As Reforms Sweep the Middle East, the Role of Women is Crucial

Washington

On the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Freedom House recognizes the equal rights of women globally and particularly calls upon governments in the Middle East and North Africa, where women experience the lowest levels of fundamental rights, to fulfill their commitments to gender equality.
 
As citizens throughout the region call for social and political reform, the role of women is at a crucial juncture in the Middle East and North Africa.  According to Freedom House’s  2010 publication entitled Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, women throughout the region continue to face systematic discrimination in both laws and social customs.  Gender-based violence remains one of the most serious obstacles for women in the Middle East.  Laws that protect women from spousal abuse are absent in most countries, spousal rape is not criminalized, and honor killings still occur and are on the rise in Iraq and Palestine. Women experience considerable obstacles to accessing justice due to their low degree of legal literacy and the patriarchal nature of the societies. Women are also significantly underrepresented in senior positions in politics and the private sector; in some countries, they are completely absent from the judiciary.
 
“The unequal status of women presents a formidable obstacle to the overall democratic advancement of the Middle East and North Africa region,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “Reform agendas must address gender equality and ensure that women are involved in decision-making processes.”
 
Women have been key contributors and leaders in the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, yet their involvement has been underreported and under analyzed.  Despite the challenges they face, women in the region have experienced increased economic and political opportunities.  The greatest gains have been achieved in the areas of employment, education, and political representation. More women today hold jobs, are literate, and enroll in areas of study previously deemed inappropriate for females than ever before. Women’s rights organizations are becoming more vocal and better organized, and women are increasing their representation in elected government bodies, albeit with the help of quota systems.
 
“In order to move from promises to reality, Arab citizens and governments alike must translate international conventions and commitments into concrete strategies at the national and local levels,” Kramer added.
 
A new feature section of the Freedom House website includes profiles of women activists from the region as well as information on Freedom House’s programs and analysis of women’s rights.
 
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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