Women played an integral role in the Arab uprisings, and the continued empowerment of women will be critical to the emergence of democracy in the region. Gender rights and women’s equality are among the most consequential and controversial issues facing newly elected governments across the Arab world. Some fear that the election of Islamist parties will turn back the clock on women’s rights, but others see more open politics as a new opportunity for efforts to achieve equality in the Arab world. How has the Arab awakening affected the women of the region? How are activists and politicians seeking progress for women in this uncertain and evolving landscape?
On October 25, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, with Vital Voices Global Partnership and the Project on Middle East Democracy, hosted activists from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan who are advocating for women’s rights in a variety of ways: combating child marriage, working to repeal gender-discriminatory laws, promoting gender equality in the new Egyptian constitution, and protecting the rights of women workers. Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
Countries like Brazil and Ethiopia have shown the dramatic progress that can be achieved through multipronged efforts. Successful strategies have included measures like targeted investments to help small farmers boost crop yields—which can bring a double-barreled gain of increasing farmers’ incomes while increasing food availability for others—to social support programs like school meals, cash transfers and seasonal employment initiatives that ensure even the poorest people can afford food during lean times.