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Impact of the Arab Spring on Women’s Rights

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2013 (IPS) - Academics, diplomats, UN officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at the 57th Commission of the Status of Women to exchange views about whether Arab Spring is a chance or a risk for women’s rights.

Organised by Doha International Institute for Family Studies & Development (DIIFSD), the meeting  has been named as the Doha Briefing, which is an annual event that aims to address issues related to family, women and development inside the Arab World.

The executive Director of the Doha International Institute for Family Studies & Development (DIIFSD),  Noor Al-Malki Al-Jehani said Arab Spring’s effect on  women is a complex. The revolution changed the face of Arab world bringing opportunities of gender equality, while women are increasingly confronted and suffering discrimination and violence.

“Was the Arab Spring a disaster for women’s rights? Or it’s too early to judge? ”

Data shows that the revolution for real gender equality is still unfinished. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index illustrates that many of the Arab countries rank last among 135 countries worldwide: Turkey (124), Egypt (126), Syria (132) and Yemen (135) all showed large gaps in economic participation, education attainment, health and political empowerment.

Dr. Nadine Naber, of the department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan,   presented  her findings about the challenges facing Arab women,  based on three key issues, specifically in Egypt: sexual violence, official politics and poverty.

She questioned the long history of violence against women in Egypt,  “what happens when the international community remains silent, when (former President Hosni) Mubarak sponsored massive attacks at women activists in the streets, and when (current President Mohamed)  Morsi raises the salaries of an already corrupt police force”.

Dr.Naber said that while there are lots of discussions about cultural discrimination and violence, poverty is actually the primary factor that mobilized millions of women to join the revolution. Arab women want to live in a society where they can be agents of their own destiny, not based on corporate domination or foreign aid.

Dr. Sophie Richter-Devroe of Exeter University said it’s still hard to say whether the Arab spring will put an end to violence against women.  She explained that violence against women is not a random act but a war tactic used to intimidate and control civilians.

Dr. Rabab El-Mahid of the American University in Cairo, thinks that different forms of sexual violence existed long before the Arab spring. Even though the revolution opened doors for more violence, it also opened more doors for resistance.  “The biggest women’s march, we saw in Cairo, over the past thirty years, happened less than a week after that incident. We saw more than 200,000 women marching down the streets of Cairo, protesting against violence”, she said.

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