History And Development Of Policies On Gender Issues In Iran And Saudi Arabia

2676 words - 11 pages

“Gender, refers not to a fixed biological notion of sex, but rather to the “appropriate” social and cultural roles that society values as normal or desirable.” Thus, gender issues can be defined as those issues that evolve in response to such roles. The Middle East often attracts scrutiny in the international arena for its responses to these gender issues, and the contradictory nature of their gender policies. However, it is important to note that many factors can shape these gender norms, and these “… are the result of long historical processes influenced by the state, religion, culture, law, morality, sexuality, ideology, and economic forces as well as contemporary changes and challenges.” Thus the policies that have evolved in response to gender issues have done so contextually, as seen in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, both of which have very different, yet controversial policies in respects to gender issues. Thus, this essay will take a look at the historical and contextual development of these policies in each country. Next, it will take a close look at the development of gender policies, particularly focusing on the post-1979 period, and the reasons for such development. Finally, it will discuss and compare contemporary policies in a similar manner.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, it must be noted that, “…the historical socio-economic and political conditions of Saudi Arabia are an essential aspect of understanding a woman’s position in Saudi society,” and consequently, Saudi Arabia’s case is unique when compared to the rest of the region, as it did not undergo European colonisation. Hence the restrictions placed on women “…can be attributed to a social and traditional cultural boundaries more than religious [boundaries].” After the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the state strove to preserve its “tribal ethos” , which has kept women in a patriarchal system where they are found to be “…under the authority of male relatives.” This patriarchal system became further integrated too, after the state created an union with the Wahhabi tradition and their principles, which is often considered to be the most restrictive branch within Islamic tradition, with it’s “…obedience to monarchy… [meaning] it has not been possible for the state to become an autonomous agent, capable of moving towards any ‘liberal’ understanding of gender relations.” Thus, particularly since the 1960’s, oscillation in the policies of the Saudi state have been noted, shifting between a severely restrictive regime, to one of partial liberalisation, yet it continues to lack the ability to introduce any majorly liberal gender policies.

Iran however, experienced various forms of gender liberalisation much earlier than Saudi Arabia, through women’s participation in movements such as the Tobacco protest of 1891-92 and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11. This gave women in Iran great confidence and political maturity,...

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