Roles, values, and gender in the Arab world, by Nayla Tabbara

Roles, values, and gender in the Arab world, by Nayla Tabbara

Last week, I was invited to speak in a workshop for fifty young professionals from fourteen Arab countries in Oman. The workshop, organized by the Arab Women’s Organization and UN Women, in partnership with the Omani Ministry of Social Affairs, was entitled “The mobilization of young people for the promotion of household responsibility and children among men and boys in the Arab region”.

This title is in itself a culture shock, since it calls into question the roles of genres that are well embedded in our societies. During the workshop, I could still see the change among young people in relation to these roles, and their openness to social transformation at this level. Interventions preceding mine have in fact enabled them to establish that social roles are changing roles, created by societies but also developing over time.

A social and not divine division

My intervention relied on this to demonstrate that these roles were not “revealed”.

On the one hand, I wanted to show that the division of these roles by gender stems from a division of values ​​by gender, and that this division is social, not divine. We see patience, endurance, service as feminine values, while strength and decision making are seen as masculine values.

This is also reflected in Lebanon in the legislation relating to personal status, among both Muslims and Christians, where custody of the children is given to the mother – up to a certain age, depending on the religious community in question – but where guardianship is always given to the man. So the woman takes care of the children, feeds them and provides them with care, but she cannot make decisions about their education, their money, their health, their mobility…

Religious texts do not assign a unique and ideal prototype to women

It is therefore as if we attach genres to values, or values ​​to genres. When I wrote Islam thought by a woman, I too was in this perspective, whereas from the point of view of the religious text, the values ​​required of men and women believers are the same.

And among these values, that of service, a primordial value for any believer. A hadith says: “The ruler of a people is their servant” And “You are all pastors”. And the Quran keeps mentioning benevolence in service.

On the other hand, I wanted to show that there is no profile of an ideal woman in the Koran or in the tradition as being the obedient woman with a low profile. Bilqis, the queen of Sheba who reigned with Solomon, Assia (the pharaoh’s wife) and Mary, who inspired by their courage, Khadija, who encouraged the beginning of the prophecy, Aisha, who led an army to war, these examples show that the religious texts do not assign a unique and ideal prototype to women but push them, as well as men, to realize each one her own potential according to her talents and the divine plan concerning her.

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