The challenges of freedom in the Middle East are linked to many problems the region faces. A lack of freedom, human rights, unemployment, gender inequality and education are only some of the issues the Arab human development reports discuss. The recent uprisings in the Middle East are clear proof that society is demanding their basic rights and they will not allow the state to overrule anymore. What is even more surprising and uplifting is the image of female participation in these protests. Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran – you name it and women are present. International media has positively depicted these images and empowered women to have more influence in society. For decades the image of women has been controlled by men, but times have changed. In the past, women’s voices and opinions were silenced behind the hijab and the burka. This made the role of the Middle Eastern woman vague and unclear, causing a lot of false portrayals of women in the region.
Fortunately with the help of media, this image has been altered and cleared up for outsiders through the protests we have seen over the past year. The struggle between the modern democratic world while maintaining religious beliefs results in a constant tug of war between society and state. It is therefore important to understand that Islam is not necessarily representative of Middle Eastern societies as freedom of religion or choice are commonly restricted. Due to the lack of freedom of religion in the Middle East and enforcement of Islam in the laws and policies that regulate the nation, it is difficult for a woman to exercise her full potential as a human being. The lack of identity makes the role of religion a much bigger part of everyday citizens as the state is after all based on religion. Religion could be viewed as the bridge that gaps the absence of identity and lack of leadership in Iran.
The problem is not the religion itself, rather the state interpretation and enforcement of it.
Due to the vast interest and qualitative research on women in the Middle East, women are speaking out on the inhumanities they have endured. Increasingly we are reading stories about women standing up for their basic human rights. The educated and informed women of the Middle East has been a major threat to the state as women are using their information to demand their rights. The obvious game changer here is the internet.
The internet has been used as a platform or place of communication where gender is not discriminated. This empowering tool has eventually allowed the recent protests in the Middle East to be that much more influential as female participation has been clear and loud. Although it is certainly not the sole reason behind the anti government protests, the internet has been an instrument of change in the Middle East.
With an unlimited amount of knowledge and information available at our finger tips, there is no turning back from this movement of a more democratic Middle East. Whether or not it will be a region that practices full democracy, it is clear that women will play a bigger role in society than they have in the past. It may be slow and it may seem doubtful at times but it will be a transition where not only women will have their voices heard but anyone who has ever been oppressed from their rights.