We need to know the facts
Many articles appear in Gulf newspapers about the role of women in public life. However, they are written by men. And the impression one gets is that women are apathetic or indifferent towards their own lot.
As the matters stand, it was refreshing to read about a two-day women's seminar in Abu Dhabi where the participants discussed and brainstormed to find solutions to the problems of working women.
Islam gave women far more importance than any other religion. The fact that our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says "Heaven lies under the feet of the mother" is itself an answer to those Western writers who negatively portray the status of women in Islam.
With the changing times and economic realities that face us as we approach the 21st century, it is expected that more women will join the work force. It is, therefore, important that they be given a chance to conduct researches for themselves and air their views on various social and even international issues such as cloning and their impact on Gulf societies. More women should come forward to pursue higher education and also focus on subjects that are of prime importance to society.
It should be recognized by all of us that the advancement of women in all fields will result in the overall progress of our society.
Thousands of females are being graduated from various universities and colleges every year. Of course, they have the right to use their talents and thus enhance their image. I am sure, they can do all this within the parameters of our Islamic ideology which honors all those who work for the betterment of humanity.
It is high time to listen and look into their needs.
A report by the United Arab Emirates Women's Union presented recently stated that 5.6 percent of the country's population which stood at 483,700 in 1985 were either spinsters, widows or divorcees. This report was presented to the Fourth International Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995. The report itself states that in 1985 females constituted 35% of the total population; of these, it said, 27.8 were widowed, divorced or single. The report did not give any figures for the 1990s but the number of widows is known to have increased due to the surge in death resulting from road accidents.
Personally, I don't believe that this type of report should have been presented to any forum, let alone such an important conference. First of all it is a decade old. Secondly, the demographic structure of the UAE as well as all the Gulf countries has drastically changed. Thirdly, it shows a lack of commitment and study by virtue of the fact that no new data has been included in the report.
This brings us to the question as to why there are no accurate data and statistic in the Gulf countries. People always find it difficult to get authentic research even on very general subjects. At times when one inquires about a certain topic the reply that is given out stresses on its confidentiality. At times some of these replies would make one shriek with laughter. These replies, perhaps, are issued because the end result might be unpleasant.
Then again comes the question who compiles these studies, who carries out the qualitative and quantitative analysis and who has the right to publish them. There are no independent think tanks or research centers. Academic institutions, which in the West unload tons of information, do not have here that spirit of venturing into new areas of research. Nor do they have funds.
To get information for research is another ordeal. You just cannot issue a form and pass it on to people for filling them. The normal person would shy away from giving out information which he or she may consider personal. This happens at times even if no identification is required. This is of course due to a deep rooted social trait which believes very much in privacy.
Another source of getting information and statistics is from the media. In the United States, the newspaper USA TODAY publishes factoids every day ranging from the serious and mundane to the absurd. Whatever the case may be it is still information. Many readers are eager to go over these bits and pieces of information and relate it to themselves.
It also gives them a chance to reflect and think - something which is not being done in our part of the world.
Again in an age of instant and speedy communications where the super-information highway is connecting people and places, I don't see any reason why we should lag behind in having institutions that can provide us with facts and figures that will help shape our lives.
These institutions need not be governmental. They could very well be based on modern and scientific lines. They may be media organizations or others that can collect and collate information and data that may assist the authorities.
However, it may take time as the psychological set-up for such institutions is not ready. People do not like to speak or read. They are reluctant to do so for various reasons some which border on the paranoia. Others believe that their say will not affect any course of action.
It is, however, important that we do not give up. I think societies if they are to progress should be open and frank. Dialogue and two-way communication should prevail. Academic and media should be centers of free flow of thoughts and ideas.
We should stress on tolerance of each others views. As some wise man said: "I may not agree with you but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
Islam focuses on Ijtihad. When there was Ijtihad in the Muslim world, Islamic civilization flourished. When people began to look inward, the society stagnated.
As we approach the 21st century let us too try to chart its new horizons and try to find a distinguished place for ourselves. We can only do that by knowing about ourselves. Only ostriches bury their heads in the sand.
We cannot afford to do so.