Women in the West also face discrimination. The denigration of Muslim women is countered with an idealised view of our own situation. The #MeToo debate, the gender pay gap, domestic violence (according to Germany´s Federal Criminal Police Office, a man kills his partner or ex-partner every three days), to name just a few examples. We still have a long way to go to full equality.

Those who refuse to acknowledge the inadequacies of their own culture where women’s rights are concerned are unable to recognise the "complexity and inconsistencies" of women’s lives in other cultures. So said the psychologist and gender researcher Birgit Rommelspacher, who died in 2015, in her essay Feminism, Secularism and Islam, published in German in 2013. Rommelspacher, a shrewd analyst of the West’s dominant behaviour, felt that this was often registered in the fixation on the "backwardness" of other women, serving "as a counter-foil to their own progressiveness".

But not only does this stereotype distract us from real gender relations in Europe, it also conceals the fact that both women and men living in the Near East and North Africa are suffering from poverty, political repression and fears for the future. As a result, their scope for action on a personal level is severely limit. Questions of gender roles cannot be isolated from questions of political oppression and the West’s joint responsibility for these conditions, stresses the Egyptian social anthropologist Dina Makram-Ebeid, based at the American University in Cairo.

Psychologist and gender researcher Birgit Rommelspacher (photo: Heinrich Boll Stiftung)
"Komplexität und Widersprüchlichkeit" von Frauenl"The complexity and contradictoriness" of women's lives in other cultures: psychologist and gender researcher Birgit Rommelspacher felt that this was often registered in the fixation on the "backwardness" of other women, serving "as a counter-foil to one´s own so-called progressiveness"eben in anderen Kulturen: Die Psychologin und Genderforscherin Birgit Rommelspacher meint, in der Fixierung auf die 'Rückschrittlichkeit' der anderen Frau werde diese oft geradezu in dieser Rolle festgehalten, um "als Kontrastfolie für die eigene Fortschrittlichkeit" zu dienen.

The West’s scope of responsibility includes direct political support for dictators as well as the fact that industrialised countries have drastically reduced other world regions’ opportunities for development with their own waste of resources. Climate change is hitting North Africa and the Middle East with much greater severity than Europe.

"We in the South are paying the highest price for climate change," says Makram-Ebeid. "Isn’t it obvious that Egypt is becoming hotter and increasingly inhospitable because the global North is using the most of our planet’s resources?"

A loss of cultural dominance

The stereotype of the "oppressed Arab woman" is a long-standing tradition in European history and has been used repeatedly to justify colonial action. But why is it continuing to grow in strength today, just as women in societies in the Middle East and North Africa are setting out for new lives? Their achievements are both fragile and continually threatened by setbacks and yet they are still there, in the face of Islamist threats and repression by dictators who claim to be secularists.

The more the West continues to lose its grip on cultural dominance worldwide, the more it openly craves the acknowledgment of supposed "Middle-Eastern barbarism". As Europe’s real power dwindles, the more its supposedly civilizing superiority is maligned in debates on migration. A deep-seated insecurity in Western societies between globalisation, refugee crises and fear of economic decline has led to a powerful need for cultural self-assurance.

Asma Rashahneh, the local councillor from Jordan, is presumably unaware of these debates in Europe. She is concerned with more practical matters, like facilitating lives lived with dignity, without violence or sexual harassment. Independent income, better education, and a place at the table in public debate. Women like her deserve greater recognition for their struggles for a better world.

Claudia Mende

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the German by Ayca Turkoglu

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.

Comments for this article: The West's gleeful obsession with the 'oppressed Arab woman'

"The West’s scope of responsibility includes direct political support for dictators as well as the fact that industrialised countries have drastically reduced other world regions’ opportunities for development with their own waste of resources. Climate change is hitting North Africa and the Middle East with much greater severity than Europe."

Agreed. However, another paragraph explaning how capitalist development in the West coincided with or gave impetus to women's struggle. How the level of capitalist development and two world wars forced the capitalists to seek female labour force.

Then we need to qualify what sort of dictators we are talking about: the first dictator of Tunisia gave women more rights than any other Ara dictator. Thus in the 1990s in the second textile hub in Africa, the town of Ksar Hellal, the majority of the labour force in the industry was young women and most of them were not wearing the headscarf, jeans and skirts, and some teenagers even wore shorts in summer. By the way, you should drop the word 'hijab'.

When I returned to the town in a family visit in 2009, I found that at least 60% of the female workers and members of my extended began to wear the headscarf. A male cousin who was expelled from work and made unemployed for more than 10 years contemplated going to Afghanistan! Male and female all felt that there was a war on "Islam" waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus one of the most liberal cities in the country titled towards conservatism.

Nèdeem11.10.2019 | 19:18 Uhr