Foreign Policy Blogs

Defining Sexism in the Middle East, Latin America and Everywhere Else

Shakira in Concert

One famous singing icon who has a particularly strong following in Latin America and the Middle East due to her cultural connections to both regions is Shakira. Recently, a debate arose worldwide over her boyfriend, famous footballer Gerald Pique “forbidding” Shakira from doing sensual music videos with men, raising the question to whether a partner is acting in a reasonable fashion forbidding their girlfriend from doing something that restricts her freedom as an individual. Shakira’s response was not one typical of the ideals of equal relations between men and women that are prevalent in North American and Northern European cultures. Shakira accepted to some degree that Pique has the right to restrict her from taking actions that might demonstrate her interest in other men, even though the videos are a form of art and theatre and not a reflection of a real relationship. Shakira also has the economic ability and intelligence to be completely independent several times over without being tied to any other person, but she acquiesced to Pique’s demands. The shock from fans of Shakira worldwide came with the realization that maybe the culture she comes from (Colombia) and that of Gerald Pique (Spain), accepts such attitudes that are considered to be temps-passe in much of the Western world. This discussion goes further to whether or not such an attitude has any positive elements in their own cultures and the cultures of their fans abroad. While considered a simple discussion in North America and Northern Europe, it has become unexpectedly more complex when involving other cultures and their values.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is a very clever individual who has lived and worked in Baghdad and Cairo, coming originally from Latin America and now residing in Brazil. In an article for, she wrote a very interesting piece on whether or not Latin America was more sexist than the Middle East. Lourdes compares cultural trends, especially those relating to covered women in the Middle East compared to semi clothed women in Brazil and whether or not a bikini or burqa is a symbol of freedom or simply a limitation on women’s rights as individuals. While she demonstrates how neither representation is a proper outcome of gender equality, she does not go on to discuss differences of country, class or ethnicity in the Middle East or Latin America and how that is representative of gender equality issues in the dozens of countries in each respective region. There are differences in cultures in each region and often within individual countries that is difficult to address when discussing the entirety of both multijurisdictional parts of the world, but her point that opposite cultural trends can be essentially an element of similar oppression is clear in her well written article.

No region in the world has been able to find an antidote to issues surrounding gender equality. While North Americans and Northern Europeans may take issue with Shakira or judge cultural trends in different regions in a positive or negative light, these two recent issues show that the discussion is deeper than what is on the surface, and that various people will see the same issue is very different ways. There are issues of sexual repression in the Middle East, some of which can be worse than parts of Colombia perhaps, but they can share similar traits in a place like Canada or Sweden depending on the region, community, and relationship between two individuals. It might not be as common, but all regions have issues of gender equality to address even in the best case scenarios and with thoughtful and comprehensive legislation. Among my own colleagues, this article created a great discussion on issues in their own communities and we came to a consensus that sexism can exist in many places and it is not appropriate to connect it to only one place or culture, as there are always different perspectives. In the end, the ability for women to live as completely free individuals is not as easy as burqas and bikinis. I recommend people voice their perspective on the issue. Thank you, Lourdes, for your interesting article.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration