NEW DELHI, India, May 11 (IPS) – When it comes to gender equality and development, the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) and the Arab States region continues to be in a paradoxical situation. While within the region, several laws, policies and programming focused on gender equality are growing, women’s representation in government jobs, corporate roles, and national programming seem to be dismissed. Healthcare, education have seen improvement, most countries have become tech inclusive as well, but access to hospitals and educational institutions –at times due to social programming or gender-related policies continues to prevent women from accessing them and using them.
Gender-based human rights assault and violence dominates and devastates the lives of women across the region. Whether it is arbitrary arrests by governments, abductions, assassinations, so called “honour” killings, online trolling, abuse, being denied right to safe abortion, lack of engagement and inclusivity of women in politics, peace and security in the country, women continue to face entrenched discrimination.
In a series of conversations on The Sania Farooqui Show which recently partnered with Doria Feminist Fund and IPS News to bring out powerful voices of women in the MENA region, the CO-CEO of the organization, Zeina Abdul Khalek said, “Doria Feminist Fund seeks to create a feminist ecosystem where the new generation of feminist movement in the MENA region has access to more and better funding and resources which enables the development and sustainability of its activism to advance the rights, wellbeing and security of all women & LGBTQ+ individuals and groups.”
More than 40 million women between the ages of 13 and 44 live in states with restrictive abortion rights, costing those economies $105 billion, according to Women’s Policy Research. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic only made the situation worse. According to RAWSA, unsafe abortions have increased by about 10%, as access to contraception and safe abortion – which most often takes place abroad, have been restricted since the beginning of the pandemic.
United Nations Office of Human Rights High COmmissionar (OHCHR) states that “women’s sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination. The committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimnation against Women (CEDAW) have both clearly indicated that women’s right to health includes their sexual and reporductive health. This means that states have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil rights related to women’s sexual and reproductive health”.
While one watches states, governments, societies across the MENA region fail women by not supporting them, it is a few women like Mozn Hassan and Dr Hajri who dare to do so.
Sania Farooqui is a New Delhi based journalist, filmmaker and host of The Sania Farooqui Show where she regularly speaks to women who have made significant contributions to bring about socio economic changes globally. She writes and reports regularly for IPS news wire.