such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. The publication also focuses on otherdevelopments outside the Arab world, amongthem Iran’s successful family planning pro-gram and the changes experienced by womenin Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. A longer version of some of the speakers’ pre-sentations, the compilation
Middle Eastern Women on the Move,
and other papers dealing with gender issues in the region can be foundon the Middle East Program’s website(www.wilsoncenter.edu/middleeast).
Based on a Wilson Center presentation March 7,2005.
This overview examines the main achievementsrealized and obstacles hindering the advance-ment of Arab women since the 1995 BeijingConference,
as well as the challenges facingthem in the next decade.
Main Achievements in the Status of ArabWomen
Laws and Legislation
Therehavebeen enactments of newlegislationand activation of existing legislations that areinfavor of women. They can be summarized asfollows: amending and issuing Family Law (Morocco); modernizing personal status codes(Tunisia) including divorce and nationality (Egypt); revising employment laws in favor of women; amending social security nets and ben-efits to include women; reviewing penal codesrelating to honor crimes; implementing com-pulsoryprimaryeducation acts for boys andgirls (most Arab countries); introducing thequota system to ensuregreater representation of women in parliaments (Jordan, Palestine, Iraq).
Access to International Conventions
Seventeen out of the 22 Arab countries havebecome signatories to the Convention on theElimination of All Forms of Discriminationagainst Women (CEDAW),
with all but six of them stating reservations on a number of arti-cles within the Convention [see chartpage 4].The reservations aremainly related to the con-flict between national legislation and
.R eservations are on six articles: Article 2, onnational legislation and constitution; Article 7,on public life and political rights; Article 9, oncitizenship law; Article 15, on equality in legaland civil rights; Article 16, on Family Law (marriage and family relations including mar-riage, divorce, and inheritance related toIslamic
); and Article 29, on dispute set-tlement between parties to CEDAW.
Most Arab countries had upheld suffrage rightsfor women bythe 1960s and early 1970s. Somearestill fighting for these rights. Some countrieshaveadopted special temporarymeasures suchas the quota system in order to ensure higherrepresentation of women in parliaments. Forinstance, women occupy 35 parliamentary seatsin Morocco and Sudan, 30 seats in Syria, and sixseats in Jordan; and there is a quota of 25% inIraq. InSyria, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, andDjibouti, women occupy between 10% and12% of the seats, with Syria registering the high-est representation. Thus, between 1990-1994and 2005, women’sshareof parliamentaryseatsgrewfrom an average of 3.9% to 6%. Also, women ministers havebeen appointed for thefirst time: six in Iraq; four in Algeria; three inOman, Jordan, and Tunisia; two in Bahrain,Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, and Lebanon; andone in Yemen, Qatar,Djibouti, Libya,Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and theUAE. Women havebeen appointed as judges forthe first time in Egypt, and the percentage of women judges in other countries, such as in
Beijing + 10: Arab Women at a Glance
By Fatima Sbaity Kassem,
Director, Centre for Women, United Nations Economic and SocialCommission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Beirut, Lebanon
1. The Fourth World Conferenceon Women was held in Beijing,China September 4-15, 1995.There the Beijing Declaration andPlatformfor Action was adopted.Among its goals is to ensurethe fullimplementation of the human rightsof women and of the girl child asan inalienable, integral and indivis-ible partof all human rights andfundamental freedoms (Article 9).2.The Convention on the Eliminationof All Forms of Discrimination againstWomen (CEDAW), adopted in1979 by the UN General Assembly,is often described as an internationalbill of rights for women. It defineswhat constitutes discriminationagainst women and sets up anagenda for national action to endsuch discrimination.