Panel Discusses Human Rights of Arab Women

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

Panel Discusses Human Rights of Arab Women


PANEL DISCUSSES HUMAN RIGHTS OF ARAB WOMEN

The Middle East Institute and Sisterhood is Global Institute co-sponsored a panel discussion on Arab women's human rights in Washington, DC, on Sept. 30. Women from three Arab countries who presented their perspectives were: Asma Khader, coordinator of Sisterhood is Global Institute's human fights education program in Amman, Jordan; Marlyn Tadros, managing editor of People's Rights and Women's Issues, and deputy director of Legal Research and Resource Center for Human Rights in Egypt; and Afifa Dirani Arsanios, public information officer in the U.N. Development Program in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Middle East has faced suffering from many wars and occupations and has had little time for dealing with human rights issues, Asma Khader began. "Because human rights issues are often considered Western values, many women reject them," she said. "But freedom, justice and human dignity have always been valued in our religious history. Human rights belong to us all, not just to Westerners."

Khader stressed the importance of women exercising their citizenship duties to vote and participate in political activities. Sisterhood is Global teaches women at the grassroots level about their human rights, such as the right not to be beaten.

"Their daily problems are human rights and they have the right to change [their lives]," Khader said. "We've spent decades working with the elite. Educated women already know their fights and prefer to find their own solutions for themselves -- usually through their jobs." But they don't necessarily help their poor sisters attain their rights.

Marlyn Tadros described the four obstacles women's groups face in Egypt. The first is the government, which withholds licenses to work if it doesn't agree with the group. There are 17 human rights groups in Egypt now, all working illegally.

The second obstacle is that the groups have difficulty getting along among themselves, Tadros said. She agreed with Khader that the greatest obstacle is that human rights are often called a Western issue.

"We always try to convince women it's a universal concept," Tadros said. "We always say we're not pro- or anti-American because every time the U.S. works for Israel-vetoing important issues, approving settlements-this ends up discrediting our group."

The last obstacle, fundamentalism, is the least of the problems, Tadros said, because "we can deal with fundamentalist concepts through debate. …

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