Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives -- though first published in 1988, this book was interesting because it provided details about some historical events (e.g., the struggles for the liberation of Syria, southern Lebanon and Algeria) and cultural practices from Arab women's perspectives. I was warned to take this book with a grain of salt since the author is now a minister in the Syrian government which is an oppressive police state. So whenever I read positive things about the Baathist party or former President Assad, I kept this in mind.
Introduction - Author Bouthaina Shaaban talks about her growing-up years and how women in her village near Homs were treated. I could see why she became a feminist after reading about the chauvinistic culture which valued and respected males far more than females. It was sad to read how having daughters instead of sons seemed to be such a tragic thing although I know this isn't only in Arab cultures.
Syria was the first country discussed and it seemed the interviewees were all feminists (of course), Alawaites and/or supporters of the Baathist party which they said brought more rights to women. While they said Islam is pro-woman, generally the men of Islam let their culture guide them over their religion. One interesting fact, speaking of extended family, one woman said they "guarantee a tighter grip and exert efficient male domination over women." Indeed "to most Arab women extended families mean one thing: extra male authority." She said you hear of cousins killing cousins for the sake of family honor, but "we have yet to hear of a woman whose life has been saved, happiness achieved or even chances improved by a cousin." (pg. 75)
The author interviewed ladies who fought against the French occupation and some who were among the first women to attend university classes and stop wearing the veil.
I'd like to see this book updated to see if women today have more rights than they did in the late 1980s when this book was published.
Stay tuned for more from this book as the author talks with women from Lebanon, Palestine and Algeria.