The Middle East is often viewed homogeneously as a wasteland for women’s rights, and although some regions are making strides towards equality, others seem to be left in the Dark Ages. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded in 1932, is often noted as one of the most oppressive countries in this region in the name of women’s equality. It can be seen, however, that the ideology of this region has predated the founding of the country and even the birth of Islam. The cultural norms of the Arabian Peninsula, Islamic faith affirming these standards, and the legislative support of these values have led to the degradation of Saudi women’s rights.
Before Islam, the society of the Arabian Peninsula was based on tribal and familial relationships. These tribal bonds were based on alliances between families (Cultural, Essay). In this society, men headed business, and power was passed between the men of the family. As tribes and families were the only social spheres, these groups served as chief identity for early Arabs. According to The Library of Congress, “families shared a sense of corporate identity, and esteem of the family was measured by the individual’s capacity to live up to the socially prescribed ideals of honor” (Cultural). This prescription to the status quo included being kind and giving, supporting and respecting the family, and following chastity laws. These laws were far more demanding for women as controlling sexual desire was seen as the woman’s responsibility. (Cultural, Essay)
At this time, generally speaking, marriage served as a contract between tribes (Cultural).
Marrying women, for the most part, had the purpose of increasing the number of the tribe’s members and in turn, its power… Because of this emphasis on the tribe and the variation of customs, marriage was a flexible, loose institution with no strict, informed rule. (Essay)
Due to this flexibility and tribal variety, numerous forms of marriage existed in Arabia during this period. Marriage would commonly be agreed upon between two tribes or the husband would pay a dowry for his bride. In other cases, women could be sold, inherited, or exchanged into a marriage. Women had little to now say in a case of divorce, which was usually an issue between the husband and his father-in-law. In addition, the husband continued to have rights over his wife until his dowry was refunded, “similar to the right of property” (Essay). (Cultural, Essay) At this time, women were not generally included in their family’s inheritance, although this would change with the coming of Islam (Cultural, Essay). Two sights the lack of women’s value in wartime as Arabic rationale for this exclusion.
Despite these discouraging examples, there are some accounts that women had many personal freedoms, and held high societal roles. In some cases, women were respected poets and there are many poems from this period that praise women. (Essay) Despite this, these poems “focused primarily on their physical attributes;...