The first country that gave the right to vote to women was New Zealand. That happened in the year 1893 but New Zealand’s female citizens had to wait another twenty six years before they were allowed to stand as candidates in national elections in 1919. Today, in nearly every country, women can cast their vote.

Of course, even though they have the right to vote, there are still problems in a lot of countries. We’ll be looking at countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In nearly all of the countries, women still don’t have equal rights and – maybe it’s hard to believe this – in some countries, they’re not allowed vote. And it seems that in only one country in the area, women have full rights.

Islam is the most important religion in the region. We see small Christian communities in many countries and, of course, Judaism is the main religion in Israel. However, Islam has a lot of influence on the attitudes of the people. There is some misogyny in all three religions but – through societal changes and economic development, perhaps – it’s not as potent in Judaism and Christianity.

The following table contains information under five headings on the status of women in various countries in the region. If the number is low, women have fewer rights under that heading. As you see, the situation is best in Tunisia and worst in Saudi Arabia.

Table 1: Women’s Rights in Various Countries (Source: Freedom House)

What about Saudi Arabia – the country in which the total is lowest? Women can’t go outside without a male relative. They can’t drive, they can’t live alone and they can’t become the manager of a business; only men can do that. They can’t study engineering or courses related to oil or minerals and they can’t become judges or lawyers. They don’t have the right to vote either but in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, no-one has the right to vote!

In the other countries, the news is better but it is still bad. In Libya, there is no prohibition on domestic violence or on rape within marriage. In the UAE, in Yemen, in Egypt and in Tunisia, female circumcision is still carried out on a wide scale.
Even though it’s in the Middle East, Israel was not included within the scope of the report. Maybe the authors know that the situation is much better in Israel and hence, there was no need to do a study on women’s rights.

According to the World Economic Forum, the empowerment of women is greater in Israel and the gap between the genders in education, politics and economics is less than in many European countries. There is more equality than in countries such as Greece and Italy as well as Japan and Korea. The degree of gender equality is similar to a highly developed country such as Switzerland. (Source: http://bbc.in/ebzpj1 )

In the year 1948, the Israeli Declaration of Independence stated that “The State of Israel guarantees complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”. With regard to human rights, Israeli law says that it must keep to the spirit of the Declaration. One way or another, Israel is the only country in the region that provides equality to its female citizens.

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