Freedom House just released the 2010 survey of women’s rights in the Middle East and the findings were very predictable. Women’s rights were higher in countries like Lebanon and Morocco, but seriously lagging in others, like Saudi Arabia and Libya. Interestingly Dalia Mogahed compared the result of the Freedom House poll with a Gallup poll of public opinion. Mogahed found that, like the varying degrees of women’s rights laws throughout the region, the Middle East has a wide variety of perceptions as well. Simply meaning that women’s rights activists should not look at the region as a monolith, but rather disaggregate it into separate entities.
I have rarely written about my experiences here in Saudi, but considering it has the perhaps the strictest view of women, some anecdotes might help. First, there is the simple fact that despite evidence of a significant economic push would accompany a lift of the ban on women drivers, the Kingdom still does not allow women to drive. This results in a serious market for personal chauffeurs and taxi drivers.
Sitting in the ’single men only’ section of a café one day, I had a front row seat to the varying views of women in the region. A group of Saudi men in front of me were looking at women through the window and deriding them for being outside without a male (although they were simultaneously making some pretty poor advances). At the same time a new Haifa music video from Lebanon came on to the television. The video is pretty straight forward; Haifa plays the Russel Crowe character in Gladiator and ruthlessly takes out her useless boyfriend.
The video (not to mention the lyrics of the song) were a pretty good juxtaposition to the scene in the café. If nothing else, Haifa makes a brilliant gladiator.
I can't seem to upload the video, but you can watch Haifa here