Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/10)
UNDP: Arab women face double portion of suffering
their equal status, Arab women are not realising their full potential
and are denied equality of opportunities, while many are not encouraged
to develop their capacities on an equal footing with men. This was revealed
in the UNDPís Arab Human Development Report 2005 launched recently in
Yemen. The following article discusses the main points raised in the
UNDP Report and is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development
Monitor (SUNS) # 6160, 12 December 2006.
Development: Arab women
face double portion of suffering, says UNDP
By Nabil Sultan,
IPS, Sana'a, 8 December 2006
Women in the Arab world are not realising their full potential and
are still denied equality of opportunities, says the UNDP's Arab Human
Development Report, pointing to obstacles ranging from certain cultural
aspects to armed conflict and terrorism.
Entitled "Towards the rise of women in the Arab world", the
report was launched in a ceremony in Sana'a on Thursday, sponsored by
the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in cooperation with
the Yemeni government.
The report argues that the negative situation of women represents not
just a problem for that half of the population, but is a barrier to
progress and prosperity in Arab societies as a whole. It commends some
Arab states for "significant, progressive changes" in addressing
the fundamental gender biases prevalent in the region. Yet it cites
a range of obstacles to equivalent development, from merely cosmetic
reforms with little real effect, to violent conflict, foreign occupations
In 2002, the first Arab Human Development Report identified women's
disappointment as one of three critical deficits crippling Arab nations
in their quest to return to the first rank of world leaders of commerce,
learning and culture. Today, the unequivocal necessity of securing for
Arab women a fair chance to thrive has reached primacy as a pre-condition
"Human development requires more than economic growth alone. The
fight against poverty is not a campaign of charity - it is a mission
of empowerment. This is especially true as regards women, given that,
of the world's one billion poorest people, three-fifths are women and
girls", said UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis.
"Full participation and empowerment of women, as citizens, as producers,
as mothers and sisters, will be a source of strength for Arab nations
and will allow the Arab world to reach greater prosperity, greater influence
and higher levels of human development," said Dervis.
"To embrace the courage and activism of women in the Arab world
is to champion the catalysts of human development. Hard-won gains in
women's rights are the culmination of decades of committed engagement
by generations of women's rights campaigners and their allies in governments
across the nation," said Amat al-Alim al-Soswa, UN Assistant Secretary-General
and UNDP regional director for Arab states.
The report asserts that despite Arab women's equal status under international
law, their demonstrated talents and achievements in different spheres
of human activity, many are not encouraged to develop and use their
capacities on an equal footing with men.
"In public life, cultural, legal, social, economic and political
factors impede women's access to education, health, job opportunities,
citizen's rights and representation," the report contends.
The text argues that "foreign occupations" and the "war
on terror" have been the strongest inhibitors for many Arab citizens,
women and men.
"Women have endured a double portion of suffering under foreign
occupations," the report says. "In many cases, the basic rights
and freedoms of Arab citizens have continued to be violated."
The report hints that such a constant impasse in the region due to an
unsafe environment, which terrorism and foreign occupations have created,
may push the region further towards extremism and violent protest in
the absence of a fair system of governance at the global level that
ensures security and prosperity for all.
Although the UNDP document affirms that some achievements have been
secured in most Arab countries, it still warns that political reform,
at every level, must go beyond the cosmetic and the symbolic: "In
all cases... real decisions in the Arab world are, at all levels, in
the hands of men."
The report says that the Islamic movements have in reality been in many
cases at the vanguard of women's empowerment.
"In the last five decades, the internal dynamics of these movements,
their relationship to mainstream society and their positions on vital
societal issues, on human rights and on good governance and democracy,
have undergone significant, progressive changes," the report explains.
However, such positive developments have not cancelled out other currents
outside the mainstream Arab society that could seek to curtail freedom
and democracy if they came to power, especially with regard to women,
according to the text.
The report affirms that a transformation is occurring in the Arab world,
as women's issues increasingly are permeating intellectual and cultural
"Contemporary media such as the internet, chat rooms, satellite
television channels and their specialised programmes are based on the
power of open public dialogue, quick communication and accessible communities
of thought and practice. For women, they open up a new avenue of liberation
that allows them to occupy spaces they couldn't have entered via conventional
In its chapter on women's political participation, the report says that
the political process in Arab nations is still far from representative
of women and their needs and concerns. But it praises the social pressure
for women's rights as it has made some positive changes.
"The nature of women's participation in government has generally
been symbolic, limited to smaller portfolios and conditional,"
the report says.
The report contends that some Arab governments resist empowering women
because of fears that expanding the participation of women in politics
will disperse power more widely throughout society, reducing the dominant
current leaders. It recommends that quotas for female representation
in political institutions, successfully adopted by some countries like
Iraq, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia, as it says, should be widely used
throughout the Arab world as a first step toward broader equality.
The UNDP's Arab Human Development Report 2005, the fourth and said to
be the final one after three reports - for the years 2002, 2003 and
2004 - maintains that the rise of women requires a broad and effective
movement in Arab civil society aimed at achieving human development
"This movement will have two levels: the first is national and
will involve all levels of society in every nation, while the second
is regional and will be founded on trans-border networks for coordination
and support of regional efforts to empower women," the report asserts.
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