Delegation of Activists from the MENA region participate at 12th AWID Forum
A delegation of six youth leaders and women activists from Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Kurdistan, and Syria participated at the 2012 International Forum of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, held in Istanbul, Turkey from the 19-22 of April to share voices and perspectives on women’s advancement and priorities for gender equality. The delegation, sponsored by Karama in partnership with Hivos, was representative of youth and grassroots activists from the region and aimed to bring insight and expertise from the ground on the future of gender equality post-revolution, the implementation and meaning of democracy in post-revolution contexts, and how women’s rights fit into new frameworks and agendas.
The 2012 AWID Forum focused on how economic power impacts women and aimed to foster linkage and collaboration on strategies to advance women’s rights and justice. Given the past year and a half of turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa—amid the transition from long-standing authoritarian regimes to the uncertainty of new governments—global activists are looking increasingly to the MENA region for inspiration on inciting dynamic change, but also to see how the question of these radical shifts will be answered politically, socially, and economically.
The delegation attended AWID events on topics including the role of the state, access to and control of resources, capacity-building on economics and women’s rights, culture and religion. In-depth sessions “Women’s Rights and Transitions to Democracy in the MENA region” and “Bringing Gender to the Streets: Young Women Amidst the Arab Spring” were priorities within the delegation’s agenda and emphasized the following urgencies:
· freedom of expression in the MENA region so that justice can be served post-war (e.g. criminal prosecution for soldiers guilt of raping Libyan women/ rehabilitation for Libyan women survivors of violence)
· a call for a “feminist Arab Spring”; and
· the importance of holding future leaders accountable to the principles and demands of the revolutions
In addition to preserving the values of the revolutions, panelists at these events agreed that there must be a parallel revolution in pursuit of women’s rights. It was assumed early on that women, who were part and parcel in the fight for equal human rights that took down dictatorial regimes from Tunis to Libya, would be supported in their struggle for their equality and advancement in the transition. They participated in the revolution not as women, but as citizens. However, women’s rights were quickly separated from the human rights movement coming out of these revolutions and thus, it is necessary to continue mobilizing in this area, working with immediacy through coalitions to effect change and impact ideas on the ground.
In considering how to best approach this, an AWID speaker from Egypt shared, “No law will change behavior, perceptions, and treatment of women on the streets. A behavior and cultural change is needed.” From the opening session of the 12th AWID Forum: “Traditions cannot justify violations of human rights and the non-recognition of human rights.” Among enduring issues women are facing, panelists highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment on the streets. Panelists shared that 98 percent of women are sexually harassed by males in the streets of Yemen. Two major initiatives—the Safe Streets Campaign in Yemen and Harass Map in Egypt—aim to raise awareness on sexual harassment and mitigate its impact. Dr. Gita Sen reinforced the need to urgently address such violence stating, “There is no economic equality for women without bodily autonomy and integrity.”
The rise of religious parties has been a particular concern for women’s rights in the region, as well as across the globe, for instance, in Latin America and the US, where women are facing increasing restrictions from conservative voices. In the region, Islamist parties have demonstrated majority votes already in Tunis and Egypt post-revolution, and present growing challenges to women’s rights in these areas on issues of divorce, early marriage, polygamy, dress and public behavior. We must continue to build programs on the ground that lobby for constitutional articles, legal policies and principles, and programs that reflect social justice and human rights in a manner that is inclusive of women. It was said at AWID that “Democracy without gender equality is not democracy” and thus we must continue to work toward an enduring vision, utilizing new approaches in order to sustain the momentum of change incited in the Arab uprisings and ensure that women are not the last to redeem the dignity and freedom promised in the joint effort toward revolution.
The Arab revolutions were accomplishments in their own right, however, there is still much work to be done. As what is good for women is generally good for their communities and nations, it is in the best interest of us all to work together to ensure that they are not left behind in the next chapter of the region’s history.