Arab Women and Political Development

Article excerpt

Abstract

Although many measures have been taken by the majority of Arab countries to enhance women's representation in decision-making positions, women's participation in public life and positions of power have not been achieved the desired level. The Arab region ranks the lowest in the world in terms of women's participation in parliaments. The objective of this paper is to examine the Political participation of women in the Arab countries and identify different challenges that impede Arab women participation in politics and decision making. Challenges include: cultural factors, the stereotyped image of women, women's low self-confidence, lack of coordination among women's organizations, effectiveness/efficiency of women empowerment programs, shortcomings in the institutional and legal frameworks, practices of political parties and election process, skepticism about the Agenda for Women empowerment, the process of development of Women empowerment strategies. Thus, challenges facing women in politics are immense. They require the consolidation of all efforts with great belief in women's capabilities as human beings who are able to lead and shoulder the responsibility in the building of their nations.

Keywords: Arab women in politics, Arab women and equality, Arab women in development

Setting the Scene at the Global Level:

During the last decades, the world has witnessed special International attention to women's issues, and devoted 1975 as the International Year for Women. The year of 1975 laid the groundwork for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) during the first International conference on women held in Mexico in 1979 (2). The Mexico conference was followed by other main significant international conferences on women held in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) (3). The pace of the attention to women's issues has accelerated in the beginning of the nineties, with the growing international concern about the persistence of discrimination against women and the marginalization of their role, the consequent waste of energy, and the disruption of the fundamental forces in the overall development process.

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 had the major impact on the emerging concern of gender issues. This was followed by the Beijing conference in 1995, which paved the way to strengthen women's participation in decision-making process and higher positions and endorsed the cumulative effect of the previous efforts of all conferences emphasizing on the states' accountability and commitment to adopt concrete plans of action that respond to Beijing's Platform for Action (BPFA) (4).

In further pursuit of women's rights, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) in 2000 clearly specified the importance of women development in its Goal 3; "to promote gender equality and empowerment of women." Other MDG's have not explicitly stated gender as a target; however, women's issues are addressed implicitly in many areas of the MDG's such as poverty, education, and health (5).

The Arab region was not in isolation from the global debate on women and human rights, where the political will has played a major role in enhancing Arab women development. Arab countries have witnessed major shifts over the past decade in political, economic, and social development.

The Arab region, comprises 22 states that are members of the Arab League, is defined by a complex set of issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and its repercussions, unstable economic conditions and trends, population-resource imbalances and environmental stress. The Arab Islamic cultural heritage and common Arabic language have preserved a unique character for the region and its peoples. Democratization in the Arab region remains a slow process which faces various setbacks including regional instability and conflict, economic imbalances, and the lack of freedom to engage in a meaningful democratic process. …