Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Women and Misyar Marriage: Evolution and Progress in the Arabian Gulf

By Nasr, Tofol Jassim Al- | Journal of International Women's Studies, March 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Women and Misyar Marriage: Evolution and Progress in the Arabian Gulf


Nasr, Tofol Jassim Al-, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Women's status continues to undergo rapid evolution in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The modernization policies sweeping the energy-rich region has resulted in unintended social and gender imbalances. Partly due to the wealth distribution policies and the vast influx of foreign labor into the GCC, the region's indigenous people are facing several challenges as they adapt to their surrounding environment. Improvements to women's education have resulted in an imbalance of highly educated women relative to their male counterparts in the region, tipping the scales of gender roles. While both men and women accept predominantly paternal values, the strides in women's status may be contradictory to traditions, customs, and expectations. As a result, high divorce rates plague GCC citizens, while misyar marriage reemerges as a temporary antidote.

Keywords: Women, Islam, Muslim Women, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arabian Gulf, Misyar, Marriage, Legitimacy, Education, Progress, Women's Issues.

Introduction

This paper will analyze the evolution of progress of women's status in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), the forces driving the evolution, and its effects. The Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) is a union of six countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Bahrain. These countries are neighboring Arab countries along the Persian Gulf (referred to as the "Arabian Gulf" within these countries). Due to their similarities, they share a common language (Arabic), culture, religion (Islam), Islamic civilization, and a recent history of British colonization.

Another similarity amongst GCC countries is that they are predominantly rich in fossil fuels. Four of them are Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members with the exception of Bahrain and Oman. The GCC OPEC members possess over 60% of the world's proven energy reserves, thereby depending on energy revenues for 50% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Ahmed 2010). Thus, urbanization within these traditionally nomadic societies is fuelled by energy wealth (Moss, Watson, & Zinyowera 1998, p. 246).

The manner in which modernization policies have affected the role of women will be analyzed in this paper as it poses intriguing possibilities. High divorce rates in the region will be rationalized through advances in women's education and status in the GCC. Further, the manner that GCC society absorbs the changing tides of women's status will be analyzed as well. In particular, this paper will examine the re-emergence of a temporary marriage contract, "misyar", otherwise defined as "ambulant marriage" (Arabi 2001, p. 147), within this context.

Evolution, Progress, and Development

The status of women in the GCC is changing as swiftly as quicksand due to modernization propelled by oil revenues. As a whole, (OPEC and non-OPEC members) the GCC contains about 45% and 20% of the world's oil and gas reserves respectively (Hartley 2009). Consequently, GCC governments have undertaken wide scale, strategic, top-down reform in efforts to transport citizens through the rapid modernization of their national economies. Nationalistic labor policies embodied in Saudization in Saudi Arabia, Qatarization in Qatar, Emiratization in the UAE, and their equivalents in other GCC states serve the purpose of educating, training, and building national citizens' capacities to replace the high-level jobs of foreigners in each respective country. Considering that almost 50% of the region's population is estimated to be expatriate (Kawach 2010), with foreigners dominating over 70% of Qatar's (PPC 2009) and neighboring UAE's populations, nationalistic labor policies are pertinent in order to address the GCC's overwhelming population imbalance.

However, the trickle-down effect of such inorganic policies is tipping the scales of socio-economic balances. Particularly, women's status in the GCC is drastically transformed, to the extent that societal norms regarding the role of women are severely altered. …

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