The Challenge of Women’s Rights and Islam in the Middle East

Posted July 5, 2019 from Afghanistan

The rape victim, Naveen Yardarm, begins to act one night. She suddenly kills her husband’s cousin a thirty-five-year-old man, who tormented and abused her for months. After killing and cutting his head, she carried it near a police station in Istanbul, Turkey. She confessed by shouting this statement, “Do not play with my honor, here is the head of the man who played with my honor.” In the three perspectives, women’s rights, Islam, and feminism, we may observe the problems of mistreating women in the Middle Eastern region.

      Common demand for freedom and equal rights has been fueled by the West as of long ago. After all, women should get fundamental equal rights similar to men. Unlikely, women in the Middle Eastern states treated specially. They are deprived of their fundamental rights. There is an entire political and economic system operating in each state that mistreats, marginalized, and violates women’s fundamental rights in apparent ways with no guaranteed future.

So, the problem is treating women differently. Saudis women are escaping their country in search of asylum. Iranian lawmakers, journalists, and social campaigners are sentenced to death and 100 lashes for social campaigns. Street sexual harassments in Egypt prevent access to fundamental rights, and child marriages of Yemeni girls are in peak. Moroccans are in demand of law implies that guarantees their fundamental rights. Western women also have problems. They are objectified. That is where the real discussion usually begins with treating women differently.

However, let us put aside what Western states do and do not do for their women. Just name a Middle Eastern country; you can find a list of abuses fueled by combined toxic of patrimonial social and religious rules and regulations. Among them, Saudi women are vulnerable. There is compulsory veiling, no permission for walking on the streets without a male guardian, and necessity to have male permission to travel, work, or education. When the “Women to Drive” campaign started by Wajeha Alhuwaider in 2011, several women were jailed and beaten by lashes for campaigning reason. The so-called current reformer Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, according to an Amnesty International report arrested women activists through arbitrarily government crackdown, later subjugated to sexual harassment and torture during the interrogation. Meanwhile, the poor migrants and unprivileged women are also treated abominably in prisons. To this extent, human rights abuse by Saudi Arabia resulted in arguments of imposing sanctions against Saudi Arabia, by West in 2018.

Iran also treats women differently. Women’s rights activist considered as a national security threat. According to the penal code of Iran, those who act such sentenced to five to ten years. In 2018 Sotoudeh with several other women had taken off their headscarf as part of public protest against the compulsory dress code of Hijab laws. They were arrested and tagged with the collusion act against national security for peaceful activism. Later she was sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 100 lashes. Iranian authority’s response to their incompetence, despotism, and corrupted compulsory laws is silencing women rights activists.

Another state that mistreats women is Egypt. In an article in Egyptian criminal code clearly states that if women are beaten by their husband “with the intention of good within it,” then no punishment for domestic violence. Two other severe women rights cases of abuse are forced “virginity test” and “genitals cut” a humiliation only existed in this part of the world. However, these acts have nothing to do with Islam. As Leila Ahmed argues that Hadith and Quran are not patriarchal and oppressive; they honor and respect women. However, it is patriarchy that distorted the words of the Quran and Hadith. Additionally, the Salafis Party rooted in traditional Arab norms prevents women in parliament to speak. Women are seen as the reason for the sin of men. Their voices are a temptation-is covered with black from head to toe, not allowed to express their ideas.

Relatively, Tunisia is a beacon of tolerance after the revolution. The Ennahada Party won a majority vote in the Constituent Assembly. Party heads vowed to respect the 1956 Personal Status Code which is “the principle of equality between men and women as citizens and polygamy ban.” Still, however, there are struggles between scholars against Islamists on the issue of wearing the hijab. Somehow there are tensions between two laws pre-revolution and post-revolution for women.


In Libya’s interim government, discriminatory restriction posted on women. It banned women from traveling abroad without a male guardian. The Libyan National Army was gained control over much of eastern Libya in May 2014. This so-called interim-government is not legitimate. Point to be noted that previously Libya was part of the UN convention against any discriminative behaviors against women (CEDAW), but now as Libya is not recognized by the United Nations and International Community. Therefore, it does not bind itself to any rules and regulation, because the regime is simply ignoring it.

In Kuwait, personal status law treats women also differently. For instance, women require a male guardian for their marriage contracts. The men can have four wives without even informing his first wife. Meanwhile, adultery and extra-marital intercourse are criminalized up to seven years in prison. Besides, that woman married to non-Kuwaitis unlike men, cannot pass citizenship to their children or spouses. No law prohibits domestic violence or marital rape of Kuwaiti women.

In the small state of Yemen, the situation is even worse. This is because discrimination against women’s fundamental rights is part of law and culture. The waves of women mistreatment reach to a global level. Meanwhile, Yemen parliamentarians refused to accept specifying an age for marriage, and equal rights for women.  Such acts contributed hugely in creating a vibrant of civil society movements. For example, Tawakol Kamran won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns and protests against women’s rights abuse in 2011. These acts are not enough to protect women from customary and laws that treat women inferiorly.



After analyzing each case, we can conclude that customary laws, combined with other social factors, have become the source of women rights abuse. It is because patriarchal dominant males manage these laws. Even though each state's bounded with international norms, they continuously break the rules. Beside that Islam, is interpreted mixed with customary laws by men that prevent equal rights for women in these societies. Additionally, feminists see these states as the violators of fundamental women rights.

As closing remarks, women are beyond their veils and hymens. Women in many parts of the world as scientists are working on modeling of black hole mystery. However, in much of the Middle East, they are stuck with letting women have freedom of movement or permission to drive or not permitted to travel without their husband’s or father’s approval. All these tensions need to be solved because if women are oppressed, suppressed, and discriminated definitely, this region will witness another feminist revolution that would change the balance of power in the Middle East.



Walters Margaret, Feminism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 15.period

Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia: Reports of Torture and Sexual Harassment of Detained Activists,”,2018, URL?

Radio Free Europe, “Iranian Lawyer Sotoudeh Gets Seven Years In Prison, ISNA Reports; Husband Says 38 Years,” 2019, URL?.

Walters, Feminism ..., 15period

5. Council on Foreign Relations, “Women’s Rights Reforms in Tunisia Offer Hope,” how many pp?, 2017, URL?






Human rights Watch? Report, “Yemen’s Profile on Human rights,” 2019. More details needed

Comments 7

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Hello, Arya,

Whenever I hear of rape in the news, I secretly want to the rapist murdered. I understand why Naveen committed the crime because justice will never be given to her as a woman in her country.

Thank you for giving a glimpse of how women are treated in the Middle East and other countries. Reading it is truly heartbreaking. I hope all these maltreatment, injustice and abuses to women end right this moment. Life is short, and healing takes time. Why would a women need to suffer a lot in her lifetime?

Jill Langhus
Jul 06
Jul 06

Hi Arya,

Thanks for sharing your bleak but informative synopsis of the current rights, or lack thereof, in some middleeastern countries. I so wish there was a quick fix for all these poor women beging subjected daily to this kind of treatment. What one thing, if it were changed, would make a drastic, positive difference to these women's lives?

I hope you're doing well and having a good weekend.

Jul 07
Jul 07

Thanks for sharing the plight of women in your country. Its sad to hear. :-(

Beth Lacey
Jul 07
Jul 07

thank you for posting this informative, yet sad, article

Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Jul 08
Jul 08

I am short of words but grateful for your expository and feminist write-up. I am also a feminist and the Executive Director of Women and Girl-Child Capabilities and Empowerment Organization (WGCCEO) based in Nigeria. Please read about us on, like us on and follow us on Twitter @Wgcceo.
Looking forward to read more of your write-ups.

Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Jul 08
Jul 08

Please follow me

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 09
Jul 09

Dear Arya,
I am so glad to meet you here and be able to read your important description of what women are working to change, in particular within Islam and the Middle East. You bring it down to a critical nutshell: "patriarchal dominant males manage these laws. Even though each state's bounded with international norms, they continuously break the rules", happening in different ways in all of our countries. Thanks to you we are all able to get the real news, and I agree, too much focus with mainstream news is on what needs to be changed, lacking (on purpose) the reality that many strong determined women like you are creating the changes and are the reason that the needed changes are being known at all. When people in my country say with ignorance that "nothing will ever change" I point them to the changes being made by World Pulse sisters like you. The lack of real news by the male dominated news systems keeps people in ignorance. This is why I am grateful for the real news from World Pulse sisters like you.
In sisterhood,