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UNIFEM’s ‘Progress of Arab Women 2004’ report

Under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdallah, president of the Arab Women’s Summit, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Arab States Regional Office launched the “Progress of Arab Women 2004” report.

Around 400 individuals including ministers, members of parliament and representatives from Non- Governmental Organizations, UN agencies and the donor community, attended the launching.

During the opening ceremony, UNIFEM’s Regional Program Director, Dr Haifa Abu Ghazaleh welcomed Her Majesty and conducted a presentation highlighting the key findings of the report.

Furthermore, students from Princess Basma Youth Resource Center performed a sketch demonstrating women’s struggle for gender equality, specifically in the areas of education and economic development. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Her Majesty Queen Rania was presented with a copy of the report by Dr Abu Ghazaleh. The key objective of this report is to serve as a tool for identifying unfulfilled promises and for revisiting current strategies and program of actions for protecting women’s security in Arab States.

This report, which provides an insight to the world of Arab women and the progress achieved throughout the years, opens with a brief overview of what is focusing on human security means and how such a focus relates to the history of women’s movements within the region.

Three levels of action in the region are investigated in the report towards women’s empowerment: The policy level where international commitments are being made, the operational plans and actions at the national level, and most importantly, the achievements and challenges in terms of the everyday lives of women.

Moreover, the report reflects the experience of Arab women in the context of social, economic and political security in a region that continues to face traumas and insecurities including radical social transformations, demographic transitions, economic waves of affluence, poverty and stagnation, and acute resource shortages as well as occupation, war and civil strife and dissention. In the context of Social Security, the report examines families, which are vital social institutions, valuable cultural assets, and an integral part of the Arab identity in light of social transformations and demographic transitions. Revisiting family codes and state practices which make women’s citizenship contingent on family relations, reforming welfare regimes so that they accommodate the needs of women, and regulating labor markets with gender sensitive and flexible mechanisms are proposed as three key elements of social security.

Labor trends have been identified as having an effect on social security especially in light of the low participation of women in the labor force in the region. Economic Security as introduced in the report refers to the need to protect people through the provision of job opportunities and a secure income.

Economic security is more than satisfying basic needs other than nonmaterial aspects, including personal autonomy, economic rights and effective participation in economic life. The report explores possible explanations for the consistently low share of women in the work force, including discriminatory practices entrenched at economic and social levels in addition to the impact of globalization, economic reforms and structural adjustment programs adopted by most Arab countries in the early 1990s which have led to the deepening of inequality, and increased risks for women’s security.

Women’s contribution to the economy is often unrecognized and under-appreciated whereby in most Arab countries, women’s work in the informal sector fails to be registered in national censuses and accounts. Education, training, micro finance and access to other loan and financial resources have been identified as means for enhancing women’s opportunities for income generation yet the issue of social safety nets remains crucial for ensuring protection during economic downturn. “Securing Politics” chapter re-examines possible explanations for the low political participation of women in Arab states. The chapter suggests that women are not active in politics because the political domain is not a safe and secure place for women’s participation. In addition, the report emphasizes the positive trends towards achieving international benchmarks of international conventions (such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Eliminating of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals).

And although the chapter attempts to examine the obstacles facing women in the political domain, it does acknowledge and emphasizes the number of successful professional women in executive positions in a variety of Arab countries and also acknowledges the increase in Arab women’s representation in national parliaments, the establishment of the Arab Women’s Organizations and the rising role of NGOs.

The chapters of the report are founded on the fundamental importance of achieving women’s security, an objective that can only be achieved through social, political and economic changes that translate into real differences in the lives of women in the Arab world.

Amman,07 27 2004
The Star
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