Arab Women of Today OR The Pragmatic Arab Culture


I have long been critical of Arab culture, blaming it for the many obstacles that I have had to face in my life. I have been unfair though, further reflection has shown that these obstacles have largely been of my own manifestation. Contrary to personal belief, Arabs are adaptable and highly flexible in their culture and traditions. It has become abundantly clear to me that many of the cultural habits that held us women ‘back’ were a result of environmental and economical circumstances. Take my illiterate Grandmother (May God rest and bless her soul) as an example, she was born in the 1920s in rural Palestine, and went on to lead a life of persecution and poverty for most of her life. Yet none of her granddaughters are illiterate, 67% of them went onto higher education and one is a cosmologist (PhD) at one of the top universities in the United Kingdom.

This pattern repeats itself among my friends and contemporaries, for 3 have gone onto complete PhDs in hard sciences, 2 are Medical doctors, 1 is a dentist, 1 is the 1st female chiropractor in the United Arab Emirates, 1 is a graphic designer for a leading telecomms company and owns property in Dubai, 1 also a graphic designer organises huge charity events for the Palestine Children’s Relief fund, there are also engineers, financial economists and interior designer. None have restricted themselves to traditionally female roles. These remarkable achievements, made more remarkable by their families humble origins, were independent of any concerted feminist efforts of the ‘break the chains of traditional, servile roles’ sort, it just seems of have happened naturally, in a pragmatic adaptation to changing circumstances.

Our parents should probably be credited as the pioneers of this quiet revolution. They were among the 1st batch of educated Arabs , who enjoyed improved economic status, who ceased to measure their daughters success by how well they married. They take great pride in our foray into the world of careers and extra-familial success, and have never pigeon holes us as housewives, teachers and nurses. As long as we didnt want to chauffeur taxis, do hard labour or sell our bodies, then the world was our oyster.

My friends Mum, who has 3 unmarried daughters between the ages of 27 and 31, exemplified the changing Arab attitude (and hence culture) and adaptability to change when she said:

Unlike my Mother, I do not need to worry if my daughters do not marry, because I know they can look after themselves.

6 Responses

  1. I’m so honored to be one of your readers! You are an example of EVERYTHING I’ve been struggling to prove to the rest of the Arab world for so many years now!
    Yes, there are still people who live in thier prehistoric shell, but the majority have moved on!
    I remember my grand mother who died long time ago, she was able to read and right, even though she was born in 1906 and got widowed after having my father. She struggled and persevered, and had all her children educated by her sacrifice working day and night as a tailor! Then the same descended down the generation of my father. Even though he wasn’t able to graduate from high school. He got himself educated to the best of his abilities, and got married to a woman that has a great potential who went on to have two master’s degrees. They instilled the pursuing higher education as a form of success in thier children, but they were not alone in that!
    I think the future is as bright and as promising as we make it. As long as we have amazing women like you, we will be in good hands.

    Again, I’m very honored to say “I know you”. I’m so proud of you, I think we all are. So keep pushing forward, and keep us proud

  2. Mashallah your mum did TWO masters degrees!!! Kudos to her🙂 It’s great to hear of people who do not confine themselves to the norm and expected, and excell.

    Thanks for the compliments.

    “Yes, there are still people who live in thier prehistoric shell, but the majority have moved on!”

    its arabs too who still view themselves as stuck in this shell… even though some traditions have been kept alive in some of the poorer families or those that emigrated to the west. In the latter case, clearly their intent is to preserve their culture for their children so they remained in the mindset of their parents generation.

  3. salaam,
    yes i think the pattern has changed since then, judging by the number of girls who pursue academic studies and the examples you gave, exceptions occur of course though don’t know how/where they are distributed. i feel bitter over my grandfather’s decision not to let mom even complete high school back then because she’d have had to go to another village’s school.

    it occured to me that your name should appear here when i was reading through this,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famous_Palestinians#Academic_figures
    don’t you think your name should appear there?

  4. hey loolt! Was great to see you on my blog again!😀

    Hope you don’t mind but I quoted ou here

    http://www.fanonite.org

  5. leen I am just an amateur, and for my name to appear alongside veteran writers, academics, political figures and people who have really put in an effort for Palestine and accomplished something doesnt seem fair on them! I appreciate the sentiment though, you really gave me a self esteem shot🙂

    Dave Of course I dont mind! great to see you about my blog too🙂

  6. […] role of women in what has been a traditionally male dominated society. I refer readers to my post “Arab women of today”    for how arab culture and the status of women has evolved in the span of a […]

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