KULU at EMHRN Gender Working Group Meeting in Cyprus

The uprisings in the Arab and North African region (MENA region) has so far not resulted in a strengthening of the rights and positions of women. In the workshop entitled “How to guarantee women’s rights in the political transitions in the Arab world: Developing joint strategies” organized by EMHRN and MIGS, strategies were discussed on how to address secure and strengthen women’s rights. The Danish gender and development network KULU-Women and Development, a WIDE+ platform member was present with Chafia Alliche.

With the Arab uprisings, many changes were expected to take place in favour of women’s rights. Since women demonstrated shoulder to shoulder with men during this time of transition to demand the right to democracy, social justice, freedom, dignity and equality.

However, a significant decline and regression of women’s rights are witnessed in the Arab World since the uprisings. Women are still excluded from the transitional structures and decision making processes. This includes their exclusion from drafting new constitutions. And they have even been subjected to high levels of gender–based violence, particularly rape, torture, virginity testing and imprisonment such as in Bahrain, Tunisia and Egypt. Many women’s rights organizations and associations are facing restrictions by the governments and are under constant attacks and threats by the fundamentalists such as Salafi groups, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt.

25 activists representing human rights and women’s rights organizations and associations from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Spain, France, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, gathered in Nicosia, Cyprus, on 26-28 April 2012. They participated in the workshop entitled “How to guarantee women’s rights in the political transitions in the Arab world: Developing joint strategies” that was co-organized by Euro-the Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies (MIGS) to discuss how to mobilise and join forces to counteract this worrying trend in the MENA region (the region of the Middle East and North Africa).  I was happy to see that men were also among the participants and that they were sharing the same concerns regarding women’s current situations in the region.

In the opening ceremony, which took place on 26 April, the Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Marcoullis Kazakou, the Head of the European Parliament Office in Cyprus Tasos Georgiou and the new Head of European Commission Representation in Cyprus George Markopouliotis made an opening address to the attendees and expressed their commitment to ensure the protection of women’s rights. “Cyprus, implementing international treaties and EU directives, is proud of its long-standing record of active commitments to ensure the protection of women’s rights, their empowerment and their role in development”, said the Cypriot Foreign Minister and added: “comprehensive road maps and national, regional and international action plans should be accelerated for institutionalizing efforts across the world to promote and protect women’s rights, as well as expand women’s empowered participation in politics, economic and social development and of course in making and keeping peace”. She also said: “in order for the effort to be successful, the participation of all members of society is essential and both governments worldwide and the civil society should work together towards this end”.

In the workshop, the participants not only underlined the importance of promulgating gender-sensitive constitutions and legal frameworks in the MENA region, but also of securing and increasing political, social and economic rights of women across the MENA region, and of eliminating gender- based violence as well. Other issues that were debated concerned funding cuts, the role of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in protecting and promoting gender equality in the Euromed region and how to implement international instruments of human rights in the transitional period.  Additionally, they agreed unanimously on the need to reevaluate the Istanbul and Marrakech framework as well as the need to strength solidarity between the international, regional and national NGOs.

The participants concluded that what is needed is defining strategies to secure and strengthen women’s rights for each context and to reinforce the solidarity between the international, regional and national NGOs. So that women’s efforts in “the revolution” and social change movement should not go in vein as happened in the previous revolutions (i.e. Algeria and Iran).

Chafia Alliche, KULU-Women and Development.

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