CRTD-A concludes regional campaign meeting in Beirut: Arab Spring may bring political changes, but women activists need to be more vigilant than ever

Feminist organizations from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, and Lebanon convened a meeting in Beirut on June 27th and 28th, hosted by WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A. Partners from Bahrain were unable to attend due to the unstable security situation in their country. Participating organizations are active members of WLP International as well as the Equality without Reservation Coalition. The purpose of the meeting was to undertake a collective feminist analysis of the various revolutions taking place in the region, and explore the prospects, challenges and way forward for women’s work and gender equality. 

Participants at the gathering analyzed the situations in post-revolution countries (Tunisia and Egypt), in countries currently undergoing popular, and often armed revolts (Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya) and in countries where some type of reform movement is taking place (Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, and to a lesser extent, Lebanon).

Positive trends were observed by participants throughout the region, notably a change in gender roles. Women have been equal, and in some cases leading, participants in the revolutions, rather than merely supporting male demonstrators. Participants at the meeting also remarked on the emergence of young women’s leadership in the region, as well as the effectiveness of social media in helping to mobilize young activists.

In addition to the positive trends that were noted, many participants voiced concern over the re-emergence of religiously-based political parties to public life, and growing indications that these groups will likely gain further voice, representation and power when democratic elections occur. Among the more significant concerns is that if these parties do gain power, it will result in the loss of achievements previously won for women’s rights. Participants also noted with alarm the occurance of retaliatory – and often violent - acts against women, including numerous incidents of rape and sexual harassment, reports of virginity tests (performed by the armed forces in Egypt), and a call by fundamentalist groups for women to return home and leave the public spaces for men.

Participating feminist organizations agreed that collective and concerted efforts are necessary given the new threats facing women, particularly in terms of loss of earlier gains and achievements. As such, new strategies and tools for analysis and interventions are needed. Current and upcoming constitutional reforms present a golden opportunity for women’s advocacy for upholding women’s rights and entitlements as well as equality and social justice. Consequently, feminist solidarity in the region is now more imperative than ever.

The group agreed to continue working collectively, as well as to support current feminist initiatives aiming at influencing constitutional reforms processes as well as advocating for women’s representation and mechanisms for substantive equality in the post-revolution and/or transitional states.

Participants also reflected on the June 17th meeting organized in Tunis by independent Tunisian feminist organizations, which resulted in the drafting of the Tunis Declaration. The Declaration calls for normative and substantive equality between women and men, as well as constitutional and legal reforms which will establish mechanisms prohibiting any form of discrimination. The outcome of the meeting in Beirut was an agreement to adopt the Tunis Declaration as a shared and guiding framework of action, and to collaborate closely with this initiative in order to challenge what seems to be a general trend of excluding women from formal representation, as well as from the agenda of post-revolution processes.

S:SSO to Sakai