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Yesterday, we held our fourth #VVlead Tweetchat, discussing the role and influence of women in the Arab Spring – two days after the Tunisian Constituent Assembly elections over the weekend. We were joined by several bloggers and commentators on these issues, including Imen Braham, a candidate for the independent party Sawt MostakelPeace x Peace, an organization dedicated to peacebuilding and women’s empowerment worldwide, and Kristine Goulding, an analyst at the UN Research Institute for Social Development who recently published a three-part series on Tunisian women.

Two staff members from our Middle East and North Africa team were on hand to translate Tweets in Arabic and French, and add perspective to the discussion from their work on the ground. One of our staff members had just returned from the region a few days before, working with women in Qatar, UAE and Kuwait.

Key takeaways from the Twitter conversation

To kick off our chat, we asked: How has the Arab Spring impacted women in political & public life in the Middle East and North Africa?

– “Women have been at the forefront of the Arab Spring organizing and advocating.” -@policyadvocates

While Tunisia made great efforts to include women in the electoral process through implementing a gender parity rule, there were loopholes that prevented the successful candidacy of many women:

– For starters, the heads of the lists were mostly men, which means “the impact on elected women will be less than expected.” –@Imen

– And, in Tunisia, because so many parties were running for seats, that led to heightened competition which “meant fewer women elected – ironically, except Ennahda” (the Islamist party, who has been deemed the “winner” of the election and has incited fear that Tunisia’s progessive laws might be rolled back). –@Kris_Goulding

– “Party list parity is a start, but it will take substantive, underlying ideological transformation to change society.” –@Kris_Goulding

There remains a belief, however, that this commitment to the democratic process will provide an “occasion [for women] to ask for full equity.” –@Imen

– We saw this optimism echoed by @Imen throughout the dialogue, as she believes the “Constituent Assembly is the ideal occasion for Tunisian women to ask for more rights, not only keep what we have.”

– After all, both the progressive and conservative Islamist parties “have pledged to support women’s rights.” –@PeaceXPeace

– “Thanks to the code of personal status, Tunisian women have more rights than in other Arab countries” @Imen

– And, while the Islamist party did win the most seats, they did not win a conclusive majority, which means they “will have to build a coalition with others.” This “will help guarantee that women’s rights aren’t forgotten.” –@Kris_Goulding

– Finally, participants remembered those who have not yet gotten the chance to participate in a democratic election like this: “Let’s not forget about the women of Bahrain, who have remained strong in the face of a crackdown.” –@PeaceXPeace

Participants expressed shared hope for the future after the first phase of the electoral process, and sent messages of support and thanks to the women of the Arab Spring who continue to risk their lives daily by speaking out for equality:

– “Don’t lose hope.” –@PolicyAdvocates

– “Whose freedom did you fight for? Don’t let go now.” –@Baraka18

– “Learn from sisters worldwide: transformation has happened before and can/WILL happen again. Courage!” –@Kris_Goulding

– “Le courage que vous se sont battus pour votre liberte est reconnu dans le monde entier.” –@debyc1

– “BE STRONG.” –@SugarQueen_

– “Thank you for standing for freedom and inspiring us!” –@sfpelosi

– “THANK YOU. Your resolve in the face of inequality has inspired us and the world.” –@PeaceXPeace

Read the full Tweetchat transcript and see the participant list here

Thanks again to everyone who joined in, and we hope to chat with you all again in the future!

If you have written about the Tweetchat or women in the Middle East, post the link to the comments and we will feature it in this post.