Discrimination against women in Arab societies still exists in many spheres of life although there has been a clear improvement in recent years. The old fashioned mentality that disregards the role of the woman beyond sister, mother, wife and housewife still exists.
Female activists are sometimes put down by influencing the public with religious slogans and conservative values resulting from a poor understanding of religious principles and traditions. This persists despite the fact that the early Arab Islamic experience has emphasised the important role of women to be active in various fields of life.
Today, we do not need to enumerate the suffering that many Arab women experience in their daily lives in order to acknowledge their right to a better life than our “male controlled society” offers. But it is important to note that this suffering has led to a debate on the future of our societies.
Recently the protests in Lebanon have highlighted the role of women in the current political changes as they, like men, shape the face and the voice of the revolt on Lebanese street, through their extensive participation in demonstrations launched in protest against the economic situation in the country. Indeed, women’s participation includes all age groups, sects and different roles side-by-side, with the protests appearing in a uniform colour (across sects and creeds).
All this aims at building a civil state, fighting corruption, poverty, and facing off the power of money, the rule of banks and symbols of political feudalism and sectarian quotas. They are trying to produce a new alternative capable of redressing the state of Lebanese women, and achieving some kind of equality and social justice in a country of 18 religious communities.
Regardless of the ‘different’ Lebanese scene — especially its women — in the eyes of the Arab viewers, they are truly fighters who took to the streets as the Palestinians did first, as well as the Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Egyptian, Tunisian, Sudanese women among others
However, the despicable patriarchal pathology of some superficial people and the attempts of the ‘fifth column’, both in Lebanon and abroad, all focused, through social media — in many cases in a vulgar and humiliating manner — and sometimes by the creation and falsification of images and videos, on the figures of Lebanese women and their overflowing femininity to ridicule the protest, pride and dignity! As if a dress and clothing is what determines the courage of human beings and their attitudes!
Nevertheless, attempts of ‘bullying’, ‘commodification’, ‘cultural alienation’, ‘marginalisation’ and ‘dilution’ against Lebanese women did not succeed in diverting their attention by creating marginal points of interest that depict them as slaves to perfume bottles or evening dresses of the finest brands! Yet, during this uprising, the Lebanese woman’s personal compass has, on every occasion, been focused on Lebanon, Lebanon, Lebanon and even Palestine.
They confronted the ‘opposite direction’ which is reflected in that inferior view and the covert discourse of dwarfing a national action of this magnitude and greatness because they violate a social pattern that compels them to comply with the masculine definition of ethical norms.
It has surfaced despite their move to go out and participate with men in the defence of rights and homeland in a scene never expected, in a country where there is corruption and sectarianism, which is more insulting to masculinity than to women themselves. It has enraged many women and even many men in Lebanon and the Arab world.
Regardless of the ‘different’ Lebanese scene — especially its women — in the eyes of the Arab viewers, they are truly fighters who took to the streets as the Palestinians did first, as well as the Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Egyptian, Tunisian, Sudanese women among others.
The difference between them was in the different environment and the “special” characteristics of societies. Indeed, Lebanon is a complex country and a rich fabric despite its different religious and sectarian, socioeconomic and cultural diversity. Those who visit Lebanon have, of course, a remarkable experience with an Oriental-Western flavour that is not available in any other Arab country.
Therefore, the nature of the Lebanese movement has necessarily crossed with its identity, and even when it seemed emotional at times, sarcastic and funny in some situations and angry most of the times, but it is not artificial. The structure of the Lebanese people itself has not changed since the civil war; fighting in the morning and celebrating in the evening even in the shelters!
The intense conflict between the traditional male culture and a renewed social mobility has brought about many demands for both sexes while highlighting the role of women as cultural, political, social and economic actors. What united the sexes of different spectra in many Arab countries is the demand for the basic rights guaranteed to them by human rights, prior even to Arab constitutions.
The Arab world, today, desperately needs to change, to raise the status of women and achieve equality with men in rights and duties, because this is a constitutional and civil requirement. Needless to say, such a change must be part of a broader project for the liberation of the Arab man.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of Palestinian Encyclopaedia.