Experts discuss women in the Arab Human Development Report

Deena Douara
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Experts on women’s issues gathered at the Arab League Thursday to discuss the 2005 Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) focused on the “Empowerment of Arab Women.

The results were grim. “There is no disputing the fact that [we require] amendments to laws . and first amendments to cultural attitudes, said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa in his keynote address.

He added that the report showed that Arab women were often treated as “second class citizens, the most underdeveloped even in comparison to other developing nations.

He spoke shamefully of Egypt’s deficient educational system for both genders. “We can’t compete in the world today.

But he admitted that there was development across the region, even if slow, pointing to the recent participation of women in Egypt’s higher courts, as well as Kuwait, Morocco and Mauritania’s political systems.

He also noted as positive the fact that the AHDRs continue to be published yearly despite opposition and criticism.

Much opposition comes from Arabs who believe the reports are Western projects with Western standards imposed on the study itself. General Manager of the Arab Women Organization Wadouda Badran acknowledged the criticism and tried to mitigate such concerns, saying that those behind the report were “diverse, and “balanced. She also called for an “enlightened reading of religion.

Amat ?Al-Alim Alsoswa, UNDP regional director, noted that women’s empowerment was a step towards more general human development.

“When Arab girls have the rights to education, they are more distinguished than the men, she said.

She lamented the fact that many women work in the informal sector, where they receive neither salaries nor wages.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Nour Farahat, who helped prepare the AHDR, told The Daily Star Egypt that he thought the great numbers of women working in the informal sector was encouraging because it meant that “Arab women play a considerable role in the informal Arab economy which is not recorded officially, and may be central.

He said “nothing was discouraging about the report’s findings, and that it will and has encouraged official authorities to promote popular awareness of the negative aspects of Arabic culture with regard to women.

Key findings from the Arab Human Development Report

. One main problem hindering development is negative reaction to political reform

. Claim to reform viewed by some as a cover to maintain status quo of continued oppression

. Women were dealt double violations under foreign occupation

. Reformers and human rights activists in most Arab countries have become the target of oppression

. Most traditional views of women’s role were tied to idea that male is main provider and women’s employment not highly valued

. A variety of factors impede women’s equal access to health, education, job opportunities, citizen’s rights and representation

. Traditional upbringings and discriminatory family and personal status laws perpetuate inequality and subordination

. Islamic movements have often been the vanguard of women’s empowerment, although it is unclear to what extent women’s freedom may be curtailed if brought into power

. Polls reveal a public desire for greater gender equality

. Contemporary media forms facilitate women’s participation and empowerment

. Family and labor laws are advancing in terms of gender equality, while other forms of national legislation, especially with regard to personal status laws, are still discriminatory

. There is a profound knowledge deficit resulting from unequal education, despite the fact that girls outperform boys in schools when given opportunities; still in 2002-03, girls’ enrollment exceeded that of boys in some Gulf countries, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Tunisia

. One half of women in the region are illiterate, compared to one third of men

. Equality between the sexes in higher education has been achieved in 12 Arab countries

. Quotas are bringing more women into parliament but roles in government decision-making remain cosmetic and restricted

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