London-Kuwait has disturbed the stagnant waters of female contribution to the social and political scene with its new female minister, Ms Ma”asouma Al-Mubarak. Last week she joined another group of women who also assumed the ministerial post only after experiencing the same struggles and difficulties. The outcome of this position has varied between different Arab countries. As well as social, political and economical aspects, religion and history have played a major role in the progress of Arab women. Cultural inheritance has merged with globalization creating a unique and prevailing situation. Many would describe globalization as a monstrous concept seeking to eliminate everything else in its path, gradually erasing geographical boundaries and overtaking history. An assumed result of this allegation is that women nowadays have to deal with many ideological readings such as Francis Fukuyama”s ”End of History” and Samuel Huntington”s ”Clash of Civilizations” with their bringing together of political Islam and its polarizations in the Arab and Islamic world including political reforms that affect women.
Arab women have encountered a long struggle throughout history, which has now initiated what seems to be the flourishing of Arab women with their reaching of ministerial positions. The struggle has taken place in many aspects such as Arab culture, religion and philosophy. In pagan poetry, women were confined to love poetry, which was the most important poetry of that era; later, certain branches of poetry were specialized for wives. In his book ”Al Bayaan wa Al-Tabayan”, Al Jahiz spoke of Arab women teaching their young daughters how to successfully choose their husbands, saying, "A woman used to tell her daughter, test your husband before attempting to be bold with him. Remove the ferrule of his spear and if he does not object, cut the meat off his shield and if he does not object to that, break the bones with his sword and if he still shows no objection, mount him for he is your donkey!"
In the same context, Imam and philosopher Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali has set aside a whole chapter in his book ”Ihiyaa Aloom Addin” (The Revival of Religious Sciences), to marriage, in which he limited its benefits to having children, overcoming desire, managing the home, increasing the size of family and the practice of self-discipline.
Within the Gulf region, the inheritance of culture along with its struggles has led to women taking up ministerial posts. For example, in Oman Rawya Al-Borsaeedy and Ragha Bint Abdel Emir have become the ministers of higher education and tourism. In Qatar, Sheikha Ahmed Al-Mahmood has also become the minister of higher education and in the United Arab Emirates, Loubna Khaled Al-Gasmi has prominently taken the position of minister of economics and planning. Egyptian Fayza Abou Al-Naja has filled the post of minister of international cooperation. Jordan has also had its share of female ministers such as Suhayr Al-Alu who has become minister of planning and international cooperation, Aliya Boran who has become minister of tourism and archaeology, Esma Khadr has become minister of culture and Nadia Al-Saeed who has become minister of communications. Also in Egypt, Amina Al-Jundi has become minister of insurance and social security. In Bahrain, Nada Hafez has become minister of health. In Iraq, Nermine Othman has become deputy minister of environment and human rights and Nesrine Berwary has become minister of public works and municipalities. In Algeria, Khalda Tomy has become minister of culture and Nawara Jaafar is now the minister of family and female affairs. Souad Bin Gab Allah has been assigned to higher education and scientific research by the government.
The struggle of Arab women has created new horizons within the Arab region and once again, we find women in fields that further add to the dispute of the progress of women concerning her domestic situation, her work and her duties. The struggle has been growing since the 1950”s and has developed along with Arab leftist movements and religious traditionalism with its numerous schools. To illustrate this point, one only needs to look at various women such as the political activist Jamila Bou Herid in Algeria, Islamic scholars Aisha Bint Al-Shadi and Zeinan Al-Ghazali in Egypt and communist Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim of Sudan. Other examples of female figures would be singers Nawal El-Zoughbi and Nancy Ajram in Lebanon and athlete Nawal Al-Moutawakil from Morocco.
The complete image of the progress of Arab women seeks to contradict the general stereotype of Arab women being confined to the home and their husbands, escaping the traditional Arab mould and guidance. One of the most prominent words of advice about choosing a wife reads, "Do not marry six types of women. The one who pretends to be sick, the one who constantly reminds her husband of her favors, the one who yearns for another man or her children from a previous husband, a woman who is greedy, a woman who spends all her time beautifying herself or woman who talks too much. Arab women today have also escaped the attraction of television, which seeks to promote insignificant concepts such as enhancing ones beauty.
The arrival of Ma”asouma Al-Mubarak in the Ministry emulates the presence of her mentioned and non-mentioned counterparts in Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and Sudan. With them, groups of pioneering women of all fields and advocators of women”s rights will stay face many challenges in order to survive this turbulent era that we are living through.
The previous struggle was supported by assigning women to ministerial positions yet there remain many efforts to dominate the current status of women with strategies that are even more harmful than the traditional moulds previously imposed upon women. Nevertheless, congratulations to all women of the Arab world.