A long-awaited report paints a devastating picture that shows the plight of Arab women extends far beyond debates over the veil. Talk to Arab women and you’ll quickly learn that the controversy over the Muslim veil that rages endlessly in Europe is the least of their concerns. They face a daunting array of hardships, from spousal domination at home to gender discrimination in the workplace, and even if they happen to agree that the veil symbolizes their plight, they tend to dismiss criticism of it as a Western attack on their culture.
Because the topic of women’s rights in the Arab world can be as confusing as it is culturally explosive, the report released on Thursday by a panel of distinguished Arab thinkers is a welcome guide to Arabs and outsiders alike. The latest report debunks the Arab conspiracy theory that promoting women’s rights is part of a Western plot against Islam. On the contrary, the panelists point out, the advancement of women has long been an Arab goal — Egyptian women’s rights organizations date back to 1881, for example.