UNDP: Arab Human Development Report 2005 Toward the rise of women in the Arab world [Archives:2006/1005/Front Page]

December 7 2006

Compiled by: Yemen Times Staff
Women are making gains, but still not realizing their full potential in contributing to the prosperity and strength of Arab states, says the new Arab Human Development Report.

SANA'A, Dec. 7 ) Women's participation in development has become the number one precondition for development in the Arab world. In the first Arab Human Development Report 2002, women's disempowerment was identified as one of three obstacles to Arab world development. Today, four years later, the 2005 report raises the importance of women's participation to the top.

“Human development requires more than economic growth alone. The fight against poverty isn't a charity campaign – it's a mission of empowerment. This is especially true regarding women, given that of the world's one billion poorest people, three-fifths are women and girls,” said United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Kemal Dervis.

“Full participation and empowering women as citizens, producers, mothers and sisters will be a source of strength for Arab nations and will allow the Arab world to attain greater prosperity, greater influence and higher levels of human development,” he added. UNDP sponsored the Arab Human Development Report.

The report asserts that despite Arab women's equal status under international law, their demonstrated talents and achievements in various spheres of human activity and their priceless contributions to both their families and society, many aren't encouraged to develop or use their capabilities on an equal footing with men.

In public life, cultural, legal, social, economic and political factors impede women's equal access to education, health, job opportunities, citizens' rights and representation, the report contends. In private life, the report says traditional patterns of upbringing and discriminatory family and personal-status laws perpetuate women's inequality and subordination.

At the cultural level, the report maintains that the fundamental obstacle to the rise of women remains how to deal with certain conflicts between the requirements of a productive economy and internationally agreed-upon standards on one hand and traditions and customs on the other.

The report contends that foreign occupation and the 'War on Terror' have been the strongest inhibitors to development for many Arabs. “Women have endured a double portion of suffering under foreign occupation,” the report states, and in many cases, basic rights and freedoms of Arab citizens, extending from the right to life through civil and political rights to economic and social rights, have continued to be violated.

However, the report affirms that there have been some achievements, as most Arab nations now have a parliament, a cabinet or a local council, in whose assigned tasks at least one woman participates effectively.

This negative environment – in conjunction with the specter of extremist terrorism, which the report condemns in the strongest possible terms – damages prospects for a broad revival in the Arab world by impeding reform and obstructing opportunities for peaceful and just solutions to the occupation of Arab lands and the restriction of Arab freedoms and rights.

The report argues that a continued impasse over these matters may push the region further toward extremism and violent protest in the absence of a fair system of governance at the global level that ensures security and prosperity for all.

The UNDP report affirms that a transformation is occurring in the Arab world, as women's issues increasingly are permeating intellectual and cultural discourse. “Contemporary media such as the internet, chat rooms, satellite television channels and their specialized programs 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 print media,” the report asserts.

Still, the modern Arab women's movement too often is misconstrued as an import from the West; whereas in reality, the concept of gender equality has deep roots in the Arab region. For example, Egypt's first “women's educational society” was founded in 1881 with the key objective of raising public awareness about women's rights.

Under colonialism, the 1940s witnessed a surge in women's organizations, most of which dedicated themselves to issues like polygamy and women's educational rights.

The UNDP report maintains that the rise of women requires a broad and effective movement in Arab civil society aimed at achieving human development for all. Such a movement will be the means by which Arab women may empower themselves and their male supporters.

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.