While Arab countries form a region rich in potential and resources, they are amongst the least advanced in matters of equality between women and men. Progress achieved in certain areas, through the efforts of women’s movements, pales into insignificance in the context of flagrant discrimination and violence perpetrated against women in all spheres of life, both public and private.
Today, in the overwhelming majority of countries in the region, laws regulating family life constitute a system of exclusion and discrimination against women. The negative impact of these laws are reinforced by other bodies of legislation (Nationality Codes, Criminal Codes etc.). These laws violate the most basic rights and the most fundamental freedoms of women and girls. Such is the case where girls can be married as minors, where polygamy is permitted and practised, and where women are deprived of equal rights in mariage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance. In the majority of countries in the Arab region, women cannot transfer their nationality to their children. In certain countries, the law permits, implicitly and in the name of honour, male family members to kill women, by allowing the man to benefit from mitigating circumstances, under provisions applying to so called ‘honour crimes’.
In the same vein, it is rare that the law protects women from discrimination and violence, particularly in the domestic sphere. It is even rarer for states in the region to put in place temporary measures to counterbalance glaring deficits in the participation of women in political and public life, or to implement policies promoting a general culture of equality.
The majority of Arab countries have ratified, though belatedly, the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), with the exceptions of Sudan, Qatar and Somalia. However, ratifying CEDAW does not have a concrete impact on the status and situation of women in the region for two main reasons:
– States in the region have entered reservations to core provisions of the Convention, in particular articles 2,9,15 and 16; and
– Ratification has not generally been accompanied by the necessary strategies and measures to bring public policies and national legislation into conformity with the spirit and the provisions of CEDAW, including those in respect of which no reservation has been entered.
In this context, human rights organisations and women’s rights organisations from throughout the region united in Morocco in June 2006 to launch the Rabat Appeal for the regional campaign « Equality without reservation ». Today, this campaign continues and is gaining force both at the international and regional levels to demand from governments in the region to take immediate action for:
– The ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the withdrawal of all reservations;
– The implementation of the CEDAW Convention and the harmonisation of national legislation with its provisions on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights;
– The ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, as an essential instrument to ensure its implementation and to reinforce the fight against violence against women and violations of women’s rights, individual and collective, in Arab Countries.
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