International Women’s Day takes place in our Arab region this year amid circumstances the likes of which we have not seen for long decades. These are circumstances of great socio-political change – the overthrow of systems of dictatorship, corruption and censorship. This day also occurs amid the continuing mobilization of hundreds of thousands of male and female citizens in multiple states in order to seize their liberty and completely reclaim their stolen rights.
Perhaps it is beneficial, given these conditions, to pause and contemplate Arab women’s reality and their great participation in the uprisings and mobilizations that are occurring. It is beneficial too, in exchange, to consider the golden opportunities to change their situation (starting with legislation) in light of the historic turning point we are experiencing. For this turning point holds new dynamics, great potential for political reform, and the emergence of new young urban elites open to the world and modern media.
It is worth considering the following:
- Laws governing nationality and women’s right to pass their nationality to their spouses and children, based on respect for their citizenship and their equality with men in this regard.
- Family laws and the necessity of changing those laws that are prejudiced against women in the areas of personal status and custody of children.
- Laws on pension, retirement, and disability, and their amendment to not discriminate between male and female employees.
- Penal codes, and the necessity that everything that has to do with so-called “honor crimes” be deleted, as well as clauses entailing “mitigating circumstances” that benefit criminals when they assault women.
- Laws criminalizing domestic violence and the necessity that they be developed, generalized, and enforced.
The drafting of new electoral laws in multiple Arab countries is an opportunity to focus on the importance of proportional representation (at least in the transitional phase) and on bringing elites from outside traditional frameworks into elected assemblies. Here the “women’s quota” should not be forgotten: this ensures the election of a certain number of female candidates in order to accustom voters to the presence of women in positions of leadership. This will, over time, help change stereotypes and preconceived notions about women. (Some reject such “positive discrimination” while claiming to be concerned that women candidates be elected on their own merit. As if “merit” is a condition for female presence in parliaments, while there is no problem with the competence of male deputies or their merits!)
The current moment in the Arab region is the product of a popular movement that has continued since the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. It is the result of the demolition of the wall of fear that long protected rulers and their regimes. It is a moment of maximal profit for reform ideas, including those related to women’s issues. It is a founding moment for democratic competition and the exploration of the balances of power in society among traditional structures, political parties, Islamist movements, secular currents, military elites, and the civil societies that are rising amid this change. Discovering these power balances allows accurate calculations to be made afterward.
If this moment is missed, it will be hard to properly discuss later anything that was ignored at the time. This is the case for multiple reasons, of which complicated socio-political processes, electoral preparations, power management, and the formation of alliances (and concessions) are only a few.
This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on March 9, 2011