An interview with Lina Abou Habib, the Executive Director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action, a Lebanon based organisation involved in the regional Equality without Reservation campaign.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: Please tell us about your organisation, the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action (CRTD.A)
LINA ABOU HABIB: CRTD.A is a non-governmental feminist organisation based in Beirut, Lebanon and working across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Gulf region on the critical issues of gender equality, citizenship, economic rights and leadership. Our structure involves a network of women’s rights and feminist organisations across the region in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco and Algeria. CRTD.A is the country coordinator of the Equality without Reservation campaign. We are also the regional International Gender and Trade Network antenna. Our other campaigns include the Arab Women’s Right to Nationality campaign as well as the Women’s Work Campaign.
AWID: What is the Equality without Reservation campaign about, and why the name?
LAH: The Equality without Reservation campaign is a regional campaign covering the MENA and Gulf Region. The campaign calls for:
1) The lifting all reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
2) Ratification of the CEDAW Optional Protocol.
We chose this title for the campaign because we considered it quite pertinent. Indeed, all Arab States have signed and ratified CEDAW but under so many reservations that the purpose of the convention is defeated. We understand this to mean that Arab states have never meant to implement CEDAW hence the numerous reservations they have institutionalised to block any possible useful implementation.
In addition, we believe that you simply cannot have any reservation on universal principles pertaining to human rights and equality. You simply cannot place equality under reservation.
AWID: How did the campaign start?
LAH: The campaign was launched in June 2006 during a regional meeting called by our sister organisation in Morocco, the Association Democratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM). ADFM had called for this regional meeting to review the status of the implementation of CEDAW in Arab states. The regional meeting produced a statement entitled the Rabat Declaration in which Arab States were publicly denounced for having failed to implement CEDAW and for maintaining a situation whereby gender inequality remains persistent. The Rabat Declaration called on all Arab States to respect their commitment and as such proceed by immediately lifting the reservations they have expressed on CEDAW and signing the CEDAW Optional Protocol.
To date, the campaign steering committee includes women and feminist organisations from Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria. Each of these organisations is responsible for coordinating the campaign activities within its own country as well as contributing to the regional campaign.
AWID: What are the activities of Equality without Reservation?
LAH: The campaign includes country based and regional activities.
Our activities in Lebanon include:
* Awareness-raising to introduce CEDAW and its Optional Protocol as well as the campaign to civil society organisations, media and activists.
* Public events such as sit-ins and demonstrations;
* Press conferences and communication using mainstream media
* Organising petitions;
* Policy dialogue with parliamentarians, law makers and decision- makers;
* Regional and international networking and solidarity; and
* Monitoring and communication.
AWID: What do you count as your successes?
LAH: Perhaps for the first time, CEDAW has become a subject of public debate and Arab States are being held accountable by civil society organisations for implementing CEDAW and lifting their reservations. As a feminist organisation, we are simply appalled that CEDAW is not a binding convention and that there is absolutely no mechanism within the UN to make this convention binding. Given this deficiency, I believe that the main success has been in mobilising women and local organisations around CEDAW and its importance as a tool for accountability and equality.
We have also been positively surprised by the sustained interest of the media which has very much helped in supporting the campaign. Most importantly, Morocco has declared in December 2008 that it will indeed lift all reservations on CEDAW. This is a major success not just for Morocco but as a precedent for the Arab region. As CRTD.A, we have used this success to organise a major public event here in Beirut where we called for the Lebanese State to do the same.
Also, our close partnership and collaboration with the Women’s Learning Partnership has taken the campaign to a global level using various information, communication and technology advocacy tools.
AWID: What challenges have you encountered?
LAH: In the case of Lebanon for instance, we feel that the main challenge is the fact that politicians and political parties are not the least committed to the issue of gender equality. In fact, hardly a handful of politicians and decision makers are aware of CEDAW and of Lebanon’s commitment towards its implementation. Our hardest battle will be in pressuring parliamentarians and officials to actually do their jobs and uphold equality and inclusive citizenship.
AWID: What lessons can you share with other women’s rights advocates around the world?
LAH: All avenues and tools should be exhausted, particularly regional solidarity. Working together is a major element of success. We have seen in the past few years how conservative and fundamentalist movements are global and growing hence their extensive outreach. As such, movements for equality need to network closely and invest in ICT tools as well as solidarity networks and partnerships.
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