Opportunities and Challenges for Middle East Women: 2014

Mar 09, 2014

            To mark International Women’s Day, the Wilson Center’s Middle Program asked 42 women from the Middle East and around the world to share their views on opportunities and obstacles facing women in 2014. The following are excerpts from the publication.

Raya Abu Gulal, Lawyer and Co-Founder, Women Lawyers Group-Middle East (Iraq)

This year could be a year of both opportunities and obstacles for women in the MENA region. We have already noticed opportunities for women in the Gulf region such as more women in the workforce, support for women entrepreneurs, and the increase in women’s political participation. Nevertheless, obstacles remain in place in the Gulf region’s constitutions in terms of women’s status: women still face obstacles related to citizenship rights of their children, divorce, inheritance, and other related matters.

Muna AbuSulayman, Co-founder, Medeen.com; Partner, Directions Consultancy LLC; Co-host Kalam Nawaem; Partner, Glowork, Women Employment Opportunities (Saudi Arabia)

To become a product of personal decision, rather than circumstance, is perhaps the thing that most women aspire to in the Arab world. But for many this goal is not quite possible, at least not yet.

The Arab world is struggling on many fronts: the economy, legal rights, governance, women’s rights, unemployment, and, in some parts, education. These are the issues that continually come up when you look at challenges facing the region. These issues are all important to the development of a stable future for the MENA region. Nonetheless, I believe that sectarianism is the greatest threat that women face right now. Yet, we deal with the other issues because they are easier to work with, easier to give aid to, easier to talk about, and easier to measure. They are not messy; they are not as nuanced; they are not as complex.

Fahmia Al Fotih, Communication Analyst, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (Yemen)

I believe 2014 is going to be a year of opportunities as well as a year of continuing obstacles for women in the MENA region. Despite the political turmoil and conflict that envelops the region and despite the fact that most of the region’s countries are still listed at the bottom of international reports regarding women’s rights and freedoms, there is a ray of hope in some countries like Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya.

In Yemen, women have been actively part of the transitional period where they comprised 30 percent of most of the committees of the National Dialogue, which has just concluded this year. Now the real challenge for Yemeni women will be to make sure that the outcomes of the National Dialogue and their rights are enshrined in the upcoming constitutional reforms and subsequent legislation, which has just started to take place this year.

Rend Al Rahim, Executive Director, Iraq Foundation and former Iraq Ambassador to the United States (Iraq)

The new year may bring more settled times in the Arab region, though mixed results for women. In a landmark achievement for women in the region, Tunisia adopted a liberal constitution in January that upholds the rights of women, undertakes to provide parity between men and women in the legislature, and pledges to fight gender-based violence. In Egypt, Hala Shukrallah scored an unprecedented success for all women in the region when she became the first woman to lead a political party, Al-Dostour, or Constitution Party. Most women in the MENA region will not fare as well as their Tunisian sisters or experience the success of Shukrallah in Egypt.

Ümit Cizre, Professor and Director, Center for Modern Turkish Studies, Istanbul Şehir University (Turkey)

Whether they are dealing with old or new establishments, Islamists, secularists, the military, police, husbands, or strangers, women in the MENA region continue to suffer from exclusion, desperation, poverty, lack of mobility, and insecurity. Political violence, power struggles, polarized societies, civil wars, the collapse of economies, and the resultant absence of law and order have brought about a worsening situation for women, whether in the streets, work places, schools, universities, or at home. Among the issues negatively affecting women, however, “sexual and bodily integrity and personhood” have acquired unparalleled prominence in the region.

Hanin Ghaddar, former Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; and Managing Editor, NOW News (Lebanon)

Violence in the Middle East is often perceived as security incidents, sectarian clashes, and suicide bombers. Lebanon has recently stepped back into all of the above. However, it is hardly reported that violence has also increased, in parallel, on the domestic level.

Domestic violence, or violence against women in particular, has reached dangerous levels, and the draft legislation to protect women from violence is still in the drawers of the parliament. Manal al-Assi, Fatima al-Nashar, Roula Yaacoub, and many other women were recently murdered by their husbands, and no one is moving a finger to stop it because the religious institutions have no interest in changing the law.

Click here for the full publication.

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