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Who Is Responsible?

Many Arab feminist movements and intellectuals have been obsessed in identifying the parties and institutions that continue to obstruct women’s rise in the Arab world. Questions that emerge include: Who is responsible for the problems engulfing women in Arab societies and who is responsible for lack of female participation in the public sphere? It is argued by those activists and academics that failing to answer those questions, or ignoring to name the real culprits, runs the risk of extending women’s problems much further into the future.

While answering such questions is always important, there is a risk with an over-indulgence in naming a culprit. Some blame the “religious right” while others blame the essential fabric of Arab society. such a blame game often leads to no tangible changes for Arab women. What would it serve to attribute underdevelopment problems to the premise that women are hated in this part of the world?31 Behind being grossly erroneous, there is no use of such distorted conclusions other than reaffirming the false image of the enslaved Arab woman who needs to be saved. It is true, as explained in detail in earlier chapters, that there are severe problems that need to be addressed. Yet blaming the Arab culture or religious ideals for perpetrating misogynistic attitudes is not only inaccurate, but it also fails to recognize the complexity of factors that work together to the detriment of women in the Arab world. This was noted by Max Fisher who responded to misogynistic charges against Arab culture when he asserted that it is not Islam,32 or racism, or “hate” that is responsible for sexism in the Arab world:

If that misogyny is so innately Arab, why is there such wide variance between Arab societies? Why did Egypt’s hateful “they” elect only 2 percent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia’s hateful “they” elected 27 percent, far short of half but still significantly more than America’s 17 percent? Why are so many misogynist Arab practices as or more common in the non-Arab societies of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia? After all, nearly every society in history has struggled with sexism, and maybe still is.33

Blaming the culture of the Arabs, or the religious right34 for misogynistic attitudes often starts a cycle of blames and counter-blames that accomplish no real objective. This would feed the rifts that engulf Arab communities in terms of conflicting understandings in explaining the reasons behind women’s problems, their lack of participation in the public space, and the ways to best address those issues.

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