Part I: International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day will celebrate economic, political and social achievements of women on March 8. Female leaders in five Arab countries were asked to discuss women’s achievements from the last year.
The prominent participation of women in Tahrir Square demonstrations and elections were key achievements for Egyptian women. But this participation did not always lead to tangible improvements for women in 2012. One leader said that their political, social and economic status has actually decreased overall.
Iraqi women noted that they achieved little in 2012. Female lawmakers have had little say in the political process, despite occupying more than 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Women have also been excluded from reconciliation and peace committees.The following are the women’s responses arranged by country.
Iraqi women were unable to score major achievements in 2012. They faced a difficult economic climate and a conservative society that favors men. Women’s influence in politics has actually receded since 2006.
Women have had little say in the political process. The exclusion of women from Nouri al Maliki’s council of ministers was a setback. In the executive branch of government, there is only one female minister and she does not even have a portfolio. There are over 80 women in parliament, but they are there mainly to satisfy the 25 percent quota. Their participation is handicapped by their respective lists.
On the other hand, the women’s movement was very active in 2012. Civil society organizations held many conferences and published reports. As part of my work with the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, I lead a delegation composed of six women — including three from the Ministry of Human Rights— to investigate the condition of women in prison. The parliament and government has taken notice of the results of the report, which describe the difficult situation female prisoners face.
The Iraqi government has paid little attention to women’s issues because it has been busy with sectarian conflicts and political crises that threaten the country and the democratic process.
The feminist movement has tried to improve women's access to decision-making positions. But some female officials and lawmakers were not selected according to their merits or experience. They have little influence.
Women used to play a bigger role in politics. The interim government of 2005 had six female ministers. Now there is only one female minister without a portfolio. Women in parliament are just a number. Iraq has a quota reserving 25 percent of seats for women. There are currently more than 80 women in parliament, but few have prominent roles. Even when they are asked to participate in talks or to help resolve disputes, the women are marginalized.
There were few tangible achievements for Iraqi women in 2012. Women’s participation in politics decreased. They were excluded from the reconciliation and peace committees. Women are suffering from the unstable political situation and sectarian tensions.
In 2012, Egyptian women claimed their political voice by voting in four different elections. But this achievement was overshadowed by a decline in women’s status in the politics, society and the economy.
The percentage of female lawmakers in Egypt decreased from 12.5 percent in 2010 to two percent in 2012. At the 2012 World Economic Forum, Egypt was ranked 128 out of 131 countries on women’s representation in parliament.
In the so-called "Revolution Parliament," five out of 180 members of the Shura council were women. This decline was partly due to the rise of fundamentalist voices calling for confining women to certain roles, and limiting their right to participate in society and especially politics.
The past year also witnessed a systematic attack against women activists, particularly during the incidents at the presidential palace by supporters of President Mohamed Morsi supporters. The number of instances of sexual harassment has increased since the revolution, especially on holidays such as Eid al Fitr.
On the economic level, Egypt also recorded decline in women’s access to economic opportunities in 2012. The unemployment rate for women reached nearly 25 percent—one of the highest levels ever recorded.
The most important achievement by Egyptian women in 2012 was their prominent participation in Tahrir Square demonstrations. They cared for wounded protestors and informed the families of martyrs who died during clashes. Women also took a leading role in monitoring violence. They succeeded in insisting on the right to participate in public life —despite the rise of fundamentalism.
Jordanian women achieved some successes at the political and social levels in 2012.
Politically: Women in Jordan attained more seats parliament. We are now hold 18 out of a total of 150 seats, or 12 percent. As for municipal councils, the women’s quota was increased to 25 percent which will be applied in the upcoming municipal elections.
Economically: Jordanians are facing a difficult economic situation in general. Opportunities for women to participate in the labor market did not really increase in 2012, according to recent studies.
Socially: The inclusion of insurance for mothers in social security law amendments was a great achievement for women. A lot of work went into convincing parliament to pass the amendments.
In Lebanon, women have been campaigning on several issues. The most important is the quota for political representation in parliament and in municipal councils. Women built coalitions, networked and advocated for a new law. But the current parliament probably won’t pass the legislation. It is busy dividing up seats along sectarian lines. More women will likely run for positions regardless if the law is passed.
Omani women have gained many rights during the reign of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said (1970-present). The country celebrates their achievements annually on Women’s Day, October 17.
Women have recently participated more prominently in political life. Women now hold three cabinet ministerial positions. The ambassadors to Germany, the Netherlands and the United States are all female. The number of female members of the State Council and Shura Council have also increased. Women won four seats on municipal councils and four were appointed by the government.
Women have also played a larger role in helping Omani society. Two women were appointed to the National Committee for Human Rights. Women are playing an important role in their communities through their own associations that provide health and other charitable services to the needy.
On the economy, women’s participation in the labor market has increased. Some women have established small home-based businesses. Others now work outside of the home and manage small to medium-sized businesses.