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The Gatestone Institute recently published an article, Arab Spring vs. Women’s Rights, arguing that Arab women’s rights have been marginalized and excluded from political bodies, even after the “Arab Spring.” The post listed many examples of women’s rights violations and, in some cases, violence against women during the demonstrations: 

“Many women hoped the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ would bring changes to the Middle East to help them realize their dreams and secure a better life for the next generation of women through peaceful transitions away from dictatorship, and collaboration between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, government and civilians. But, as Tawakkol Karman also pointed out, ‘One of the necessities of partnership is for women to obtain their full rights. No dignity and no liberty for a nation which oppresses women and takes away their rights.'”

There is no doubt that women’s rights in the Middle East are and have been ignored for a long time. The revolutions did not marginalize women more than before; rather, it brought these issues to the forefront of the debate. Because of the uprisings, not only are more people, globally, aware of the challenges and obstacles women face in the region, but the women themselves are also more aware of rights to which they are entitled. Most importantly, these women are more empowered to demand these rights.

Vital Voices’ Middle East and North Africa created a program in July 2010, Policy Advocates for Women’s Issues in the MENA Region, specifically to help women (along with men) create advocacy campaigns that directly affect women and their rights. The program, which brings together representatives of the public and private sectors and civil society, includes advocacy teams from Tunisia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the UAE.

Just in the first 2 years, several Policy Advocates teams have found success with their campaigns: 

  • The Morocco team has successfully mobilized 40 civil society leaders to begin raising public awareness of the country’s increasing child marriage rates. The team started their campaign with a conference about the issue and will continue to inform judges, lawyers, national agencies and ministries, and other community stakeholders about the law and the potential negative effects resulting from failure to enforce it;
  • The Jordan team has launched a campaign to raise awareness and enforcement of a little-acknowledged law that mandates workplace-provided daycare facilities for the children of female employees. Their campaign, which concluded with an Awareness Walk, gained attention through media coverage and support from the Jordanian Ministry of Labor. Check out their Facebook page and Twitter: @sadaqajo;
  • The Egypt Policy Advocates team started a campaign to develop, disseminate, and advocate for a women’s rights platform to be integrated into the new Egyptian government. The team toured the country to interview over 1,000 women of all socio-economic groups to ask what women’s greatest desires were for Egypt’s future, which they hope to have included in the new Constitution. Based on the interview results, the team drafted a report that not only presents the challenges that Egyptian women face in the current climate but also stated their demands in terms of social, economic and political rights. The team is currently implementing a successful public awareness campaign, targeting the ever-changing political forces in Egypt.

These campaigns are just a few examples that show that there is still hope for women in the Middle East to continue to progress toward equal rights. The opportunity is there, if it can be seized.

Learn more about Vital Voices’ MENA programs

Gihane Askar works with the Vital Voices’ Middle East and North Africa team.