A document recently drafted by women's rights groups, regional governments and the UN aims to deliver sustainable development and gender empowerment, according to UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri during a trip to Cairo.
The Arab League hosted a series of meetings for civil society groups and stakeholders with the UN Women agency to work out gender-related recommendations for “The Post-2015 Development Agenda,” a UN-mandated goal to lay down a global development framework for 2015 to 2030.
Arab countries rank among the lowest in women's participation in parliament at 12 percent. Women in the workforce also rank low with 23 percent participation.
“In terms of participation of women and their agency in Arab Spring movement, one can say that it was a woman’s Arab Spring…Yet, when it came to the establishment of new order, in many cases we did not see women getting their rightful place, whether politically, economically, or socially,” Puri said in press interviews with several media outlets including Ahram Online.
“In that sense, the spring in the eyes of many has turned to winter,” she said.
The final declaration will be presented in the fifty-eighth UN session of the Commission on the Status of Women, slated for March, following regional and subregional consultations.
Puri viewed the Arab League's talks as a “historical moment,” aimed at bringing forward gender equality from a previous framework that did not take into account many challenges facing women, especially those in the Arab world.
Puri said that gender equality and women’s empowerment, child mortality, and maternal health had to be modified from a precursor framework of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which the new framework ultimately is meant to replace.
The MGDs were published in 2000 and placed eight goals or guidelines for measuring sustainable development including poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, reducing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, and others, according to the UN women website.
The MDGs left out cultural and religious sensitivities, according to Puri, who was born and educated in India and does not view them in contradiction to women’s rights.
“The Arab world has and can take a leadership role in using tradition and culture for positive purposes,” Puri said. “We hope Arab states will live up to that rich interpretation.”
Other issues such as sexual violence against women and their economic and social development were also inserted into the new framework.
Sameera Al-Tuwaijiri, who heads UN Women's regional office, which also organised the meetings, said that the agency is dedicated to the support of civil society. It has started two funds that are completely run by women rights groups in Egypt.
She said, however, that the question of implementation remains a “national and subnational issue” that needed to be addressed.
Al-Tuwaijiri also referred to inter-country disparities on the status of women that must be addressed before the enforcement of the framework takes place.
Constitutional reforms in Morocco have allowed for the formation of a broad coalition of women rights groups and organisations known as Feminist Spring for Democracy and Equality Coalition. In Libya a decree outlining compensation for rape victims during the 2011 uprising was sent to parliament. Other countries have yet to adopt similar measures.
A debate occurred during the meetings on how local women’s right groups should be administered and whether they should fall under governmental or independent jurisdiction. Puri said that she preferred a national gender machinery that operates closely with the president or parliament, making partnerships with civil society secondary.
“You need that political impulse at the highest level. Gender equality is ultimately a national project,” she said.