Women Issues and Globalization in Arab Media
Among the conflicting issues of the modern world, there is a trend of the collision of Western and Eastern traditions. On the one hand, there is an opposition to modernization and westernization of cultures. However, on the other hand, there is traditionalism and the desire to maintain established values, traditions, and social institutions. The conflict also occurs in such vital areas as gender relations, distribution of social and family roles between men and women, and a position of women in society. The problems of gender relations and the position of women in society have become particularly relevant in the modern Arab world. There are many debates about these issues in the press, religious circles, and the scientific community. The reason for this is the changes in women’s life in the countries of the Arab East and reinterpretation of traditional views on the nature and purpose of women. There are many different points of view on the status of women in the Arab society. In the course of history of the Arab culture, the status of women in society, their social roles, as well as the image in the media, have changed.
In the XVI century, the once powerful Arab Caliphate broke apart and came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Sultans had a habit to have numerous harems of concubines. This tradition spread in the Arab world and further aggravated the position of women turning them into captives of their husbands and lords. In the 90s of the XIX century, sporadic speeches of Arab educators in favor of women’s education made the position of women in the Arab world a constant concern in enlightened circles in the region. In Syria and Egypt, sororities and women’s magazines began to emerge. They put forward demands to ban the wearing of veils and polygamy, allowed marriages between Muslims and Copts, and proved the necessity of education for women.
In the late XIX - early XX century, in the Arab public opinion, there were two approaches to women’s issues. Some men believed that the revival of the Muslim peoples in the political, economic, and cultural relations was only possible on the basis of preserving the traditions of Islamic civilization. Others were in favor of reforms. Nevertheless, they did not achieve any equal rights for women. The position of Arab women changed for the better in the second half of the XX century. It happened after Arab countries gained political independence and a new value systems for the building of a free society were established. During that period, most political figures realized the need to give women equal rights with men. The Second World War played a special role in the process of the emancipation of Arab women. After its termination, in many Arab countries, there were insistent appeals on the need of women’s liberation. Currently, the position of Arab women and their participation in political life is still ambiguous. Problems of women in the Arab East are primarily concerned with the lack of de facto equality between men and women. “The role of women’s organizations, and of the political struggle of women, therefore continues to be crucial factors in any changes which will ultimately lead to the complete emancipation of women and to real equality between the sexes” (Saadawi, 2007, p. 10).
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The inclusion of Arab countries in the processes of globalization, penetration of information and communication technologies into the region, and the emergence of Islamic feminism has opened the way to gender equality to Arab women. It happened despite the traditional patriarchal structure of Arab society and cultural practices of the protection of honor and dignity of females, which restricts the movement of women in Arab region. Arab countries are in the process of adaptation to social transformations, demographic changes, and the process of globalization. However, it affects the solution of the problem of gender inequality. On the one hand, economic globalization has led to the growth in workplaces in the sphere of export, creation of free-trade zones, e-commerce and finance particularly in Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. It contributes to the development of women’s businesses. On the other hand, there is an even greater increase in gender inequality. For example, it is evidenced in the feminization of poverty. Women continue to have lower wages and a poor level of education as compared to men. Primarily, young women from wealthy families with higher education were the first to feel the greatest benefit of economic integration and globalization. Nevertheless, the situation of women belonging to the poor layer of society remains virtually unchanged.
The process of globalization influenced the Arab media. “Arab media has undergone a series of changes over the past two decades as a direct result of the acceleration of globalization process” (Mellor, et al., 2013, p. 5). The development of information and communication technologies in the Arab countries has allowed Arab women to use the blogosphere, the media, and social networks as an effective instrument in the struggle for their rights. The advent of satellite television has provided another chance to attract the attention of wide circles of the Arab society to the problem of gender inequality. Thus, the Qatari channel Al Jazeera has created a special program only for women. In the program, outstanding college-educated females from all the Arab countries had the opportunity to express their opinion on the critical social, political, scientific, and environmental issues. In 2005, after three years in the air, the show was closed without any explanations. Nevertheless, in 2006, Al Jazeera launched a new show, which touched upon various topics related to religion, society, education, and art. These issues were discussed from a female point of view. “A number of women who have achieved high-profile status on television use their fame as a platform to discuss women’s issues in the Arab world” (Kelly & Breslin, 2010, p. 538). In the region, there appeared a great number of women reporting news. “Wars in the region led to an increase in the number of women reporting to camera in war zones” (Sakr, 2007, p. 96). In 2009, the Egyptian Nilesat aired a TV channel for women called EVE, in which the discussions were held on the role of Arab women in politics, society, and business. The activity of Queen Rania of Jordan is also significant. In 2004, she initiated a long-term media campaign aimed at the expanding of the participation of Arab women in all spheres of public life. As part of this campaign, special videos were filmed and then broadcast by the majority of regional satellite TV channels and more than 20 Arab state broadcasters (Mellor, et al., 2013).
In the Arab region, women’s press began to develop later than in the European countries, especially in Egypt and Lebanon. At the end of XIX - early XX centuries, there appeared the first women’s publications in Arabic. For a relatively short period of time, women’s press in the Arab world underwent an active formation and development. It happened in spite of all the difficulties associated with the position of women in Arab society and prevailing stereotypes of male behavior in relation to women. Nowadays, in Arab countries, about 150 magazines for women are published. They are different in the professional level and quality. The most serious obstacle for the further development and improvement of the efficiency of the impact of the Arab women’s media on the audience is the stability of gender stereotypes in Arab society. Among the majority of men, there is an opinion of “inferiority” of the female half of the society (Samoleit, 2006).
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The governmental authorities and leading political organizations in many Arab countries do not show sufficient efforts to address the persistent social and domestic inequality between women and men. In some Arab countries, the employment of women in production and their active participation in political, social, and economic life increase. Nevertheless, on the contrary, in Yemen, Algeria, and Sudan, the position of women worsens. The strengthening of Islamic radicalism adversely affects their civil rights (Sakr, 2004). At the initial stages, the evolution of women’s media contributed to the development of women’s movement and the strengthening of the social status of Arab women. However, in recent years, many past achievements in the field of women’s rights are minimized in a number of Arab countries. It could not affect the status of the women’s press. Recently, it pays more attention to the traditional themes like housekeeping and bringing up children than the social status of women or the problems of employment in different areas of industrial activity. On the pages of the women’s press, the volume of pure entertainment and sensational themes and material has considerably increased involving fashion, cosmetics, and jewelry. There is less material about the problems of women’s health. Nevertheless, some Arab women’s magazines still continue to actively defend the interests of Arab women in their materials. They are bitterly opposed to discrimination of women in employment and social relations in general.
The study of gender inequality that exists in a number of countries and regions and the need to make recommendations to eliminate this inequality is a very important issue. The Arab countries with a dominant Muslim population undoubtedly refer to such regions. The situation of Arab women began to change for the better in the second half of the XX century. To a large extent, it was due to the acquisition of political independence of Arab countries and some new benchmarks in the field of social relations between the sexes. Nowadays, the status and challenges of women’s media in the Arab region reflects the realities of women in Arab society. At the same time, the media can actively influence social processes and promote the social position and protection of women’s civil and social rights. Nowadays, the Arab media is influenced by the Western world.