BEIRUT: Female leaders play an important role in Lebanon and the Arab world, but experts at an international conference warned Monday that regional turmoil has interrupted the push for greater political participation and stymied efforts to improve women’s situation.
Regional upheaval has greatly affected efforts to promote greater gender equality, according to experts attending the conference, entitled “Women Leaders as Agents of Change: The Role of Women in the Changes Taking Place in the MENA Region.”
The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University organized the event in partnership with the Middle East Partnership Initiative of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department.
“This conference is very timely considering the situation of women in the area,” IWSAW director Samira Aghacy told The Daily Star. “I strongly believe we need this conference to raise awareness [of the need] for women to work together to find solutions to their deteriorating situation.”
The conference, which will run through July 30 at Hamra’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, brings together scholars, researchers and activists from different countries and areas of expertise to share their research and experiences.
Women across the region have long faced challenges in the preservation of their rights, but Aghacy contended that the conference was more important now than ever.
“With the rise of radical Islam, the persecution, rape and killing of women in the area, and the situation of refugee women in Lebanon ... all these issues are contemporary and very timely. I believe that the situation of women is much worse than it used to be,” she said.
The conference is tackling a number of issues, including legal, political, and cultural reforms stemming from the Arab uprisings, according to materials provided by organizers. Conferees will also investigate various measures to protect women’s rights and improve their situation.
Tuesday will see panel discussions entitled “Human Rights Concerns and Violations in the Arab Region,” “Women’s Political Participation & Activism During and After the Arab Uprisings/Revolutions,” and “Changes Impacting Women in the Arab Region.” A variety of other panel discussions are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
Aghacy said the conference provides an opportunity for “networking, getting in touch with people and coordinating our efforts with women not only in Lebanon, but in the Arab world around us and internationally.”
Ambassador Moushira Khattab, an Egyptian diplomat and rights activist, also stressed the importance of the connections forged at the event.
Khattab, who previously served as Egypt’s family and population minister, told The Daily Star that the networking provided by the conference could help activists to lobby for women’s rights across the region.
“Today, it is very important for us in the Arab world to raise our voice to the world, and not just keep things between ourselves.”
She said the region is at war with radicalism and attempts to degrade the status of women, and stressed the importance of educating women and providing them with avenues to political office, saying that removing obstacles to their participation would improve society as a whole.
But Khattab also expressed her disbelief and disappointment at how little the situation of women has progressed over the years, both in Egypt and across the region, with women forced to make the same demands for equality again and again.
“Women in the Arab world should know today that they’re being targeted ... and women’s rights organizations must unite, because they’re the ones who can create pressure and make change.”