The Arab World’s Silent Feminist Revolution

MADRID – Arab societies often appear rigid and resistant to change to outsiders, because what they see is these countries’ ruling regimes, which mostly do resist development and change. But this image is nearly the opposite of reality in Arab societies, where enormous dynamism is opening doors to many types of change, albeit at different speeds and in complex, contradictory ways – particularly when change from below is held back from above.

Consider Arab women. The predominant image is of a passive, exotic, and veiled victim-woman who reacts to events instead of actively participating in them. She is an impersonal object of communal stereotypes that sustain cultural prejudices.

In fact, Arab societies are engaged in a process of immense and irreversible change in which women are playing a crucial role. During the last half-century, intense urbanization and feminization of the workforce in all Arab countries has propelled women into the public arena on a massive scale.

During this period, differences in schooling levels between boys and girls have lessened everywhere – though at different speeds. Indeed, in many Arab countries, more girls than boys are now in secondary and higher education, which shows that parents consider their daughters’ education to be just as important as that of their sons. And all surveys show that young men and women want to study and have a job before they marry. (Moreover, they increasingly want to choose their own partner.)