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25 / 08 / 2004
Azza Karam, researcher and consultant for several different international bodies: The west knows the arab world through that they are shown, not through what actually takes place

The Forum's "141 Questions" (107): "Arab countries: is it possible to be a woman and a politician?" Azza Karam, expert in Islamic politics, responded that, in reality, "it is difficult to be woman and remain on the sidelines of politics where political rights are hard to achieve." She admitted that women are "underrepresented" in Arab culture, but she was quick to remind us that in some Western countries, women fight for some rights, such as equal pay, that have been acknowledged for years in different Arab countries. She proved to be very much in favor of the cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean Basin "because we share cultural and historic values," and she stated that the main division that exists in global current events is the one that exists between the religious and secular sectors.

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Azza Karam, researcher and consultant for several different international bodies stressed at the Haima stage that the media often offer an incomplete or biased vision of Arab countries: "The West know the Arab world through what they see, not through what actually takes place," she assured. Among the examples that she pointed out to back her affirmation, she reminded us that, years ago, the Palestine elections had Arafat on the one hand with a feminine candidate who never "existed" in the Western media: "This woman died two years ago, and was never talked about. No one reflected on her life, or on her death."

In the capital of information or imprecise knowledge she emphasized the habitual error still made in thinking about Arab countries as a sole entity: "Within each country, there is a lot of diversity. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are very different." She also referred to the mistake that confusing an "Arab" and a "Muslim" supposes: "Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world and it has nothing to do with the Arab world. Finally, she mentioned the confusion that is born in establishing a direct relationship between the Middle East and the Arab world: "Arab is not an official language in Israel, Turkey, and Iran," she concluded.

From her experience in the spheres of collaboration among religions, genders, democratization, human rights, conflicts, and Islamic politics, she reasoned that it "is difficult to be woman and remain on the sidelines of politics where political rights are hard to achieve." After pointing out that the success of the civil society in the Arab world lies in having outlived very authoritarian regimes, she admitted that women are "underrepresented" in Arab culture, –"women are hardly represented in legislative structures in Arab countries"– but she was quick to remind us that in some Western countries, women fight for some rights, such as equal pay, that have been acknowledged for more than fifty years in different Arab countries. "It is apparent that women in the Arab world do not have a fantastic life, but an entire series of indicators must be evaluated before reaching precipitated conclusions," she observed. Likewise, Azza Karma described "the success" of the legislative advance that Moroccan women have obtained: "More changes are needed, but we have to emphasize the process that has been undertaken to make a new law on women's personal status. This process has needed the women's alliance from different political orientations, and has allowed, for the first time that the clergy have accepted to talked with people in the women's movement, and afterwards, to admit their rights."

Azza Karma proved to be very much in favor of the cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean Basin "because we share cultural and historic values," and she stated that this relationship can helpful in ending the perpetual stereotypes: "Those on one side think that Western women are too liberal and lack values; those on the other believe that women in the Arab world live a subordinate and oppressed life."

She assured that, "in the most popular discussion," Islamism is considered a tool that can confront many of today's leaders in the Arab world, the majority of which "are not very democratic." Karam also affirmed that the greatest division that exists in global current events is the one between the religions and secular sectors: "The ideal would be to be comprehensive and for everyone to have a critical vision wide enough to admit differences."

Doctor Karma has worked as the director of programs at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), in the Middle East (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Yemen), and in Europe (the Netherlands, Sweden, and Northern Ireland), where she has managed training programs and intervened as a speaker conflict related topics, the creation of peace, the transition of justice and humanitarian intervention. She has also worked as the manager of the program at the Center of Studies of Ethnic Conflicts, at the University of Queens in Belfast, and has acted as a mediator and advisor in different international organizations in Yemen, Uzbekistán, and Northern Ireland. She is the author of diverse books and articles among which the following stand out: Transnational Political Islam (2004); Islamism, Women and the State (1998); Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers (1998), Islam in a non-polarized Society (1996); y A Woman's Place; Religious Women as Public Actors (2001)