History and Development of Policies on Gender Issues in Iran and Saudi Arabia

History and Development of Policies on Gender Issues in Iran and Saudi Arabia

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“Gender, refers not to a fixed biological notion of sex, but rather to the “appropriate” social and cultural roles that society values as normal or desirable.” Thus, gender issues can be defined as those issues that evolve in response to such roles. The Middle East often attracts scrutiny in the international arena for its responses to these gender issues, and the contradictory nature of their gender policies. However, it is important to note that many factors can shape these gender norms, and these “… are the result of long historical processes influenced by the state, religion, culture, law, morality, sexuality, ideology, and economic forces as well as contemporary changes and challenges.” Thus the policies that have evolved in response to gender issues have done so contextually, as seen in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, both of which have very different, yet controversial policies in respects to gender issues. Thus, this essay will take a look at the historical and contextual development of these policies in each country. Next, it will take a close look at the development of gender policies, particularly focusing on the post-1979 period, and the reasons for such development. Finally, it will discuss and compare contemporary policies in a similar manner.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, it must be noted that, “…the historical socio-economic and political conditions of Saudi Arabia are an essential aspect of understanding a woman’s position in Saudi society,” and consequently, Saudi Arabia’s case is unique when compared to the rest of the region, as it did not undergo European colonisation. Hence the restrictions placed on women “…can be attributed to a social and traditional cultural boundaries ...


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...al Institutions and Gender Index, 2012. Web. 22 May 2014.

"Iran; MENA Gender Equality Profile." Status of Girls and Women in the Middle East and North Africa (2011): 1-3. UNICEF. Web. 20 May 2014.

Manea, Elham. "Women in Saudi Arabia Are Caught in a System of Gender Apartheid." DW.DE. Deutsche Welle, 30 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 May 2014.

Moghadam, Val. "Revolution, the State, Islam, and Women: Gender Politics in Iran and Afghanistan." Social Text 22 (1989): 40. Web.

Moghissi, Haideh. "Islamic Cultural Nationalism and Gender Politics in Iran." Third World Quarterly 29.3 (2008): 541-54. Web.

"Saudi Arabia." Social Institutions and Gender Index. Social Institutions and Gender Index, 2012. Web. 20 May 2014.

Singerman, Diane. "Gender and Politics." Politics & Society in the Contemporary Middle East. Ed. Michele Penner Angrist. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010. Print.





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