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Saudi women journalists during a press conference by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 23, 2016 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

Taking the Long View on the Changing Status of Women in the Middle East

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016

The status of women in traditional Muslim societies, particularly Saudi Arabia, has long been an awkward source of cultural and political tension between the West and the oil-rich monarchies of the Arab world. Women’s roles are gradually changing as these states modernize, but more disruptive social change could well occur within a generation, as larger cohorts of educated women succeed in challenging social norms.

Gender issues have been at the margins of U.S. relations with the Arab world for decades, and the mantra inside Western bureaucracies more generally has been that each society changes at its own pace. But while no Western country made gender issues a priority in its relations with key Arab states, the U.S. has quietly supported educational and economic programs that provide access for women who are hidden and held back in these strongly patriarchal societies. Meanwhile, human rights and development experts worked diligently to support Arab women trying to change their systems from within. ...

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