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.