News from May 2011 Rabat Convening on Women and the Political Transitions in the MENA Region, and a Call for Action

 

 

On May 20, 2011, representatives from civil society, women’s rights organizations, international organizations, including UN Women, the public sector and the diplomatic corps from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, convened in Rabat for a regional seminar on Women and Democratic Transitions in the MENA region.

The seminar, organized by Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), the Equality Without Reservation Campaign --a coalition of women’s rights organizations, including WLP Morocco/ADFM and WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A -- and WLP, commenced with an address by the Moroccan Minister of Women’s Affairs, Nouzha Skalli, which included an exciting announcement. After years of tireless advocacy by the EWR, ADFM, and other women’s rights organizations and activists in the country, Minister Skalli announced that the Moroccan government is about to officially ratify CEDAW’s Optional Protocol.

Minister Skalli, well known for her commitment to gender equality and to women’s rights, also discussed the current challenges and prospects for equality in the current constitutional reform process in Morocco.

During the seminar, speakers and participants emphasized that this is a critical period for the advancement of women’s rights and full participation in society, as the region experiences rapid and uncertain changes, which will likely have an impact for decades to come.

Across the MENA region, countries are engaging in long awaited constitutional processes, with attention to women’s rights, and women’s inclusion in the process itself, varying state by state. Whereas Egypt has now voted through a national referendum on constitutional reform, feminist activists are wary that the reforms are insufficient, and that women’s rights are further threatened due to the absence of strong, egalitarian political parties with a clear social and rights based agenda.

Egyptian feminists have sent a clear message to the public, cautioning on the potential threats to women’s rights posed by the increasingly vocal and visible fundamentalist and conservative groups if they become further politically empowered. A similar warning was echoed by Tunisian feminists, who, despite gains made by the endorsement of parity in political representation by the transitional governing body, feel that vigilance must be exercised as remnants of the old totalitarian regime remain entrenched, and while Islamists gain political ground.

Feminist activists from Jordan and Syria drew attention to the unstable and uncertain situations in their countries, where women are actively taking part in public actions despite rising voices from Islamist groups demanding that women stay out of politics and public decision making.

Feminists from the MENA region noted that the small steps towards women’s equality made during the past era have been wrongly attributed to elites from the former regimes, when, in fact, the feminist struggle persisted as one of the few independent social movements for more than four decades, resulting in these gains.

The seminar ended with a positive and hopeful note from Morocco, where women make up five of the eighteen members of the Consultative Commission for the Constitutional Reform Coalition, and feminist organizations have created the coalition “Feminist Spring for Equality and Democracy.” This April, the Coalition issued a memorandum to the newly formed Commission, which included three key demands by the women’s movement:

• The primacy of international conventions, namely CEDAW, over national laws

• Equality in civil rights amongst men and women

• Substantive equality and institutionalization of affirmative mechanisms and measures for women’s equality.

The Coalition is calling on all regional and global feminist networks to endorse this demand and send a letter of support to the heads of the Consultative Commission.

In addition, Independent feminists in the MENA region are mobilizing to ensure that the current transitions will bring about gender equality. This summer, the Equality Without Reservation Campaign will hold two additional regional events in Tunisia June 17-19 and in Lebanon June 29-30.

We will continue to provide updates on these important transitions in the MENA region in the weeks and months ahead.

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