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Do Arab Women Have a Voice?

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Women of the Middle East: oh those poor oppressed souls; forced to cover themselves from head to toe by their polygamous, blood relative husbands who consider them like a commodity. Or are they?

Here lies a huge misconception, problematic, and sadly concrete stereotype. The issue of religion is somewhat governed by the Western media to its audience with regards to woman. Of course, one cannot blame the media entirely, though the role it has played has not done females the justice they need. The Arab woman has become a distorted image. A passive, voiceless individual. It must be remembered that it is not solely the religion of Islam which resides within the Middle East and North Africa, but also Christianity, Judaism and the smaller branches of these faiths. Thus, for one to immediately point the finger and proclaim that Islam oppresses women is in fact ill educated.

At the personal front, an Arab woman is not the damsel who is chained to an arranged marriage and forced to obey her father and now her husband. Unknown to many, under Islamic law, women also have the right to divorce as that equally of men.

In every Middle Eastern and North African state in the region, women are acting as social entrepreneurs, setting up organizations to combat domestic violence, oppose government malfeasance, and increase educational opportunities for girls and advocating change. One does not have to stretch far but as recent as November 2011 where Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni Journalist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: the first Arab women and also first Yemeni to have ever received the prize.

Women are also using both established and new forms of artistic expression to throw light on the issues they consider most important, to critique their societies, and to point the way to their own visions of a more equitable life. Myriam Bouchentouf, otherwise known as Master Mimz, is of Morrocan descent having moved to London in the past two years. Her artistic form? Hip Hop. Myriam is utilising her love of the genre, with the current upsurge of the Arab nations of 2011 to drive home the message of rising up, even performing a song entitled "Back down Mubarak" prior to his resignation in Egypt. To add to this, she is also increasing the global voice of Arab women of today.

In order to ensure that women's rights frameworks are emphasised, gains made over the years are sustained, and momentum is gained from the unrest in the region. Arab women need to keep reminding regional and international authorities that women's issues and gender equality need to be doubly protected, especially in this transitional period. One has to remember that in some Arab states, such as UAE, women were not granted to vote until 2003.

New initiatives and enhancing programmes organised by the women of the Middle East have the important role of being increasingly responsive to the current situations: to seize the potential of new opportunities and situations presented.

The Arab Spring may have seemed like the perfect diving board for the women of the Arab world, heightening their agendas on the world front. However, this does not mean that the prejudice surrounding them has been eradicated and more over, the images presented of women has been either highly romanticised or, as regularly seen, exposed as overly oppressed.