IGOHR Celebrates the International Women’s Day March 8th 2017
The International Gulf Organization for Human Rights (IGOHR) is delighted to join women movements around the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day this March 8th 2017. IGOHR stresses that it a day not only to recognize and honor the achievements of women but also to highlight the plight of women facing obstacles while they challenge the status quo and excel despite the hurdles. It is equally a day to expose the sufferings women – especially those in Arab countries – experience in difficult situations such as in armed conflicts.
The celebration of women’s day to credit women who advocate for their rights dates back in 1909 when the American Socialist Party honored a group of women who protested for better working conditions during a garment worker’s strike in New York. But it was until 1975 (the International Women’s Year) that the United Nations declared and began celebrating March 8 as the International Women’s Day. Since then, there have being several campaigns advocating for equal rights for women and girls worldwide. In 1995, the Beijing Conference laid a historic foundation for this purpose in which a historic roadmap was established – the Beijing Declaration – to enable women and girls to make their own choices on issues such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination. This Declaration has helped many women to break many barriers and make many meaningful contributions in different works of life.
Yet, with the numerous problems that plague our world today, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Women and girls around the world have continuously faced gender-based violence and discrimination and many are uneducated compared to their boys’ counterparts. their situation is even worse in times of wars and armed conflicts such as in some countries in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). During armed conflicts, women and girls bears the greatest burden as most of them are subjected to physical and sexual violence as well as dare humanitarian crisis. In the course of the civil war armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq and Palestine; an increasing number of women are losing their lives in crossfire battles, women have been arbitrary detained, sexually assaulted, physically abused and tortured by both government forces as well as armed opposition groups. the governments of these countries have failed to address these issues and punish perpetrators of these cruel acts, hence breeding a cycle of impunity. Consequently, the legal, social and economic status, physical safety and dignity of women and girls in these regions are constantly under serious threats.
In addition, the dire humanitarian conditions in these countries have added to the burden of these women as they are forced to flee their homes and live in areas which are unconducive to their health and wellbeing. Most of these women and girls have limited access to healthcare and education which will have a negative impact on their families and communities as well as the future generations. In Yemen for example, the maternal mortality and female literacy rates are relatively high than in other middle eastern countries. Early child marriages are also on the rise in Yemen, thus contributing to the high rates of maternal deaths and female literacy.
Sexual harassment and honor killings of women is equally on the rise in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. For example, according to a 2013 survey by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women on sexual harassment, 99.3 percent of Egyptian women are believed to be sexually harassed either physically or verbally while 47 percent of all homicides with female victims were cases of honor killings. The unemployment rate and economic power of women is far lower than that of their male peers. Female Genital Mutilation and female sex trafficking in the Arab region has also increased in recent years.
The International Gulf Organization for Human Rights reiterates that all these difficult situations experienced by women in MENA are in violation of their rights as stated in the Beijing Declaration and other international treaties and conventions related to women. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) prohibits all forms of violence and discrimination against women and calls for equal rights for women in employment, education, politics, healthcare access and more. The majority of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa have ratified these treaties and bills but have failed to recognized their obligation to respect the rights of women. They have failed to empower women enough so they can reach their full potentials with fewer exceptions.
Nevertheless, a number of women and girls have challenged the status quo and advocated for more rights for their fellow women. These include the young Pakistani activists Malala Yousafzai who is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner. She was given the prestigious award in recognition of her efforts in advocating for the rights of girls to education. Wided Bouchamaoui, a Tunisian businesswoman is another example. She is the leader of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet which won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.
A country who is making the effort to grant equal opportunities for women is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In the UAE, women constitute 70 percent of university graduates and hold about two-thirds of government jobs including 30 percent of senior and decision-making positions, which is the highest rate in the Arab region. The UN equally ranks the UAE highest in the Arab world on gender equality and 43th globally. It is also one of the first Arab countries to have a woman as head of the National Federation Council. IGOHR uses this opportunity to commend the leadership of the UAE in its efforts to empower women to reach higher highest and to encourages other Arab countries to emulate their example.
Therefore, in celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day under the theme ‘Be Bold for Change’, IGOHR calls on the international community represented by the United Nations to increase their efforts in empowering women around the globe to achieve a better world by 2030. Empowering women to reach their full potentials will have a positive impact on their families, communities and future generations. IGOHR further urges the UN to proactively engage in a peaceful dialogue with all parties involved in civil wars in the MENA and to put an end to armed conflicts in the region which will go a long way to lessen the burden on the already dire situation of women. The UN needs to work collaboratively with government authorities especially those in the Middle East and North Africa to enact laws and comprehensive programs that will not only prevent all forms of violence and discrimination against women but also enable them to have more access to quality education, good healthcare services and equal employment opportunities for women. To sum it all, equality for women means progress for all.