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The rights of women in Middle Eastern countries have always been a controversial issue. Although a range of women’s rights have changed over the years, ultimately, they have never been the full equivalent to that of their male counterparts. This structure of power poses a threat to nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia because women have very limited options when it comes to labor, marriage and other social aspects of their culture. The guaranteed equal legal rights of women and men is a pivotal principle of international human rights standards. Despite the tireless action for better women’s rights within the past 20 years, discriminatory practices against women in Middle Eastern nations such as Iran are not only prevalent, but in some cases, required by law. This reality begs the question: How are the legal rights of women interpreted by different countries throughout the Middle East?In Liliana Trofin and M?d?lina Tomescu’s scholarly article “Women’s Rights in the Middle East”, published in the Contemporary Readings in Law & Social Justice in 2010, both women discuss how even with the continuous effort and evolutionary change brought about in our society, women in the Middle East are still being discriminated against in the legal sphere. Women in this portion of the world have almost zero marital rights, have a very strict code of what is acceptable for women to wear, and are many times unjustly punished in comparison to men. Women are prohibited from actively filing for divorce, while men conversely are free to divorce and remarry as they wish. Also, women must fit the role as the submissive wife to their husbands due to the reality that their husbands have total legal control over them. Men have ownership and complete control over all possessions in marital law. In addition, due to the guardian policy enacted in several nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan, women are required to seek permission from their husbands to do the most basic tasks. In a similar fashion, if a woman is raped and falls pregnant as a result, she could be stoned or caned to death. All that is required for this brutality to take place is the testimony of a single male witness. Should a man commit the same adultery, the protection of the man is greatly increased as the woman would need to produce four male witnesses before he can be punished. Echoed in that Trofin and Tomescu’s scholarly article, both authors observe that “Many women passively follow customs and traditions that devalue females relative to their male counterparts” (“Women’s Rights”, 153). Women would rather follow the status quo and not be reprimanded than risk the chance of, in some cases, fatal backlash from family as well as the surrounding community, for attempting to not conform. False interpretations of Islamic views and traditions in the Middle East are the fundamental cause of the repression of women in these select regions. This critical fact alone acts as a major obstacle to the evolution and betterment of their position. Moghadam observes that “The position of women in the Middle East cannot be solely attributed to the presumed intrinsic properties of Islam” (“Women’s Rights”, 155). Gender asymmetry and the status of women in the Muslim world is based off countless factors outside of the prescribed modern interpretations and practices of Islam. ¬†Asserted by Trofin and Tomescu, the roles and status of women are structurally linked and determined by “state ideology, level and type of economic development, and class location” (“Women’s Rights”, 156). It is also important to recognize that the obstacles of male-female gender inequality faced and concerned with by Western feminists are different from those facing Middle Eastern feminists. As quoted in Trofin and Tomescu’s article, Ottaway claims that “different groups of women need different reforms” (“Women’s Rights”, 153). The legal and societal issues regarding women’s status and freedoms in the Middle East tend to be quite different from those in the West. Although feminist organizations in Middle Eastern countries do exist and are active, they often are small and to tend to lack significant input in the political process. Blaydes and El Tartouty endorse this by acknowledging Egyptian state’s secularly created organizations dedicated to the advancement of women’s rights (“Women’s Rights”, 154). Both Blaydes and El Tartouty are quoted in “Women’s Rights in the Middle East” recognizing that the Egyptian state is an exception, as “many governments do not take an active interest in improving women’s status and opportunities” (“Women’s Rights”, 156). Due to this, the improvement in the legal status of women often times has not resulted from pressures from women’s organizations, but rather from the desire and agenda of male members of the political elite to industrialize and modernize their societies, using women’s law reform as a tool of social engineering. In Shereen El Feki’s op-ed article “A New Tune on Women’s Rights in the Arab World” published in the New York Times on August 22nd, 2017, El Feki discusses how “When it comes to women’s rights, governments across the region are generally more comfortable with criminalizing violence than they are with protecting freedoms” (El Feki). Generally, where the political elite has deemed legal reforms in the status of women would yield and promote the achievement of full modernization and industrialization that reforms have been made. These legal changes most often precede that of the state’s social evolution. This means can take, in some cases, several years before some fragments of Middle Eastern societies feel the impact of the change. While legal reform may be immediately felt and ¬†significant for affluent, well educated women in major urban cities, the large population of illiterate women in rural communities may not understand or realize their legal rights to utilize. As a result of this, legal changes in these societies often tend to trickle down gradually over time. This slow trickle down of rights granted to women has garnered criticism and mockery from Western countries. In Eman Quotah’s op-ed article “Letting Women Drive in Saudi Arabia is No Laughing Matter,” published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette on October 3rd, 2017, Eman, a Saudi American writer and editor, points out that the Saudi women who have worked hard to gain their rights should not be criticized. “Scoffing at it disrespects the activism of many Saudi women who have agitated for this right” (Eman). Any change, no matter how small, is a step forward to full and unequivocal legal and societal rights. The legal status of women in the Middle East, and the individual interpretations taken by countries, is currently unstable and problematic. It is evident that whatever progress made in the scope of women’s rights is not immune to being reversed. In Eman Quotah’s op-ed article “Letting Women Drive in Saudi Arabia is No Laughing Matter,” it is discussed that no matter how minute the change in legal policy, all steps and women’s activism should be respected. In Liliana Trofin and M?d?lina Tomescu’s scholarly article “Women’s Rights in the Middle East” different angles of women’s rights and how they are viewed and enacted in individual Middle Eastern nations is discussed. Additionally, in Shereen El Feki’s op-ed article “A New Tune on Women’s Rights in the Arab World” , the society of these male dominated countries is analyzed and how the ever shifting climate will dictate how these laws will be introduced into reality. These circumstances make it almost certain that the legal status of women in the Middle East will remain a hotly contested issue for many years to come.

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