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Women’s Political Participation in the Arab World



La psichiatra Elisabeth Kubler Ross diceva che la prima reazione di un paziente a cui viene diagnosticata una malattia terminale è la negazione, la seconda è la rabbia. Se con una metafora potessimo parlare di “morte geopolitica”, il contesto potrebbe apparire più lucido.


Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, characterized by full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women. This happens because gender tends to denote the social and cultural role of each sex within a given society and through all life sectors.

The term “Gender” goes back to the 12th century in French from the Greek “genus”. The word has been used in English since the 14th century, referring to “kind, race or sex” and kept this meaning until the 1960s. In 1968, the psychoanalyst Robert Stoller began distinguishing between sex and gender. While identifying the former according to biological differences between men and women, Stoller preferred to focus also on femininity and masculinity, which any individual exhibits through his behaviors. Ever since, feminists have utilized this distinction. However, the latter, as understood today, appeared for the first time in the eighties of the last century. This concept was revealed through social sciences in general and sociology in particular by studying the social and political situation as an attempt to analyze the roles, responsibilities and obstacles of both men and women.

Social Barriers

The pervasive patriarchal ideas and practices that aim to govern elements of personal, religious, economic, and political life in the region can be connected to a wide range of social and cultural variables. Women's literacy rates have historically been lower than men's due to unequal expectations for their societal contributions, limiting their capacity to exercise political and civil rights, although the great majority of nations currently appear to be closing the reading gap. This is exacerbated by the idea that politics is a male-dominated environment that is dangerous for women, and by the facts that conservative religious interpretations justify women's exclusion from politics, and feminism is rejected in many regions.

  1. Politics being a dangerous place for women: In many Arab nations, politics is viewed as a corrupt, sometimes violent, "dirty game" and a dangerous environment for women. Women may be deterred from pursuing more engagement in political processes if they believe they will pay a significant price for exercising their political rights. Details of their private life, genuine or manufactured, might be disclosed and disseminated by the media in an attempt to damage their image by accusing them of attempting to defy traditional standards and imposed gender roles. They are also subjected to physical threats, insults, and other types of intimidation.

  2. Unsubstantiated conservative readings of Islamic scriptures: Patriarchal cultures have traditionally utilized unsubstantiated conservative interpretations of Islamic texts to justify the exclusion of women from political, economic, and social spheres. Several Arab nations have wrongly used sharia (Islamic) law to justify the implementation of discriminatory legislation. Because of their own or their male relatives' inclinations, women in conservative religious environments are less likely to pursue political participation.

  3. Feminism's rejection: Feminism remains an argumentative concept in the Arab world, preventing its widespread adoption as a vehicle to promote women's political representation. Feminism is widely regarded as a Western encroachment, and in some circumstances, as incompatible with local culture or religion. Many Islamist women reject the term of "Muslim feminist," claiming that Islam has granted women all of their rights and so feminism is unnecessary to assist them.

This is in addition to the unsupportive media. The media in the Arab world plays a significant part in supporting male dominance in politics by giving women politicians and candidates far less attention. During elections, for example, the media tends to focus on and cover male candidates' campaigns and agendas rather than female candidates one’s. Despite the fact that social media has helped women overcome some of these obstacles, women in the region have far less internet access than males, preventing them from using such technologies equally to avoid traditional media outlets.


Despite international and national efforts to improve the status of women in the Arab world, a dominant discriminative attitude still persists. The male dominated culture has put males at a higher position of the decision-making level and has pushed them to be politically more active.

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