Women: What Changes Does 2013 Hold?
Women leaders in seven Arab countries were asked what political, social and economic changes they expect to see in 2013. Most expected to see political infighting, backsliding in women’s status, or an economic downturn in their respective countries.
Women in Iraq and Lebanon projected a deterioration in the security situation if the Syrian conflict spills over. Yemeni women said their country’s democratic transition hinges on a successful national dialogue scheduled for March. Two Egyptian women noted deep political divides. But one was confident that the parties will form parliamentary blocs and reach a consensus in 2013.
Most of the optimistic responses came from women living in countries that are not facing tumultuous political transitions. A woman from Iraqi Kurdistan thought women will find new economic opportunities in the private and public sectors in 2013. A Jordanian woman expected female parliamentarians to wield greater political influence. An Omani woman forecasted strong economic growth. The following are the women’s responses arranged by country.
2013 will probably be filled with turmoil due to the intransigence and stubbornness of both the rulers and opposition parties. Egypt’s economy will almost certainly continue its severe downturn. The biggest challenge will be to restore growth and market confidence, and to attract investors into financing projects again.
On the social scene, the gap between the rich and poor people may increase due to the absence of social justice and equal opportunities. Unemployment and the budget deficit could also increase if the economy does not recover.
Egypt is passing through a tumultuous period. But 2013 may bring some stability. I expect the political parties to form two or three large blocs, and reach a consensus. If the parties move fast enough, Egypt could even hold early presidential elections. The worst case scenario is where voters lose their enthusiasm for elections or democracy. Regardless, the turnout will probably be smaller in the next elections since citizens have lost confidence in politicians. On the social level, all indicators suggest that women’s status will deteriorate. Civil society will have to work harder to combat this.
I doubt that Lebanon will progress on the political, social or economic levels in 2013.Lebanon is a vulnerable country. It can easily get sidetracked from its own national issues by overwhelming regional and international developments. The country is now even more at risk of being swallowed by spillover violence from Syria.
Events in Syria have already impacted Lebanon’s tourism sector, which had been a major component of economic growth. The sectarian issue in Syria has also heightened tensions between Lebanon’s religious communities. Parliament recently rejected a law that would have given Lebanese women married to foreigners the right to pass on their citizenship to their children. Several years of lobbying amounted to nothing because politicians feared upsetting the sectarian balance in the country.
Lebanon is also reeling under political bickering—or rather horse trading—regarding a new electoral law. Each sect is trying to secure a law that would preserve its representation. Politicians are not interested in working for the benefit of the whole population. So the chances for real change in 2013 are slim or maybe non-existent.
Lebanon’s fate in 2013 may depend on the direction of the Syrian conflict. If it spills over, Lebanon would suffer politically, economically and socially. The conflict threatens to further divide the political parties. A larger influx of refugees could prompt businesses and foreign investors to leave the country. Deterioration in security and lack of sufficient resources to support refugees could lead to increases in sickness and violence. Women would likely suffer from gender-based violence and rape.
Iraq’s economy will probably continue to be weak in 2013. The annual budget was finally approved in February after many developments plans were postponed. Marginalized groups in society—such as divorcees, retirees and the unemployed—that have little to no source of income will be especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy.
The political situation also seems bleak due to the rise of sectarian conflicts, enforcement of representative quotas, and lack of respect for Iraq’s constitution. Society also faces significant challenges in 2013. Citizens have little confidence in themselves or the government due to the country’s instability.
2013 is set to be a year of major change in Iraq. Since January, demonstrators in six provinces have taken to the streets to demand government reforms. Many have accused the government of misusing anti-terror laws to wrongfully detain individuals. Even if the Iraqi government satisfies the demonstrators, some of the current leaders may be discharged. And new political leaders may attempt to amend the constitution. Iraqis fear a deterioration in the security situation, which could be further undermined by a spillover from Syria in 2013.
In 2013, I expect women’s participation in politics to be more effective in Kurdistan. They are now more experienced and have more opportunities than in the past. Many non-governmental organizations have been successfully implemented awareness and advocacy programs to change society’s mentality towards women.
This change can open many doors to women in the private and public sector in 2013. Women stand to become more empowered through financial independence and acquiring new skills.
