By Olivia Alabaster for WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A
While the overwhelming majority of states in the MENA region have ratified CEDAW, (only Sudan, Somalia and Palestine are not states party to the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women) many have done so with reservations or without genuine implementation on the ground.
As part of ongoing efforts to support the end to such discrimination against women, the third annual gathering of the regional “Equality Without Reservation” is meeting in Cairo over the next three days to discuss the biggest challenges ahead and to share proposals on how best to move the campaign forward.
In the opening session Thursday, concerns were raised about the direction of women’s rights in many of the “Arab Spring” countries, in particular Egypt and Tunisia.
“This is the time when everybody forgets about women, conservative and liberal forces as well,” warned Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, a veteran human rights activist from Egypt.
“This period of transition is not for our benefit,” she added, urging that despite the pressures, these periods of change do also provide opportunities to move women’s rights forward, and that those voices who ignore women’s rights issues, “lose their chance to stand apart from the conservative forces.”
Dr. Mirvat Tellaoui, president of the Egyptian National Women’s Council also spoke of “backward forces” in the region. These forces are aimed at oppressing women and come in tandem with economic authoritarianism, she said, which requires cooperation across all states of the region to combat them.
Although CEDAW was first ratified over 30 years ago, if “rights do not have guards to monitor and implement them, they get lost,” Tellaoui said, and as such, continuous efforts are necessary to protect that the rights which CEDAW was designed to give women.
This ongoing work requires not just regional and international cooperation but a concerted effort by women’s groups to work together, without any sense of competition: “If we don’t unite, we will be done.”
“We have a long battle and what is taking place is falsification against the judiciary and the Islamic religion … Everything they are claiming about women is wrong.”