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Saudi Arabian and Israeli Women Empowerment Essay

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Updated: Aug 14th, 2020

Women’s empowerment is an issue that has attracted several discussions in development and economics worldwide. Women have been trivialized over the centuries both in political and social contexts, and despite the need for gender equality, they are affected by lopsided gender views. While optimistic viewpoints perceive women empowerment as a welcome relief to the persistent gender bias, pessimistic views assert that empowering women makes them superior and domineering over men.1 Notwithstanding the existence of conflicting viewpoints, women empowerment aims at creating suitable environments where women can freely express themselves and make decisions that benefit them and the community.2 Female empowerment refers to offering financial, political, social and legal métiers to women to help them become confident and enjoy their human rights. This paper critically analyses the issue of women empowerment, delving on the differences and similarities between female empowerment in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Women Empowerment Differences in Saudi Arabia and Israel

Saudi Arabia is the world’s 13th largest nation with a population of approximately 28 million people.3Israel, on the other hand, is a relatively small country with a population of roughly 8 million citizens.4 The prevailing Islamist hegemony in the Middle East 5 has elicited interest in the mediocre role and eminence of women in Muslim countries compared to Israeli women. Despite research on the role of women in Muslim nations, a comparative analysis is quite difficult regarding the position of women in these two countries.6 While data on women is accurately gathered and published periodically in the State of Israel, female demographics in Arab societies is scanty owing to generalizations concerning nations in the Arabian Gulf.

Despite the disparities as mentioned above, there is sufficient empirical evidence indicating the salient difference between the importance of women in Israel and Saudi Arabia. While Israel has made significant steps in empowering women, the Arab Emirates lags with low economic involvement and opportunities for women. What’s more, there is limited political empowerment, educational prospects and access to health among women in Saudi Arabia compared to the State of Israel. Female rights are ingrained in the Israeli constitution as typified by the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. Conversely, the rights of women are disregarded and overlooked in the Saudi Arabian legal system.

All Israeli citizens have equal political and social rights regardless of religious conviction, ethnicity or gender. Israeli women, therefore, take part in all aspects of Israeli life. Specifically, they are allowed to participate in local and national politics, hold managerial posts, and work in the country’s courts, as well as, military, and educational institutions.7 Saudi women, however, have limited rights and face derision and ridicule, with a majority being stay-at-home mothers.8 Only a small number of Saudi women hold positions of power, and their peers and men perceive such women negatively.9

While Israeli women have the same voting rights as men and are allowed to participate in politics, Saudi women are forbidden from voting.10 Presently, there were approximately 28 women in Israel’s national parliament in 2015,11 whereas few women hold political posts in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.12 Still, on the subject, more than 17 women have chaired parliamentary committees, and at least one woman has been appointed as speaker of parliament in Israel since 1949, as was the case of Naomi Chazan.13 It is noteworthy that the country’s leading political parties, Kadima, Likud, and Labor, have adopted strategies to increase the number of female in leadership positions. Such as the flag bearer of the Labor Party, a female named Shelly Yachimovich. Women in Saudi Arabia were not able to participate in political activities. However, this slightly changed in 2015 when King Abdullah gave Saudi women the right of voting and participating in municipal elections.14

The State of Israel values women and regards them as equal to men. For this reason, many women have been appointed to head the country’s legal system. On the other side, no Saudi women held such positions of power, and most are degraded through male chauvinism and gender stereotypes to lower and meaningless jobs such as housewives while lucrative and managerial positions are left for men.

Israeli women enjoy similar opportunities as their male counterparts compared to Saudi women. A large number of Israeli women have been appointed to almost all government positions ranging from ministers, mayors, state attorneys to head of political parties and religious groups. Female empowerment is at an all-time low in Saudi Arabia with less than 1% holding cabinet posts or legislative seats.15 That female empowerment is high in Israel is corroborated by the country’s military conscription that makes it obligatory for women above 18 years to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. This conclusion is supported by the fact that women represent a third of Israeli military personnel.16 Despite being articulate and educated, Saudi women have fewer opportunities in the military and are not well assimilated into the country’s workforce.17

Education is greatly esteemed in Israel and is perceived as an important social aspect. For instance, the country was rated third by the OECD for the number of citizens with tertiary education with most citizens holding university degrees.18 Israeli women are the most educated in the Middle East region19 with Saudi women being the least educated. Overall, one in every two Saudi Arabian women cannot write nor read.20

Life in Saudi Arabia is a huge block insofar as the role of females is concerned, and the situation remains unchanged. Women in Saudi Arabia do not occupy the same position in society as men. Specifically, Saudi women face intolerance in their families and social relations. Conventionally, Saudi women get married when they are still young to a man their family chooses. In this culture, husbands can file for divorce without their wives’ consent and may practice polygamy. In practice, the female is uninvolved in making decisions regarding their marriages.21

