Women in the Arab World: A Cartoon Perspective

Posted: December 15, 2014 in Discussion
Tags: ,
Below are a series of political cartoons regarding the status of women in the Middle East. Are they true? Do agree with them? Is there a difference between feminism in the Arab world and feminism in the western world?




  1. Mallak Al Husban says:

    why does hijab have to be seen as oppression? Hijab isn’t a form of oppression, but these disgusting stereotypes are. Hijab, in my opinion, empowers women to choose what to wear and how to act. Personally, it was my choice to wear the Hijab and the generalization that has been made that all women are forced to wear it is inaccurate. Hijab doesn’t prevent women from taking roles in the country. Tawakkol karman is a hijabbi; she won the Nobel prize, and she’s ” a mother of three as well as a human rights activist, journalist, politician, and senior member of the Al-Islah political party.” Hijab isn’t a compulsion, it is a choice. Hijab doesn’t bind women’s rights in any way; women can still participate and engage in society while waring the hijab. If women have the freedom to expose their bodies, why shouldn’t they have the freedom to cover up and wear the hijab?

    • eunsoljun15 says:

      I agree with Mallak that “hijab” isn’t necessarily an oppression. Some girls I know do it because they personally think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think there isn’t a valid differentiation between the Western idea of feminism and the Arab world’s idea of feminism in that both are about empowerment. However, I think Western idea is more worried about the attention they get from how they show in society. I think the Arab world’s idea of feminism concerns around the fact of education and social roles.

    • I totally agree with you that hijab is not a form of oppression of women. Over the years of living here in Jordan, I learned that it is the women’s choice to wear the hijab; as Mallak said, if women are free to show whatever they want, they should be free to cover whatever they want. I think the Western thoughts regarding hijab as being oppressing comes from misunderstanding of different cultures.

      I have one question though. What about niqqab/burqah? Do women who wear these have a choice as well? Did they choose to wear the niqqab rather than the hijab? Or were they pressured into it by the family?

      • Seungjung,
        It is true that Hijab is the choice of many women, but it has a religious bases as you most probably already know. Niqab, however, has no religious bases. It is very possible that SOME women exaggerate in their “modesty” and by choice wear niqab (which in my opinion is a form of fearful extremism and a source of cultural misunderstanding). Burqah/Niqab from my experience (in my country) is for the most part an unspoken cultural rule. If one’s mother wore niqab, it goes without saying that daughter must wear niqab (btw almost every woman especially in the rural areas wears niqab). Rebelling against this unspoken rule is treated harshly (and I mean really harshly).

  2. salehqadi says:

    I have a question to those who considered Mahr to be an oppression or whatever and explained themselves by saying that men BUY women… How would you explain the money the wife gets from her husband after he dies or after they’re divorced?? If he ‘bought’ her when they got together, doesn’t mean he had sold her when he divorced her? but I had never seen someone selling something and paying money for that too.. He is supposed to get money not give money right? I need an explanation:)

    • Jude Hadadeen says:

      I believe that just like about every other issue in the the world around us, it is a matter of perspective. As long as the hijab is a choice, then it is by no means a way of oppression, but a way of freedom – freedom for the woman to practice freely practice her religion or modestly express herself. However, once the hijab is forced upon the woman by the men around her, it becomes a symbol of oppression.

  3. I don’t agree with the messages being told in the cartoons above. I think they depict a sense of misinterpretation of female oppression vs. self-made religious decisions. There is female oppression in the Middle East, but not the way that it is portrayed above. For starters, the hijab/niqab is not considered a “restriction” to the women who choose to wear them, nor are they enforced by men. It is merely a religious decision. The ways in which there is female oppression is more so in the abstract aspects of the region, such as the belittling of a woman’s potential by the men around her. It is especially evident during our class discussions that some of the guys believe they are “protecting” us or “saving us” the trouble of having to deal with certain things. However, the choice/option is not theirs to decide what we can and cannot do as women. When it comes to those things, I disagree with the patriarchal mindset. A lot of the time the fact that a certain practice or mindset is a “cultural” one is used as an excuse. And the lines that proceed that excuse, such as “and Arabs do it so just live with it” or “deal with it because that’s how it’s always been” make me even more irritated. Just because a certain notion or tradition has been used for a long time does not mean it is the right thing to practice. On the contrary, it may have us asking the question “and for how much longer can it go on?” In terms of female oppression, or let me say the gender inequality, in the Middle East, it shouldn’t go on for that much longer.

