Statement by Arab Women’s Organizations Participating in the Preparatory Meeting for the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York in 2013
Women from the Arab region participated and continue to contribute as equal partners to men in popular movements demanding democratic change. The effects and impact of these movements, which call for freedom, justice, equality, and dignity in view of laws protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups within the framework of a modern democratic civil state, constituted a turning point in the lives of the region’s people.
Unfortunately, the rise of political conservatism and religious fundamentalism allied with tribal agendas within the guise of the pro-democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria, has resulted in a backlash on women’s rights and their equal participation in society. Moreover, women and girls in the region are facing new forms of organized political violence, which often fail to be punished by the State and which the State has failed to effectively protect them from, including sexual harassment, gang rapes, and intimidation linked to their civic engagement. As a result, the rights and achievements of women have been severely undermined, and women have been marginalized and bullied from fully participating in public life, as well as from making key decisions in their private lives.
This backlash was demonstrated throughout the constitutional process in Egypt. First, women were excluded from the core committee assembled to propose amendments and taken out of key discussions. Next, the assembled committee took out provisions from the existing constitution that guaranteed equality between women and men, criminalized trafficking in women and girls, and allowed women control over and ensured women protection of their own bodies. Moreover, the new constitution adopted in December 2012 granted the state and the community the right to monitor morality, thus allowing extremist fundamentalist groups the right to restrict individual freedoms.
In Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, new regimes are seeking to replace the terminology and principle of equality by adopting weaker language that designates women as complementary to men and makes it easier for the State to justify future non-compliance with policies and conventions that affirm women’s equal human rights with that of their male counterparts.
We, the women of the Arab countries, consider the full and complete equality between women and men to be the foundation for progress and change towards democratic transformation. The following rights must be guaranteed for the standards of human rights to be upheld in these new regimes: freedom, dignity, and social justice. These are in line with the rights that were fought for in the Arab Uprisings and which women, men and youth continue to fight for today. We recognize that sustainable development and lasting peace and security cannot be achieved and rather, will be severely compromised, without the full and equal participation of women. We must also emphasize the inclusion of women in achieving social justice during transitional phases in the Arab countries is an essential launching point for protecting the civil, economic, social, cultural, political, and health rights of women.
We stress the need to urgently address and outlaw all forms of discrimination, violence, exploitation and marginalization on the basis of gender in both public and private spheres, including the undermining of women’s personal freedoms and their physical and psychological security. All forms of violence exercised against Arab women under occupation or in conflict or post conflict situations or in political transitions should be stopped. We emphasize Palestinian women’s right to protection and security and an end to the Israeli occupation. Women’s civil, political, economic, social, cultural, health and reproductive rights must be respected and enforced as stipulated in the various international human rights instruments, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the agreed upon plans, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women, the Millennium Development Goals and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960 (which are all part of the international legal and normative framework on women’s rights).
We believe that the international legal and normative framework is critical in advancing the rights of women in our region. While there are forces at the national level which threaten to undo all the progress that has been achieved on women’s equality, our priorities are (i) using the international conventions that guarantee women’s rights to inform national constitutions and (ii) providing mechanisms for protection from violence, whether physical or psychological violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriage, spousal abuse, marital rape or any other form of violence against women and girls. Another area that needs critical attention are personal status laws of our countries that have entrenched gender discrimination at the most fundamental unit of all societies: the family.
On furthering the agenda on ending violence against women, while we fully endorse and support the international legal and normative framework on protection and promotion of women’s rights, we believe that there needs to be a global focus on implementation of this framework. We need a global implementation plan on violence against women which incorporates concrete, common targets, including laws and their implementation, commitment of resources, institutionalization of work on violence against women in national frameworks, and special measures for countries in transition. Such a plan would create greater accountability and hopefully fast-track the implementation of the existing norms and frameworks at the national level.
We look forward to this very important meeting to enhance the UN’s role in protecting and advancing women’s rights, and call upon the member states to commit to a global implementation plan to end all forms of violence against women and girls.