Governments in the Gulf are deliberately using women to whitewash their image before the international community, at a time when patriarchy permeates all aspects of society from political, economic, social and religious powers.
Saudi women demanded the lifting of the guardianship of men over them; this system allows any male in the family to control the fate of the women in his family, regardless of her age, in terms of work, travel and movement,. First, some of the women’s rights activists were subjected to torture and sexual harassment during detention; then, it was announced that women would be allowed to drive, and some of the guardianship provisions, such as travel and work, were lifted.
This came at a time when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose an educated and young princess as its ambassador in the United States of America. She lived more than 23 years of her life there and graduated from George Washington University. She expressed her support for women’s rights in the Kingdom and supporting women’s sports in Saudi Arabia. But, unfortunately, her country robbed the minds of the press and the Western world, who considered it a step in the right direction, while the women activists are still behind bars and facing court rulings that came based on charges based on their peaceful human rights activism.
In a similar vein, the United Arab Emirates is preparing to send Noura Al Matrooshi to space as the first Arab Emirati woman to do this mission. The UAE also topped the Middle East countries in the United Nations Gender Equality Index for 2020 and ranked 18th globally. However, the Emirati woman still needs the consent of her male guardian for marriage. In addition, they are still unable to pass on their nationality to their children if they marry a non-Emirati, and she cannot issue birth certificates for her children.
The UAE also seeks to exploit women’s issues and appoint them to leadership positions through a whitewashing campaign. It draws attention to these “achievements” to divert attention from women’s lack of access to fundamental rights, such as work or study, without the male guardian’s permission in the family, i.e. the father, brother, uncle, husband or son.
In Bahrain, Mrs Fawzia Zainal won the presidency of the Bahrain Parlement in 2018 as the first Bahraini woman to preside over the elected chamber of the legislative authority and the second woman to head a legislative power in the Arab world. She was preceded by Dr Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi, who was elected President of the Federal National Council in the United Arab Emirates, even though the country does not hold parliamentary elections.
Zainal’s victory comes with the support of the Supreme Council for Women, which is headed by the wife of the King of Bahrain, something that stole attention from all corners of the earth. However, the presence of women in high positions in Bahrain does not mean that things have changed. For example, the presence of a woman at the head of Parliament who cannot grant her children her nationality is a shameful joke. Also, what does it mean for a woman to occupy the position of President of the Journalists Association and the position of Minister, Director and other positions In the absence of fundamental rights for women?
In this, women are used as puppets by the political system to beautify its image. Thus, in addition to the inability of Bahraini women to pass on their nationality to their children, which is the most basic of citizenship rights, they are also unable to extract many documents, whether for themselves or their children, except in the presence of a male guardian of the first degree of kinship. As for marriage and divorce, and child custody, all are considered in the Sharia courts administered by male clerics of the Sunni and Shiite sects, so the rulings issued are different according to the mood of the cleric. The outcome of the verdict depends on the interpretation of the verses and the bias of the cleric.
The situation is no different in the other Gulf countries. They do not grant women a number of their fundamental rights and treat them as second-class citizens while using them to beautify their image before the international community. To achieve advanced ranks on indicators of gender equality and draw the attention of the international press and divert attention from certain violations, these countries appoint women to leadership positions and give them part of the rights that women have been demanding for decades as monarchs gift.
Issues such as violence against women, femicide, marrying off a woman to her rapist, sexual harassment still arepressing issues. Today in the Gulf, we have a generation of young feminists, who do not view themselves, their bodies, and their identities as subservient to men, complimenting men or existing to satisfy men. Instead, they are independent, conscious, and educated entities that deserve full rights, respect, and recognition.