CAIRO: Violence still persists against women in the Arab world, who continue to face challenges in their political and economic representation in high, middle and low income countries, a UN report concluded.
The Consolidated Arab Report on the Beijing Platform for Action: +15 was prepared by the ESCWA Center for Women and the Women’s Department within the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States, based on national reports issued by 17 Arab countries.
"The Arab region comprises three categories of countries, namely: high-income countries, middle-income countries and low-income countries," explained Aida Bouras, ESCWA’s regional advisor in Lebanon, in a roundtable discussion last week.
“In most countries, the law does not differentiate between both genders; however, practically speaking we can see the differences,” she said.
According to the report, “Arab women are still responsible for all their family members, which makes it hard on them to balance between their family role and their productive role, particularly given that the state fails to recognize women’s efforts in family care economy and to provide governmental services or sufficient policies that take into consideration the different roles undertaken by women.”
Accordingly, women in Arab countries face some negative cultural traditions as well as practices and customs contradicting with Islamic laws and codes that hinder the advancement of women and achieving gender equality, which constitutes an obstacle in terms of implementing a core change in this context, the report stated.
"There are legislative gaps in some countries, in particular family and personal status laws, that entail discrimination against women and place them in a lower status than men, which makes it indispensable to reform them in a way that grants women their full legislative rights and contribute in achieving justice and equality between genders," explained Fatma Khafaga, European Union advisor and author of the report.
According to Hoda Badran, chairperson of the Alliance for Arab Women, there has been a backlash after women started claiming their rights as evidenced by the increase in divorce rates and in incidents of violence both within the family and on the street.
“Every four minutes, a woman is divorced in Egypt,” Khafaga said.
Badran further explained that another challenge facing women is the gap between women in the different socio-economic classes.
“We need to review the curriculum we address other women by, in order to help them become more open to talk and fight for their own rights and narrow the gap,” she said.
On the other hand, the report also highlighted strides women were able to achieve.
High income countries as well as some of the middle income countries succeeded in providing many fundamental services to women, such as health, education, shelter and micro-loans, which led to a noticeable improvement in both women’s education and health levels, compared to low income countries.
The roundtable discussion highlighted positive initiatives in Egypt, including the Social Fund for Development which offers small loans and microcredits to women.
It also cited the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement which aims at promoting peace and security as well as adopting measures to alleviate the effects of armed conflicts and ensure women’s participation in the decision-making process to prevent conflicts.
The report is the third Arab Regional Report since the fourth World Convention on Women in Beijing in 1995. It aims at reviewing and evaluating the progress made in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action in terms of assessing the achievements realized with regard to gender equality, empowering women, highlighting current obstacles and challenges, defining appropriate strategies to put an end to obstacles, and achieving the advancement of women and equality in all countries.
However, according to Khafaga, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia and Libya failed to submit their reports.
She added that information on the status of Iraqi women was collected from other recent reports.
The report is presented every five years.