Middle East

The Arab Spring of 2011 confirmed this region as a centre of debates over women’s rights, though of course not all residents are Arab. Women joined in anti-colonial movements from the beginning and today support diverse political alternatives. Women in the Middle Eastern diasporic communities in Canada as elsewhere also provide support and encouragement for those left behind, in an expression of global sisterhood that needs to be remembered. This activist history helped propel the first woman of Arab descent, Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, to win the Noble Peace Prize in 2011. There are other signs of progress as when Kuwait’s women received the same political rights as men in 2005.  And yet so-called ‘honour crimes’ in countries such as Jordan and Egypt, reactionary interpretations of Islamic tradition in Iran, and laws such as those forbidding women options open to men, ranging from a driver’s licence to the vote in Saudi Arabia, continue to handicap development and justice. And as elsewhere in the world, certain groups of women, notably refugees, migrant workers, members of minority religions and ethnic communities, those with disabilities, and the poor in general are especially vulnerable. Women are significantly under-represented or entirely absent in positions of authority. It is still fair to say that in general “progress is stymied by the lack of democratic institutions, an independent judiciary, and freedoms of association and assembly”(Kelly and Breslin 3).

Middle East Suffrage Timeline

Right to Vote
Right to Stand for Election
Afghanistan
1965* 1965*
Afghanistan Notes
*Revoked during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. *Revoked during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
Algeria
July 5th, 1962 July 5th, 1962
Armenia
February 2nd, 1921 February 2nd, 1921
Azerbaijan
May 19th, 1921 May 19th, 1921
Bahrain
October 24th, 2002 October 24th, 2002
Comoros
1956 1956
Cyprus
August 16th, 1960 August 16th, 1960
Djibouti
1946 1986
Egypt
June 23rd, 1956 June 23rd, 1956
Eritrea
November 4th, 1955 November 4th, 1955
Iran
September 1963 September 1963
Iraq
1958*/
February 1980
1958/
February 1980
Iraq Notes
*Government “overthrown during the summer of 1958, before any elections with female participation” (p. 188).
Israel
May 15th, 1948 May 15th, 1948
Georgia
November 22nd, 1918 November 22nd, 1918
Jordan
1974* 1974*
Jordan Notes
“Women actually exercised the right to vote and stand for election for the first time in 1989″ (p. 206).
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
June 1918 June 1918
Lebanon
1952 1952
Libya
1963 1963
Mauritania
May 20th, 1961 May 20th, 1961
Morocco
May 1963 May 1963
Oman
1997 1997
Pakistan
1947 1947
Qatar
1999 1999
Saudia Arabia
2015 Municipal Elections (expected) 2015 Municipal Elections (expected)
Somalia
1956 1956
Sudan
November 1964 November 1964
Syria
September 10th, 1949* 1953
Syria Notes
“women who had reached a sixth-grade educational level; it was then extended to all literate women, and in 1953 all educational restrictions on voting were lifted for women” (p. 371).
Tajikistan
1924 1924
Tunisia
1957 (“municipal elections”)/
June 1st, 1959
June 1st, 1959
Turkey
April 3rd, 1930 December 5th, 1934
Turkmenistan
1927 1927
United Arab Emirates
2006 2006
Uzbekistan
1938 1938
Yemen
1967 (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen)/
1970 (Arab Republic of Yemen)
1967 (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen)/
1970 (Arab Republic of Yemen)

Resources

Ahmed, L. 1993. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bibars, Iman. 2001. Victims and Heroines: Women, Welfare and the Egyptian State. New York: Zed Books.

Hoodfar, Homa. 2009. “Activism under the Radar: Volunteer Women Health Workers in Iran.” Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). 39:250. Spring. 56-60.

Jordanian Women’s Participation in Political Life: An Analytical Study of the Performance of Female Deputies in the 14th Parliament of 2003 (UNIFEM, 2007), 45, http://unifem.org.jo/Attachments/1124/5cb902a9-8653-430d-8859-9f6b86cb8c3d.pdf.

Keddie, Nikki. 2007. “Iranian Women’s Status and Struggles since 1979.” Journal of International Affairs. 60:2.

Kelly, Sanja and Julian Breslin, eds., Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (N.Y. and Washington: Freedom House, 2010) http://freedomhouse.org/uploads/specialreports/womensrights/2010/womensrights2010.pdf

Rubin, Judith C. 2008. “Women in the New Iraqu.” Middle East Review of International Affairs. 12:3. September.

Sadiqi, Fatima. 2008. “Facing Challenges and Pioneering Feminist and Gender Studies: Women in Post-colonial and Today’s maghrib.” African and Asian Studies. 7:4 447-470.

Tohidi, Nayereh. 2002. “The International Connections of the women’s Movement in Iran: 1979-2000.” In Ran and the Surrounding World: Interaction in culture and Cultural Politics. Ed. Nikki Keddie and rudi Matthee. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 205-231.