Societal rules make it hard for Saudi women to enjoy life to the fullest compared to Israeli women. In most occasions, Saudi women are treated unfairly in courts of law and dispossessed of their inheritances.22 In addition to this, they are not totally at liberty to take any trip without valid reasons. Notably, female living in Saudi Arabia find it an immense burden obtaining passports and cannot travel on their own. In the case of any trip, Saudi women have to seek permission from male guardians. However, women living in the State of Israel are free to travel without seeking approval from any person. While Saudi women are forbidden from driving motor vehicles, their Israeli counterparts can own and drive a car without facing any serious consequences. In Saudi Arabia, any woman is mandated to have a male sentinel who has civil liberties and liabilities to them. Therefore, women travelling outside their houses have to seek the guardian’s permission before venturing on their expeditions.

Compared to Israel, women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia is at an all-time low with the country ranked 134th out of 145 nations.23 The country continues to be the worst-performing regarding the provision of equal women rights and has been accused of gross abuse of women’s civil rights by global organizations. Overall, Saudi Arabia has lower female empowerment compared to Israel, which makes women unable to enjoy better privileges like their male equivalents. Besides, the country’s strict Sharia laws severely discriminate against females in the country. Also, females’ liberty to local movement is quite limited similar to their freedom of speech. Besides, Saudi women have limited access to fair and valuable justice despite improvements over the past ten years. In summary, the only element of women’s right that has become better pertains to non-political civil liberties such as property rights.24

Women Empowerment Similarities in Israel and Saudi Arabia

The evidence as outlined above shows that there exist numerous disparities between female empowerment in the Kingdom Saudi Arabia and the state of Israel. However, despite the differences between the two nations, there exist some similarities relating to female empowerment in the countries. Foremost, in the two nations, women are reduced to helpers of men as opposed to sharing similar rights. Even with equality measures being put in place, women are assigned lower job grades than men and therefore earn less pay.25

The other similarity between the two nations on the subject of female empowerment pertains to school enrolment. Precedent studies related to women empowerment in Saudi Arabia mention that female enrollment rates are higher than men. According to research by the UN, Saudi Arabia’s women account for almost 60% of all university student enrolments.26 By and large, females outnumber males in college in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Employment opportunities are not the same among men and women even in cases where they have similar educational backgrounds. In Israel and Saudi Arabia, women have outnumbered men enrolling in tertiary institutions over the past years but get lower-paying jobs.27

Political Comparative Value of Women Empowerment and Rights

Saudi Arabia’s constitution is based on the Quran and Basic Law. However, the basic law violates human rights and largely ignores women in society. According to the Basic Law, women are second-rate citizens who are untouchable. Overall, Saudi women are miserable, and despite their economic or academic status, there exists no law in Saudi Arabia’s constitution that protects them.28 On the other hand, the Israeli constitution and particularly the Declaration of Independence mentions that all Israel women and men are equal and are not discriminated against irrespective of their sex, creed or sexual orientation.29 Several theories have been put forward to address the problem of women empowerment, especially in developed countries. Notable examples include historical legacies arising from socio-cultural and political norms, economic progress and gender-egalitarian outlooks.

Overall, female empowerment is a burning issue throughout the globe. The Middle East region is still facing some of the challenges regarding women’s empowerment. Typically, most Arab and Muslim countries are plagued by gender inequalities and are off track from attaining equality. Despite this basic belief, empirical evidence and studies show that countries in the Middle East have taken divergent paths to empower women and women’s rights have improved in some nations. Saudi Arabia and Israel are two countries where women rights are highly dissimilar with the former limiting women development. It is a fact that women empowerment is better in Israel compared to Saudi Arabia. For instance, more women in Israel wield political power; have better access to justice and social amenities compared to Saudi women. In Saudi Arabia, females have few rights, and most of them are mere subjects of the male elites.

Female empowerment remains low as typified by the short number of women in public positions, limited access to education and restriction of women’s voting rights. Notwithstanding the numerous problems women face in the community, it is notable that empowering women can benefit, if not change entire societies.30Empowering women is likely to boost global productivity since women account for more than half of the world population. Besides, female empowerment is likely to help reduce poverty and boost national development in the two countries. Women are irreplaceable, and without them, society would collapse. Women empowerment, therefore, is an area needing prioritizing and consideration in this region.

Bibliography

Agarwal, Bina. Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women’s Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

AlMunajjed, Mona. Women’s Education In Saudi Arabia. USA: Booz & Company, 2009.

Amnesty International. Saudi Arabia: Gross Human Rights Abuses against Women. London: Amnesty International, 2000.

Baki, Roula. Education Policy Analysis Archives,12, no.28 (2007). Web.

