted women wear veils and be secluded. Dr. Tohidi said Reza Shah was influenced by Ataturk, who ordered Turkish women to no longer wear the veil, but he still wanted them to remain under the patriarchal system while appearing modern.

"Women's Self-representation and the Media in Turkey" was the topic of a talk by Dr. Ece Algan, assistant professor of Communication Studies at CSUSB. Ferial Masry, who unsuccessfully ran for California's 37th Assembly District, discussed her experiences as a Saudi-born woman running for a U.S. political office. For more information, visit .

Israeli Checkpoint in L.A.

While Gazans tried to cope with the deaths of 1,300 people and injuries to more than 6,000 in the aftermath of Israel's three-week assault of their unprotected homeland, more than 1,000 supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) wined and dined March 8 at AIPAC's annual Los Angeles fund-raiser at the Universal Hilton.

As their cars approached the Hilton parking lot, it was difficult for the Zionist party-goers not to become aware of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. A huge "STOP CHECKPOINT" banner greeted motorists and pedestrians, who witnessed Israeli "soldiers" arresting and humiliating Palestinians.

Demonstrators handed colorful flyers to AIPAC attendees as well as to pedestrians heading for Universal City. The flyers were headlined: "AIPAC Supports Israeli War Crimes" and listed Israel's violations of Palestinian human rights. …

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