First Published: 2003-04-28

 
Women's rights in Arab world still lagging behind
 

Arab world makes snail's progress on women's rights due to political unrest, religious power, tribal culture.

 

Middle East Online

By Fabien Novial - BERLIN

30 out of 230 seats in Moroccan parliament allocated to women

Across the Arab world, women's rights are being stifled by political unrest and conservative women in positions of power, lawyers, intellectuals and officials told a weekend conference in Germany.

"In recent years, our countries have lived through conflicts that have led our governments to make women's rights a secondary issue," Jordanian lawyer Asma Khader said.

"Conservative forces in our patriarchal and sometimes tribal societies mean that women themselves, in positions of political, social or religious power, can be the fiercest defenders of the status quo," she said.

"Women who represent the system are more loyal to it than to the female condition," agreed Palestinian writer Sumaya Farhat-Nasser.

More than half of all Arab women are illiterate, according to the United Nations Arab Human Development Report 2002.

Although female literacy in Arab countries has tripled since 1970 and twice as many Arab women now receive primary and secondary education, women remain drastically cut out of political and economic life, the report found.

Arab women hold 3.5 percent of parliamentary seats, the lowest rate in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa, and are also least represented in the workforce, the report said.

"Women need access to education and work in order to know their rights and to be able to defend them," Khader stressed.

Princess Basma Bint Talal of Jordan, who heads the country's national commission for women, assailed the lack of progress of women's rights.

"The rights agenda for Arab women is treading water compared to other regions, stuck as it is between a civil society in crisis and government that does the absolute minimum," she said.

"Nothing has been done under the EuroMed partnership between the European Union and the Maghreb, which pledged to put women at the heart of development initiatives," added Aicha Belarbi, the Moroccan ambassador to the EU.

Moroccan women's rights activist Rabea Naciri welcomed their remarks, saying: "It is a great innovation to hear officials speak of the condition of women in such a realistic, balanced way."

"In Morocco, we have even started to dare talk about secularism, about separating religion from politics. That is what will make a real difference to the condition of women," she argued.

Observers say the rise of religious fundamentalism has held back women's emancipation in many countries across the Arab world.

Even in Morocco, statistics show almost half of Moroccan women with a university qualification still need their husband's permission to leave the home, Naciri said.

"Moroccan women have to wage a daily battle with their husbands and in-laws to defend their right to work," she added.

Nacri said, however, that Arab governments were slowly waking up to women's rights with, for example, 30 out of a total 230 seats in the Moroccan parliament allocated to women candidates in last year's general election.

The UN report also noted some positive political developments, such as a law raising the age of marital consent from 15 to 18 in Jordan and laws to give women a recourse for divorce in both Jordan and Egypt.

The conference was hosted by the Berlin centre for world cultures.

 

Syrian regime confident of Aleppo victory

Dozens of civilians killed in Iraq air strike

Israel votes to approve settler homes bill

Egypt’s 'three-year strategy' seeks to revive struggling economy

Qatar to invest up to $13bn on 'mega projects' in 2017

Two Hamas militants killed in Gaza tunnel collapse

Libya's key oil region threatened by renewed fighting

Syria rebels call for Aleppo ceasefire

Rebel rockets scar west Aleppo residents

Egypt jails prominent NGO activist

Turkish soldier killed in Syria bomb blast

IS-linked group ousted from Somalia town

Kerry, Lavrov to resume Syria talks Wednesday

Iraqis swarm to remarry after liberation from ‘caliphate’

Four drown, 34 rescued off Morocco coast

Israel to vote on bill to legalise West Bank settlements

Turkish businessmen embrace Erdogan’s plan to boost lira

Battle for Mosul advances deeper into city

Iran to sign deal with Shell in bid to boost output

Israeli missiles strike targets outside Damascus

Over 40 people missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Hollande condemns Russia’s ‘systematic obstruction’ of Syria ceasefire

Turkey doing 'everything possible' to push Syria talks between Russia, opposition

Britain wants ‘strategic partnership’ with GCC

Russia army colonel dies after Aleppo rebel shelling

Syria forces take control of Aleppo Old City

Libyan forces hunt remaining jihadists in Sirte

Iraqi jailed in Sweden for war crimes after Facebook post

Regime forces seize five Aleppo districts from rebels

Israeli artist erects golden Netanyahu statue in protest

Russia says US stalling on Aleppo rebel pullout

Saudi sentences 15 to death for being Iranian spies

US defence secretary says Mosul battle could end before Trump

US, NATO stress 'unity' as Trump raises doubts

Greece to extradite three Turkish coup officers

Egypt arrests 25 human organ traffickers

Morocco PM statement on Russia’s ‘destructive’ role in Syria angers Moscow

Israel far right hails bill to 'legalise' settler homes

Merkel says Aleppo situation ‘disgrace’

Iranian president says sanctions renewal proves US still ‘enemy’

Yemen arrests eight IS suspects in Aden

Turkey arrests opposition advisor over alleged Gulen links

Russia says OPEC, non-OPEC countries to meet in Vienna

British PM joins GCC summit for trade talks

Israel government nears deal that could 'legalise' settler homes