As 2019 is coming to a close, it doesn't only mean we're set for a new year but a whole new decade as well. Now seems like the ideal chance for resolutions — not the empty promises we end up breaking by Jan. 2, but rather the serious plans we commit to on the long run.
Truth be told, we don't only need resolutions on a personal level, but also on national and regional levels. There's no denying that the Arab world has made huge strides in the past decade, whether politically, socially, or economically. Still, the region has a long way to go.
There's a long list of issues that continue to plague the Arab world, yet their resolution is long overdue. Here are some problems the region should not carry into the upcoming decade:
1. Sexism is not welcome in the new decade
Yes, the women's rights movement in the Arab world has achieved tens of milestones over the past decade, but that certainly doesn't mean Arab women enjoy all the rights and freedoms they are entitled to.
Arab women continue to live within sexist and patriarchal communities. Online and offline sexual harassment, sexual and physical abuse, so-called "honor" killings, ridiculous standards and expectations enforced by society, and discrimination in legal matters are only a few of the problems women in the region combat on a daily basis.
2. While we're at it, let's bid farewell to toxic masculinity
Many of the above-mentioned issues stem from the toxic masculinity exhibited by a problematic portion of Arab men. The term refers to the distorted idea of what it takes to be a "real" man, a concept built upon false perceptions of strength and power.
In an effort to portray this flawed idea of masculinity, many men exercise control over their female relatives and some might go as low as resorting to violence. For similar reasons, some Arab men tend to be obsessively overprotective of their partners to the extent of refusing to allow the latter to work or go out with friends. Another sign of toxic masculinity is the negative attitude towards the women's rights movement, as such men are simply intimidated by empowered women and feel like the latter threaten their fragile masculinity.
3. There's no place for racism in 2020
Despite the gravity of anti-black racism in the Arab world, the issue remains inadequately addressed. The matter affects the lives of millions who live in countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Libya, and Algeria -to name a few.
Regional TV dramas, films, and online content feature dialogue ridiculing Arab blacks and try to pass these insults as a form of "comedy." There's also a long list of Arab performers who have donned a "blackface" on screen and failed to acknowledge why such acts were problematic.
Speaking to StepFeed back in November, a number of black Arabs shared their experiences growing up and living in the region. They revealed they constantly feel ostracized and are treated as second-class in Arab communities.
Deep-rooted racism notably presents itself in the kafala system, the controversial set of laws governing migrant domestic workers in many Arab countries. The system has long been criticized by human rights organizations because it legally binds a worker to their employer. Under it, domestic workers are often treated like slaves, denied their most basic of rights, and subjected to abuse.
4. It's high time we embrace the LGBTIQ+ community
The reality for LGBTIQ+ individuals within the Middle East and North Africa varies greatly depending on the country, the religious and social values of an individual's family, as well as their social class.
Members of the LGBTIQ+ community in the Arab world have long struggled with oppression, bigotry, harassment, violence, and a wide array of discriminatory laws. In certain Arab countries, it is illegal for queer individuals to publicly express their sexuality and the latter thus face prosecution and imprisonment. In more severe cases, they are faced with the death penalty.
5. And offer mental health patients the support they need
The stigma surrounding mental health issues should become a thing of the past. In the past few years, the region has witnessed an alarming rise in suicide rates among people battling mental disorders. However, initiatives aimed at helping those in need remain inadequate in many Arab countries.
There are a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health, largely due to inadequate awareness on the matter. Mental health patients thus face social stigma that prevents them from acknowledging their illnesses and seeking professional help. The fact that treatment for mental disorders is too expensive for the majority of people living in the Arab world is adding to the problem.
6. More awareness, less indoctrination ...
It is no secret that many Arab families hold religion and culture in high regard. Rather than encouraging their children to do their own research and decide on their personal points of view, many Arab parents put in extra effort to ensure that their kids maintain the family's traditional beliefs and principles.
The same goes for political views, as many Arabs are raised to blindly follow political parties regardless of their respective agendas. This has resulted in groups of blind followers who would go above and beyond to defend their political leaders. Why? "Because they're obviously the best ever... Duh... Dad said so, and he's a wise, wise man..."
Well, it would do us all a favor if we start basing beliefs and opinions on knowledge and logical reasoning in the 2020s.
7. And a whole lot more freedom of expression
Throughout the 2010s, Arabs have broken loose of societal and legal restrictions on freedom of expression. They have fearlessly spoken out about their concerns and called out various injustices, even if it meant risking their lives or facing prosecution.
Still, authorities across the region sometimes limit freedom of expression and take measures against people who dare break the silence regarding controversial matters. For example, Amnesty International describes Egypt as an "open-air prison for critics" in reference to the government's crackdown on people peacefully expressing their views. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has enforced crippling restrictions on internet and social media usage during the ongoing uprising, hindering its people from accessing and propagating information.
8. Let's delete "sharaf" (& Co.) from our vocabulary
Sexism prevails in the language people use to speak to or describe women across the region. The result? Offensive, derogatory words that spread misconceptions and deepen the rift between men and women.
Enter the infamous sharaf. The term literally translates to "honor" but, somehow, has evolved to mean "a woman's honor" which in turn has become associated with said woman's sexuality. We're gonna stop right here because explaining the flawed rationale any further would falsely suggest that there's some validity to it.
But basically, according to many Arab communities, every family's so-called honor is linked to its female members. As such, a woman is accused of tarnishing her family's sharaf if she commits anything that's deemed shameful or socially unacceptable. The word has been used to justify violence committed against women or men who attack a family's sharaf.