2013 may be a year of defined by conflict between parties and parliamentary blocks. Chances for economic growth or development this year are slim, as parliament has not provided a clear economic vision or agenda. Living standards have already deteriorated, and many families are now living under the poverty line. The security situation may also deteriorate for vulnerable sectors of society. On the social level, violence against women will continue to be a key problem.
Iraq is going through a difficult transformation from a dictatorship to a democracy. But there may be a few success stories in 2013, such as the relative improvement of the security situation, and improvement of standard of living. I expect Iraq’s politicians to compromise to preserve the country’s unity. Then Iraq might be able to establish stronger relationships with other countries, and again become a decision-maker.
The parliament may also pass laws ensuring the transition to a market-based economy. The private sector could then invest oil resources in rebuilding infrastructure, and developing the agricultural and industrial sectors. Corruption rates are already falling to their lowest levels.
On the social level, Iraqis should become less dependent on grant money in 2013. If the government builds up local capacity and provides more job opportunities, it will have an easier time providing health care, education, housing and food to those who cannot work.
Iraq is unlikely to see any significant political, social or economic changes in 2013. The political system’s dependence on sectarian quotas has driven parties to focus on parliamentary gains. This competition has pushed parliamentary blocs into sharp conflict with each other.
These tensions have carried over into Iraqi society. Citizens are thinking in terms of their ethnic and sectarian alignment, which is weakening national unity. These divisions will hamper the country’s reconstruction and economic development efforts in 2013.
In 2013, I expect politicians to make constitutional amendments and pass some important legislation. Parliament may pass a political parties law that would implement funding transparency. It will also work on a social security law to provide welfare to disabled Iraqis.
Parliament is also due to pass laws on oil, gas and infrastructure. The most important issue in 2013 will be empowering women in politics, society and the economy. Iraq could become a regional model of democracy if it empowers women.
The issue of building up the state was swept aside during the recent political crisis between rival parties. In 2013, popular movements are likely to reject the factional struggle, which threatens Iraq’s national identity. But citizens will probably continue to suffer from the lack of security and stability. The economy will continue to be dependent on oil, exposing it to the fluctuations in the world market. The Iraqi government has plans to improve human services, but these will take years to implement.
2013 will be a challenging year for Yemen. It could transition to democracy if regional and international forces support the national dialogue scheduled to start on March 18. The group must outline a constitution for a modern, democratic and civic state in which all citizens have equal rights. But some domestic and foreign actors may attempt to undermine the dialogue. Yemen will face a dangerous situation if the youth who revolted for change in 2011 are duped by this process. Inflation, unemployment, poverty and starvation could increase in 2013, raising the threat of a civil war.
Yemen is scheduled to begin its national dialogue in March, which will gather representatives from a wide range of political and social groups, including youth and women. The dialogue will mainly focus on the political structure, the new constitution and governance. Participants will also tackle economic and education issues during the six month session.
The national dialogue’s success would be an important step towards democracy for Yemen. 2013 may be an important transitional year if the factions and parties reach a consensus on how to move forward. Yemen must keep the economy from deteriorating further and maintain the relatively peaceful security situation until the election of a new president in 2014.
Jordan’s new parliament may help the country progress in 2013, thanks to additional powers granted to lawmakers. Jordan’s parties will have more say on domestic policy, which could help stabilize the political system. Women will play a bigger role in political life, as 12 percent of parliamentarians are now female. Those 18 women may influence the decision-making process. One of the goals of the new parliament is to be more transparent regarding state allocations and expenditures, and generally improve oversight of the state budget.
In 2013, new democratic regulatory laws may be further implemented. These were included in the 2011 constitution, which was passed after large protests. Article 19 provides for equality between the sexes, and forbids discrimination and violence against women. But Moroccan women would further benefit from the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The government should also raise the quota for female representatives in local councils before the next round of elections.
On the political level, the government may start appointing people to positions based on their qualifications and experience. On the economy, the government is due to reform the state pension system, and create a fund to support young male and female entrepreneurs.
In December 2012, Oman held its first ever local elections. The government may be more responsive to the requests of the newly elected municipal councils in 2013. The country’s 11 municipal councils can present the government with recommendations on local services.
Oman’s economy is widely expected to grow in 2013, perhaps by 5 percent or more depending on the price of oil. Oil revenues may help Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said achieve the goals of his five-year development plan. In 2011, he pledged to diversify the economy, build modern infrastructure, keep inflation down, and create jobs. Oman has projected spending $78 billion on infrastructure alone by 2015.