  4. Daniel A. Leal says:

    The issue with feminism in the Arab world is that it is not an independent entity. From the reading by Bahithat al-Badiya and Qasim Amin, it seems that feminism in the Arab World is more a matter of reactionary action against the “West,” the U.S. and Europe in particular, than it is about women. Both reading focus on an us against the West or us aspiring to be like the West. With such comparative thought the matter is not about women but rather Orientalism. In a sense feminism in the Arab World embodies a struggle between overcoming Orientalism, the image granted to all the parts of the Old World which are not Europe by Europe, and the instituted Orientalism, which may or may have not caused the oppression of women in Arab society. Could Orientalism be the source of oppression of women in the Middle East or is it one of its manifestations?
    The “Western woman” and “Arab women” may be the same, they just differently? But Western women have more freedom right? What if it is not a matter of freedom, but rather Western women are given more responsibilities and are hence trusted to greater extent than Arab women? Arab women may have the same amount of responsibility but at home rather than outside of home, the problem lies in whether Arab women get to chose their responsibilities.

    • Marah Tarawneh says:

      Daniel’s question about Orientalism is very essential, and I think oppression, especially in terms of these cartoons, is a clear manifestation of Orientalism. In the reading, Bahitat al-Badiya discusses the changes to the way women dress and she is not only annoyed by the changes, she also thinks they are a threat because next we won’t be able to decide to which extent we can go towards “modernity” and away from “traditions”. This fear of becoming more “modern” is to many people a threat of losing their culture by imitating the West. Now, many can argue that imitating the West and going away from the traditions means admitting that women are oppressed so it’s a rescue, but others can also see it as simply a choice, which is opposite to being oppressed.

  5. Tariq Shami says:

    The preconceived notion that all Muslim women who wear the hijab are oppressed is highly problematic. First, it ignores the large number of Muslim women who wear the hijab on their own terms and second it uses a piece of a garment as an indicator to figure out which women are oppressed and which are not. The Muslim women who wear the hijab that I have met over the years do so because they decided on their own that they would wear the hijab. This is something that is ignored by mainstream media as well as feminist groups that proclaim to fight against this oppression so that they could eventually liberate Muslim women from Islam and Muslim men. What these groups forget is that the most essential part of fighting for someone’s rights and freedom is listening to what they want and not what you want for them. Muslim women are capable of deciding whether they want to wear the hijab or not, no one is forcing them too.

  6. Feminism the way I understand it is a “movement” that cries out for the equality of men and women in the society.

    To begin with, seeking equality is a ridiculously primitive idea. We’re not balancing a chemical equation here and women are not equal to men either (I am not saying one is “superior” or “inferior” to the other). Women and men are just morphologically two different beings with a lot of different needs. They are both equally important for a society to thrive. They are both necessary and…

    The issue here is, that Easterners and Westerners are judging each other’s cultures without studying them correctly. It is not necessarily the problem of East or West, it is a human habit (repeatedly seen throughout the history). In the first cartoon I see East judging West and vice versa, and in the other two cartoons I see West foolishly thinking that their cultural values are the ideal and the Eastern culture is one of oppression…

    The thing is, we humans have a fundamental issue. As a species, we humans constantly exaggerate and understate whatever norms. Islam has clear guidelines for men and women, but Muslims (not all Muslims) exaggerate or understate these rules and make a spaghetti sauce out of culture and religion. West too, after embracing secularism, exaggerated or minimized the then accepted social norms to what it is now.

