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Women crucial to democracy in Arab world: Report

New report highlights obstacles that hinder women's political participation in Arab world, calls on women to play full part in building the futures of their countries

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 8 Mar 2012
Egyptian women voting in the last parliamentary elections
Egyptian women voting in the last parliamentary elections (Photo:Reuters)
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"With this report we are hoping to give due credit to women who took part in the uprisings (across the Arab world) for freedom, equality and dignity," wrote the author of a new report issued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Issued on 8 March to mark International Women's Day, the report examines the status of women in the countries of the Arab Spring – with a focus on the "obstacles that hinder their political participation" that should match their participation to the revolutions that brought down dictatorial regimes in their respective countries.

The FIDH report, "The Arab world – what spring is there for women?", is also, according to its authors, is a call for vigilance in face of attempts to undermine women's participation and rights by the new rulers who are either conservatives or wish to appease these forces.

“Women, as well as men, paid and continue to pay a high price for their struggles. Today women must be able to play their full part in building the futures of their countries,” declared Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

Belhasen added that “Women's participation in public and political life, on an equal basis with men, is an essential condition for democracy and social justice, values at the heart of the Arab spring."

And according an FIDH press release issued to launch the report, the changes sweeping the region "present real opportunities for women to push for their rights (even though) they also present risks of regression."

Although the situation of women varies across the region, threats to their human rights converge. In countries in transition, women are confronting attempts to exclude them from public life, the FIDH report argues.

In Egypt, FIDH researchers noted that there were no women in the two committees appointed to draft the new constitution.

The report also noted the new law that abolished measures guaranteeing women minimum representation in parliament and that women gained only 2% of seats in the recent elections. It also voiced concern over the future participation of women in political decision-making.

Meanwhile, the report notes that in Libya, the electoral law adopted by the National Transitional Council in January 2012 contains no quota for the representation of women in elected bodies and that in Morocco – where there has been no regime change – a law adopted in October 2011 established a quota of only 15% and in Tunisia the 41-member government nominated in December 2011 contains only 3 women.

“Demands for equality tend to be set aside, while the efforts of protesters focus on bringing down regimes and dismantling oppressive state institutions,” stated Sophie Bessis, FIDH Deputy Secretary General.

“Recent history painfully reminds us that the massive occupation of public space by women during revolutions, in no way guarantees their role in the political bodies of the regimes that follow,” she added.

According to the FIDH the report issued today should serve as a firm reminder that from one country to the other across the Arab world women were an essential part of the revolutions that opened the gates towards freedom and democracy and as such their participation should not be undermined. The violation of their rights "in the forms of attacks that included removing their clothes and subjecting them to the virginity tests" should not be tolerated.

The report calls for a clear recognition of women's role in the making of revolutions and in the making of the future of their own countries.

The report dedicates three chapters to the situation of women in Tunis, Egypt and Libya where revolutions have already succeeded. It also allocates three chapters to the situation in Yemen, where a partial victory for the revolution has been made by removing the Yemeni president, who had his vice-president installed as his successor, and two chapters on Bahrain and Syria where revolutions are still underway, with a different pace for each country.

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