Women’s rights advance in Mideast, North Africa — to a point

Although women’s rights have undergone significant reforms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), legislative change is not enough, according to the authors of a collection of briefs released by the Baker Institute.

“Despite critical advancements, many challenges remain,” wrote Kelsey Norman, fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Instiute and director of the Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Refugees Program, as the editor of the collection.

“One difficulty facing women’s rights groups is ensuring the effective implementation of laws, and another is changing patriarchal mentalities and cultural norms around women’s economic and societal roles,” she wrote.

Many countries in the region adopted gender quotas that sought to mandate the election of women to parliaments, according to Norman. However, she argues the formal mandate for women to participate in politics can lead to the “co-optation of women into autocratic systems of governance, or to a backlash against female politicians and a regression of women’s rights.”

Credit: 123rf.com/Rice University

The uprisings in 2011 brought international focus to women’s social movements in the region, but according to Norman, less attention has been paid in the decade since, despite continuous work.

“Grassroots mobilization on a variety of topics related to women’s rights — from ending sexual harassment and domestic violence to ending gender discrimination in inheritance laws — has continued from below in order to put pressure on governments, institutions and societies,” she wrote.

The eight briefs address different facets of women’s mobilization in the past decade. Using case studies, the contributing authors — who include scholars and activists from Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine and Jordan — examine which spaces for women’s mobilization have opened and which have closed. The authors look critically at how movements are adopted into formal politics and policy, as well as their efficacy.

The collection includes briefs titled “Gender Matters: Women as Actors of Change and Sustainable Development in Morocco,” “Women’s Grassroots Mobilization in Lebanon: A Firsthand Account” and “Women in Action in Tunisia.”

The compilation is based on the “Women’s Grassroots Mobilization in the MENA Region Post-2011” workshops held in Rabat, Morocco and Amman, Jordan, in February and March 2020.

About Avery Ruxer Franklin

Avery is a media relations specialist in the Office of Public Affairs.