The revolutions that swept across the Middle East in 2011, known as “The Arab Spring,” promised greater freedoms for many in the region, including women. While there have been some advances in women’s rights, the promise in many cases has not been realized.
While the new constitutions in Egypt and Tunisia guarantee greater rights for women, the laws that keep women safe are often not enforced. On the one hand, revolution took conservative forces to the fore – which do not empathize with women at all. On the other hand, the new political ground empowers women and provides a chance for shift.
Turkey has often been at the forefront of women’s rights in the Middle East. But the recent rhetoric of Prime Minister Erdogan, and more conservative social norms encouraged by the Government have raised increasing concerns about equality for women. A quarter of Turkish marriages involve a child bride. Half of women over the age of 15 have reported abuse at home. Only 26% of girls graduate high school. These are just some examples of the challenges women’s rights are facing in Turkey.
While the Gulf is often considered more conservative when it comes to women’s rights, attitudes may be shifting. Opposite to these countries where revolutions jeopardized and even rolled back recently achieved rights for women, in Gulf’s Arab Dynasties people have seen greater social and political reforms.
According to Isobel Coleman, a Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, it’s important to remember that every country and the starting point for women in every country is really quite different. Arguably, in Tunisia, women were starting from the highest point – very high levels of education. Education eases women’s empowerment, and that is why in some lands women’s civil society groups organized, got people out, and denounced this as somehow code that “complementary” means not-equal, and really demanded language around equality, which they do have in the constitution.
Women rights are, then, a hot issue not only in Arab Countries but in the whole international community. To cite an example, UNESCO and the Government of Pakistan signed an agreement to support better access, improved quality and safe learning environments for girls in the hard-to-reach areas of Pakistan.