Women's rights back to year zero

Women's rights back to year zero
3 min read
08 Mar, 2015
International Women's Day: The souring of the Arab Spring and the rise of conservatives have put at risk the gains Arab women have made in the last few years, says Roula al-Masri.
Egypt was cited as having the worst record on women's rights [AFP]

Since the early 1990s, feminist movements in the Arab world have witnessed major changes in the nature of their struggle.

They have faced patriarchal societies and deeply rooted discrimination in a region torn apart by occupation, social and political crises, civil wars, terrorism and instability.

Feminist movements have successfully bridged the gender chasm in education and health but this has had little effect on participation levels in public life.


According to 2010 UNDP report, "Arab countries have recorded the fastest rates in human development, particularly in education and health in the past two decades.

Nevertheless, women continue to struggle."

In Egypt, women succeeded in acquiring the right to divorce their husbands in 2001, and in 2005 won the right to grant Egyptian nationality to their children if they marry non-Egyptians. They also acquired the right to be the custodians of their children until the age of 15.

In Tunisia and Morocco, women acquired their citizenship rights (the Family Law was amended and violence against women was gradually eliminated). They also acquired other rights in health, education and at the workplace.

     Regarding violence against women, one can say that feminist movements have raised awareness in many Arab countries.

On violence against women, one can say that feminist movements have successfully raised awareness in many Arab countries, which has led to some moves by governments to stop the scourge. However, not enough has been done.

Feminist movements have also mobilised the media, turning women rights it into a public cause. They have encouraged the public to report any violence against women to the concerned authorities and find ways to combat it.

However, four years after the Arab spring and the major transformations witnessed in the region with the rise of radical Islamist movements, particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Iraq and Syria, mean the stuggle for women's rights is again at risk, even their very existence is.

According to a study by Thomson Reuters in November in 2013, the Arab world is suffering from "increasing rates of violence, sexual harassment, women trafficking, female mutilation, domestic violence, illiteracy, displacement, the use of women as a weapon, early and forced marriage and abduction."

The study revealed that "Egypt had the worst figures among the 22 Arab countries in terms of women's rights. In Egypt, almost every women has gone through sexual harassment, with the rate hitting as high as 99 percent."

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Syria came in fourth place, with 4,000 reported cases of rape and deformation of sexual organs, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Saudi Arabia came second, then Iraq where 1.6 million women are widowed.

Given these figures, the situation of women is getting worse and all the privileges and gains they made are now at risk.

Feminist movements have returned to square one and women have resorted once again to focus on services instead of rights. Gender rights are no longer in the forefront.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.