Push for women’s rights brushed aside in Middle East upheavals

As conflicts continue in Libya and the surrounding regions, women’s roles in these revolutions are starting to become more publicized. We’ve highlighted before the active role women took in the protests in Egypt. However, women’s success in pushing for equal rights has not always been as successful as their pushes for new government systems.

Time Magazine reported that in Libya, women lawyers were among the earliest anti-Qaddafi organizers in the revolutionary stronghold of Benghazi. This week, thousands of women marched in support of the no-fly zone. The BBC reported protests across Yemen for International Women’s Day, amidst the country’s other issues of political unrest.

However, Tunisian women organizing a post-revolution rally were met with cries to “return to the kitchen.” The Christian Science Monitor reported that over 200 men violently attacked a march in Cairo for International Women’s Day. In Egypt, the 10-member Constitutional Committee, which was tasked with coming up with constitutional amendments for the new president, didn’t include a single woman; Tunisia’s transition government likewise only appointed 2 women. An article in the new Egyptian Constitution also effectively limits the presidency to men.

CNN reported similar trends towards post-revolution exclusion. Even in Bahrain, where since 2006 women have been able to vote and hold many more rights than neighboring countries, women’s rights, especially concerning family law, are not on the table. Under the old Tunisian government,  women enjoyed nearly all the same rights as men, and they made great strides in all fields including law, medicine and media. Now, some fear the country could see a regression in women’s rights under the new leadership.

Even in Iraq, as a fledgling democracy begins to take shape, women are being left out of the political arena. The New York Times reported that women have less political influence today than at any time since the American invasion. Only 1 ministry is led by a women, compared to 6 between 2005 and 2006. Ashwaq Abbas, a female member of Parliament from the Kurdish Alliance bloc, told the Times that  “democracy should also include women, and the rights of women should be developed as the democracy here develops. But what’s actually happened is that the rights of women have gotten worse over time.”

In Egypt and across the region, as more countries begin to deal with political unrest and calls for revolution, women’s rights have yet to be seen as a just cause for equality, and rather as a special interest agenda. Mozn Hassan, director of the Cairo-based group Nazra for Feminist Studies, said this to TIME:  “Women’s activists have to change their dynamic, and engage with larger political issues. But we don’t expect it to be easy. Tahrir Square was a utopia, and society doesn’t change in fifteen minutes.”

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

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