No Democracy without Women's Equality: Middle East and North Africa

Publication Author: 
Zeina Zaatari
14 October 2013
CPPF Paper, Zeina Zaatari, Women Political Part Rep in MENA (f).pdf464.12 KB
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Key Findings:

• Despite many advances and women’s organizing efforts in the Middle East and North Africa, women’s visibility and ability to exercise power in the public sphere as well as women’s political participation continues to be limited.
• Women’s political participation and representation is intricately connected to and impacted by women’s social, economic, sexual, reproductive and familial rights.
• In general, parliaments and other governmental institutions continue to enact ‘masculine’ practices infused with the various manifestations of patriarchy that limit women’s effective participation.
• Some of the main obstacles to women’s participation in the political process include: the ‘masculine’ political model, the lack of political parties’ will to change, the double burden born by women, unfavorable electoral laws, poverty, violence, social regard of ‘politics’ as a dirty game, the proliferation of negative and stereotypical discourses on women in the media (religious and secular), corruption, and the widespread dominance of patriarchy (age and gender hierarchy).
• The devaluation of women’s humanity, sexual harassment and other kinds of gender-based violence in the public and domestic spheres, inequality in family and personal status laws, and outdated religious discourses that see women as lacking in reason and inappropriate for ruling (justified by concepts such as ‘qiwaama’) continue to tremendously impact women’s capacity for meaningful and effective participation in political life.
• Parliamentary quotas do succeed in increasing the number of women in parliament. However, they do not necessarily increase women parliamentarians’ effectiveness or their true representational power. Additionally, quotas that are not coupled with crucial political changes and democratic practices often lead to more ‘proxy’ women (related to those in political power) entering parliament and the cooptation of women’s groups and priorities simply to mobilize female voters.
• The arrival of political Islam into the halls of government in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere via ‘democratic means’ has begun to pose some serious challenges to women’s rights and equality. While initially proclaiming liberal rhetoric supportive of notions of freedom and democracy, declarations from government officials and parliamentarians in the past year have made clear the kinds of challenges they will pose; including reneging on signed UN treaties (Muslim Brotherhood statement on CEDAW) and annulling previously approved legal reforms introduced through years of struggle by women’s movements (Egypt and Morocco).
• The high level of impunity that those in power (including newly elected governments, police forces, the military, and political and tribal leadership and their entourage – including armed militias) in most countries of the region have meant increased violence against women and specifically against women human rights defenders with little or no recourse to any justice mechanisms; this poses a tremendous threat to the future of democracy and women’s rights in the region.