GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Traditional societal practices facing globalization
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper will analyse the impact of development in the Arab Gulf countries, keeping in mind nationalization policies and democratic progress. It will show that globalization not exactly comprises everyone’s life in a global village.
All six states of the GCC share an Arab Muslim identity with a tribal core and entrenched family loyalties that extend beyond a singular sheikhdom, and whose leading families consider them as cousins. The tribe to which these families belong is the oldest surviving organisational institution in the Gulf societies, as it appeared before institutionalisation according to Islam. The adherence to unwritten tribal rules and customs (generally referred as urf) is still common and reigning in the GCC even in the 21st century. It is a space where kinship and family ties are valued at its best. No matter how drastic the changes of the growth due to oil revenues and the great influx of foreign workers were, the features of traditional tribal organisations and emphasis on patrilineal descent are still anchored in the society, posing problems to creation of a strong advocacy for women’s rights and gender sensitive policies.
Educational awareness campaigns, scholarships, and Emiratization laws have allowed women to advance steadily into universities and public and private sectors jobs in recent years. The proportion of working adult women has grown from 25 percent (in 1990) to 35 percent (in 2000) to 40 percent (in 2007). Nevertheless, women in the UAE are highly underrepresented in the upper level hierarchy of the society. The Emirati case can be considered a rather successful example, as reforms are slowly coming into practice.
In the mid-1990s in another GCC country, namely Oman, the policy of "Omanization" came into full effect, trying to recruit both female and male nationals to counterbalance the influx of foreign workers. This had a particularly positive effect on poor, less-educated women, who were likely to obtain jobs related to house chores or cleaning allowing them to support themselves in the face of hardship. In Oman, Dr. Rawiyah al-Busaidiyah, was appointed as minister of higher education in March 2004, making her first female minister with portfolio in the GCC states, promoting women leadership. Recently, a female counsellor has been appointed by the Sultan.
At the other end, female employment rate in Saudi Arabia is among the lowest in the world and, specifically, the Middle East. Statistics on women's economic activity vary according to the source. According to the Ministry of Economy and Planning, women constituted only 5.4 percent of the total Saudi workforce in 2005, a figure that was expected to rise to 14.2 percent by the end of the 2005–09 five-year development plan. Government-sponsored projects have not reached their target in the last years, unfortunately. The five-year development plan targeted tripling the rate of women's employment within the plan period by increasing occupational training for women and promotion of their participation.
Arab labour policies, like other public policies, do not meet a gender sensitivity requirement. The gender division remains culturally embedded and seems to forget that women can be substantial contributors for the labour market, keeping them mainly in the area of the domestic life. However, Arab policy-makers, influenced by the growing global interest in women as well as the pressure from women’s network or international bodies have acknowledged to a certain degree the importance of integrating women in the labour market.
Another achievement that was made in the last years is the achievement of political rights by Kuwaiti women. We can add that Kuwait’s National Assembly is unique in the Gulf because it has a parliament with real power that is democratically elected. Despite the obstacles, democratic progress has occurred in Kuwait: constitutional life was restored following both illegal suspensions while the inclusion of women as full citizens has more than doubled the electorate to approximately 350,000 now eligible voters, more than half of them women, four of whom now sit in the National Assembly.
Modernization however did not erode men’s and women’s primary loyalties to their families and tribes because both of these patriarchal structures continued to be the main source of their social status and privileges, consolidating the argument on division made by El Baz. Despite some recent progress and influences of regime changes within the broader region, the area of political freedoms is a mixed picture, with the GCC states, according to the World Bank. While the adult literacy rate for women is higher in the GCC than elsewhere in the Arab world, the percentage of seats in parliaments held by women is substantially lower in the GCC than in other Arab countries. Better educated than their Arab counterparts, women in the GCC participate less to the political life, suggesting a higher level of gender political inequality. All in all, globalization cannot fight deeply entrenched cultural norms, but it can be a vehicle for a change. Definitely women from the Gulf interacted with the modernisation and globalization process, but not to the extent that they will erase institutionalised societal practices, despite a reconceptualization of many aspects of their lives.