    None is any more right or wrong than the other in doing so…
    In falling captives to these shortcomings of their own, chaos is born.
    Neither Arab feminism nor Western feminism is better than each other. They are both good for nothing “movements” that brings about miseries that we witness.

    Quite interestingly we judge and “demonize” each other for a reason that I don’t fully understand. Instead what West and East should strive for correcting the existing systems that don’t work, and that way the societies are going to thrive… AND Feminism ain’t the way to do it na’a.

  7. Marah Tarawneh says:

    I came across an article (http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/feminism-fails-muslim-women/) that gives a few examples of how the Western perspective on feminism differs from the Muslim perspective, because simply the needs and wants differ. Although I don’t agree with the word “mainstream” in the title, but many points in the article prove the explanation that we gave in class about these cartoons. For example, in the article she talks about Western feminists acting as the typical “White Savior” which is clear in these cartoons. Also, about Muslim feminist wanting Western feminists to stop viewing them as oppressed, especially when choosing to cover, which is clear in these cartoons as well. However, no one can deny that there are common aspects that feminists across the world ask for, like education and being treated equally under the law.

  8. nizar qadadeh says:

    Its all about perspectives and how people look at and interpret actions/decisions. It might be hard for people around the world to understand muslim traditions since they are different from what they see in they are used to seeing. However, we are now part of a developing world. It is easy for them to read and learn about the real Islam and the purpose of the Hijab. As long as it is a choice, Muslim women who cover are not oppressed.

  9. Zaid Khalaf says:

    Hijab doesn’t prevent women from taking roles in the country.The Muslim women who wear the hijab that I have met over the years do wear it because they decided on their own that they would wear the hijab, and nobosy forced them to do it.

  10. Zaid Khalaf says:

    There is female oppression in the Middle East, but not the way that it is shown above, but as long as the hijab is a choice, then it is nit oppression, but freedom. Freedom for the woman to practice freely practice her religion or express herself, and if that way is by wearing a hijab then it is not oppression.

  11. Muslim women have received from the Islamic Shari’a a very careful attention. Hijab as wally said has religious bases so I disagree with many of the students who said that hijab is a choice.The purpose of the Hijab is to maintain a good image of a woman chastity , when a woman wears the hijab or the Islamic dress she hides and covers her charming parts of her body from mens’ eyes. although Hijab (NOT NIQAB) is imposed for a Muslim woman to wear,some good Muslim women chose not to wear it and that doesn’t mean that those women are going to hell or get punished as if it was a big sin . Many Muslims believe that Hijab is a protection for the Muslim women to avoid falling into the dark humiliation , and the resolution of vulgarity , or be the scene of the eyes of men. I Also agree with Khalaf to the point that Hijab doesn’t prevent women to take roles in the country .

  12. farah sinokrot says:

    In some places the man forces a woman to wear the hijab. however, in most places it is the woman’s choice to do so because that is simply her religious belief but the west depict this as oppression. furthermore, as people and leader from all around the world are marching in Paris for freedom of speech then the fact that the west is wanting to remove the hijab of Muslim woman who put it by choice is oppression and they are taking away their freedom. Thus, should Muslim leaders walk in the streets to defend their freedom of hijab?

  13. yasminemalas says:

    I read over my comment earlier and started to realize that I was only defending the Middle Eastern side, which I find is ironic because what I learn from these cartoons the more I look at them is the lack of understanding from both sides. Too often we’re so invested in defending ourselves from misinterpretation of us that we fail to recognize how much of we’ve misinterpreted of others as well. It’s interesting how much we allow for double standards to take place and only start to fight against them the instant we’re discriminated against.

    The whole point is these cartoons aren’t accurate – and not only for the Middle Eastern point of view – but also for the Western point of view.

  14. Ahmed Al-Nabhani says:

    People form the west have to understand that the women in the Middle East, cover themselves by choice and that they are not forced into to, The Wast should also understand why the women in the middle east cover themselves before setting conclusions about them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s