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Women

Westward wind
Gender equality in the 21st century

Behshad Hastibakhsh
February 28, 2005
iranian.com

The dawn of the 21st century marks an important milestone in the worldwide campaign to eliminate traditional social and cultural barriers to gender equality. While women in some societies enjoy their equal social status and access to education, employment and career opportunities similar to men, gender based segregation and discrimination remains common in communities with strong conservative values.

Evidently, the process of social change does not bear a universal character. The winds of change are felt around the world, and yet women in developing countries are still treated as second class citizens and confined to their traditional roles as child bearers and nurturers. By generating global awareness on atrocities committed against women, social advocates lead their tireless campaign to stop gender based segregation and discrimination that are often justified on religious and cultural grounds.

Today, the debate on women's empowerment includes social change through understanding local customs and traditions and developing appropriate public education strategies. As women's issues vary from one community to the next, it is critical to find solutions with respect for traditional local cultural values and beliefs. This does not mean that one must shy away from change in case of cultural resistance. On the contrary, it is possible to bring forth social change by emphasis on socio-economic advantages that would result from women's rights reforms. 

In the information age, the global aspect of women's movement takes a new dimension. The digital technology is revolutionizing the way people around the world communicate and learn about each other's traditions and cultures. Using latest advanced technology tools, it is now possible to accelerate the pace of social change and reflect the truth about human rights violations against women. As a result, the Western world is better than ever before informed about gender based discrimination in countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iran, where patriarchy (or a social structure organized around male dominance) exists. 

In Saudi Arabia, the ruling royal family shares power with the Wahabis (a strictly conservative Muslim sect) who are given a free rein to implement their rigid Islamic code in the kingdom. This power sharing arrangement has led to the lack of democratic and human rights progress and strict Islamic laws deny Saudi women even the basic right to apply for a driver's license.

In comparison, the sufferings of Sudanese women are multifaceted. They are the most vulnerable victims of Islamic fundamentalism, decades' long civil war and starvation crisis. Many countries of the Middle East reflect a superficial level of recognition for women's right. However, social change is difficult to realize where the religious establishments oppose universal suffrage for Kuwaiti women and fail to condemn the practice of Œhonor killing' in Jordan. 

Iranian women, who in years prior to 1979 had gained substantial freedoms and benefited from widespread socio-economic reforms of the time, are now reduced to second class citizens. Under the laws of the Islamic regime, women are denied gender equality, deprived of their emancipated status, denied equal social, education and employment opportunities.

Despite their immeasurable pain and sufferings, Iranian women are determined to regain their lost social status. They have demonstrated courage and led the non-violent civil disobedience movement for gender equality without fears of imprisonment, torture and death. This ever growing movement is a grassroots based campaign that has emerged out of the sole defiance for the ruling theocratic regime.

These examples serve as reminders of the task ahead to address women's rights issues in non-Western societies. As social activists share the vision to eliminate the worldwide practice of gender based stereotyping, segregation and discrimination, they seek to first understand the symptoms of intolerance and find remedies in the public education process. The example of women's movement in Iran indicates that it is possible to seek social change in areas of the world with most patriarchic traditions.

Iranian women look at their own past and present achievements in the West for direction. In the pursuit of their aspirations, they set a great example of resistance to gain equal rights and recognition. Admittedly, the women's rights movement in Iran faces the daunting challenge of opposition from the ruling theocratic regime. Nevertheless, public education remains the keystone to generating societal and international awareness on eliminating gender inequalities. 

About
Behshad Hastibakhsh, 34, is an award winning Political Scientist by training,  Marketing & Public Relations Specialist by experience, and published Writer with passion.  Behshad leads a professional career in the high-tech business sector and maintains vast interests in global politics.  Visit his site, Behshadh.com.   

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