Having more women from the Middle East, such as Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa from Bahrain speak on women’s rights in the Middle East sets an excellent example for Muslim women in the region and abroad and is encouraging for women to be active members of their society. 

Shaikha Haya, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, a lawyer and rights advocate, spoke on Wednesday evening at a panel discussion on Women and Human Rights in the Middle East at Rutgers University.

“The concept of human rights is based on the notion that all human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms. Yet, in the Middle East women face multi-layered and multi-dimensional discrimination that is embedded in our culture, government policies, educational systems and the legal framework.”

“She said the situation stems in part from the interpretation of Islamic text. ‘Women are subject to family laws that are Sharia based which strictly follow the interpretations of Islamic scholars that lived 1000 years ago at the beginning of Islam. These interpretations are applied now without making any allowances to the very different social contexts of today,’ she said. The structure has also ‘created a mentality that fears the autonomy of women, viewing it as a threat to the centrality of the traditional family, a threat to marital relationships and a catalyst to sexual freedom,’ added the President. ‘These attitudes which were based on traditions are now associated with religion, making it harder to criticize or change them.'”

“Politically, women remain under-represented in parliaments and at higher government positions.”

“Despite these circumstances, women have been active in influencing policy making and public opinion through other means, including the media, in petitions to Members of Parliament and government officials, and through their memberships in unions, political parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ‘Today, the Middle East is witnessing a proliferation of NGOs, many of which are active in women empowerment issues.'”