Women around the world face many challenges. In the Middle East, the problems are particularly challenging.
Last year, a group of thirty Arab scholars candidly laid out the condition of women in the Middle East. They said that more than half of Arab women are illiterate. Women lack equal citizenship and have no legal entitlement. Women’s participation in the workplace is minimal. There are few women in public life, as evidenced by a very limited representation in parliaments and cabinets.
Some incremental but important improvements have taken place in the Middle East over the last year. Women ran for public office for the first time in Bahrain. Kuwait and Oman declared universal suffrage. Significant numbers of women were elected to parliament in Morocco. In Iraq, women play a vibrant role in political life and make up almost a third of the country's elected national assembly.
President George W. Bush addressed the challenges faced by women in the Middle East in a March 2004 speech:
“These are extraordinary times, historic times. We’ve seen the fall of brutal tyrants. We’re seeing the rise of democracy in the Middle East. We’re seeing women take their rightful place in societies that were once incredibly oppressive and closed. We’re seeing the power and appeal of liberty in every single culture. And we’re proud once again – this nation is proud – to advance the cause of human rights and human freedom.”
As part of the U.S. commitment to advance freedom in the Arab world, Mr. Bush launched the Middle East Partnership Initiative in 2002. The Initiative has placed special emphasis on the needs of women as students, entrepreneurs, and advocates for political change. Projects range from educational reforms in Morocco to micro-enterprise funds in Egypt and political campaign training in Yemen and Bahrain.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a speech given in Cairo, Egypt that both men and women in the Middle East deserve democracy:
“There are those who say that democracy is for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true: Half a democracy is not a democracy. As one Muslim woman leader has said, “society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken.”
President Bush says these are historic times because the Middle East is beginning to fly with both wings.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.