Bard, Mitchell. Background & Overview: Human Rights in Israel. Maryland: American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2017.

Bradley, John. Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. UK: Palgrave, 2005.

Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook: Israel. Washington: Central Intelligence Agency, 2017.

Chabin, Michele. “Married On The Mediterranean — But Not In Israel,” The Jewish Week, June 6, 2013. http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/married-on-the-mediterranean-but-not-in-israel/

Chazan, Naomi. Women in Israel: In Politics & Public Life. Maryland: American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2011.

Choudhury, Naziat. “The Question of Empowerment: Women’s Perspective on Their Internet Use.” Gender, Technology and Development, 13, no.3 (2009): 341–363.

Cornwall, Andrea, and Althea-Maria Rivas. Third World Quarterly, 36, no. 2 (2015). Web.

Deneulin, Séverine, and Lila Shahani. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Sterling: Earthscan, 2009.

Kagan-Zur, Varda, Nurit Roth-Bejerano, Yaron Sitrit, and Asuncion Morte. Desert Truffles: Phylogeny, Physiology, Distribution and Domestication. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

Kharkov, Lahav. Jerusalem Post, 2015. Web.

Maha, Akeel. Saudi Gazette, 2016. Web.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Education at a Glance: Israel. Paris: OECD, 2016.

Schuler, Daniel. “The Uses and Misuses of Gender Related Index and Gender Empowerment Measure: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Human Development, 7 (2006): 171.

Sherman, Erik. Fortune, 2016. Web.

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. Gender Inequalities at Home and in the Market. Geneva: UNRISD (2010): 54.

Footnotes

  1. Andrea Cornwall and Althea-Maria Rivas, “From ‘Gender Equality and ‘Women’s’ Empowerment’ to Global Justice: Reclaiming a Transformative Agenda for Gender and Development,” Third World Quarterly, 36, no. 2 (2015): 396.
  2. Daniel Schuler, “The Uses and Misuses of Gender-Related Index and Gender Empowerment Measure: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Human Development 7 (2006): 171.
  3. Varda Kagan-Zur, Nurit Roth-Bejerano, Yaron Sitrit, Asuncion Morte, Desert Truffles: Phylogeny, Physiology, Distribution and Domestication, (Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media, 2013), 183.
  4. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Israel, (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2017), 48.
  5. Séverine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency, (Sterling: Earthscan, 2009), 3.
  6. Mitchell Bard, Background & Overview: Human Rights in Israel, (Maryland: American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2017).
  7. Erik Sherman, “This Is How Oppressed Women Are in Saudi Arabia,” Fortune, Web.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Bard, Background & Overview: Human Rights in Israel.
  10. Lahav Kharkov, “The 20th Knesset by the Numbers: More Arabs and Women, fewer Orthodox Members,” Jerusalem Post, Web.
  11. Maha Akeel, “Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council just Starting,” Saudi Gazette, Web.
  12. Naomi Chazan, Women in Israel: In Politics & Public Life, (Maryland: American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2011).
  13. Akeel, “Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting”.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Dafna Izraeli, Israel Defense Forces,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, 2009, Web.
  16. Sherman, “This Is How Oppressed Women Are in Saudi Arabia”.
  17. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Education at a Glance: Israel. (Paris: OECD, 2016).
  18. Mitchell Bard, Background & Overview: Human Rights in Israel, (Maryland: American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2017).
  19. Roula Baki, “Gender-Segregated Education in Saudi Arabia: Its Impact on Social Norms and the Saudi Labor Market,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12, no. 28, (2007).
  20. Michele Chabin, “Married on the Mediterranean — but not in Israel,” The Jewish Week, Web.
  21. Sherman, “This Is How Oppressed Women Are in Saudi Arabia”.
  22. John Bradley, Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis, (UK: Palgrave, 2005), 184.
  23. Cornwall and Rivas, “From ‘Gender Equality and ‘Women’s’ Empowerment’ to Global Justice: Reclaiming a Transformative Agenda for Gender and Development,” 396.
  24. Naziat Choudhury, “The Question of Empowerment: Women’s Perspective on Their Internet Use,” Gender, Technology and Development, 13, no. 3 (2009): 342.
  25. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Gender Inequalities at Home and in the Market, (Geneva: UNRISD, 2010), 54.
  26. Mona AlMunajjed, Women’s Education in Saudi Arabia, (USA: Booz & Company, 2009), 2.
  27. Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia: Gross Human Rights Abuses against Women, (London: Amnesty International, 2000).
  28. Bard, Background & Overview: Human Rights in Israel.
  29. Bina Agarwal, Gender and Green Governance: The Political Economy of Women’s Presence Within and Beyond Community Forestry, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 24.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "Saudi Arabian and Israeli Women Empowerment." August 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/saudi-arabian-and-israeli-women-empowerment/.

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