• Saturday, November 1, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Completing the Revolutions for Arab Women: Coalition Building by Karama

    Women protesting in Syria. Credit Karama

    The world continues to watch the Arab Spring as we head for 2011/12 winter, with some trepidation. Although one woman Tawakkul Karman of Yemen from the Region has been honoured with a Noble Peace Prize, all those women who took to the streets, blogged, tweeted, risked lives and made the revolution happen may well find themselves struggling against a backlash. During the revolution activists such as Esraa Abdel Fatah (known as “Facebook Girl” after organizing a nation-wide strike through her page in 2008) commented on how women were not violated during the protests. But now there are stories of women harassed and attacked once more post revolution the fight to end violence against women has to be an ever-vigilant demand.

    Arab women are well placed to continue the struggle to be heard and counted politically and to end violence against women. Karama is one regional network responding to those needs through alliances building and strategic advocacy with grassroots and professional women. Launched in 2005, Karama, which means dignity in Arabic, has formed a network for collaboration and advocacy against violence against women in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Palestine. In each country and across the region, Karama has undertaken advocacy campaigns to urge policymakers to change discriminatory laws and build the capacity and leadership of women activists. From promoting local campaigns demanding legal reform to using international conventions and multilateral bodies to monitor and pressure national governments, Karama and its partners are working to create a new legal framework that will carry forward the promise of the Arab Spring as they promote equal human rights for all in the Arab Region.

    The MDG3 Fund in a timely fashion has supported Karama’s efforts to reduce violence against women and to increase the participation of women in the public sphere through a regional Arab women’s movement in eleven countries across the Middle East and Northern Africa.

    Taking a holistic approach to ending violence against women Karama looks at how to change all aspects daily life that lead to violations of women’s rights: economics, politics, law, health, media, education, and art/culture. Using the international instruments such as the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women CEDAW the Beijing Platform for Action, and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, Karama has helped the fight for women’s rights in the Arab region with important successes for example compliance with CEDAW in Lebanon and parliamentary support to end domestic violence in Jordan.

    In the wake of the Arab revolutions, Karama is being called upon to play a key role in raising the profile and expand the influence of Arab women as leaders in regional and international contexts. Though the Arab Spring seemed to hold the key to bringing women’s freedoms to the forefront of a new political agenda it is proving a difficult autumn/winter for the women in the Arab region who fought the revolution. Women were ready for the Arab Spring, but as events in Egypt and Tunisia indicate the transition to gender equality is not proving so easy.

    For example, when the Tunisian moderate Islamist party al-Nahda claimed victory in October 2011, many observers wondered what will this victory mean for Tunisia’s historical legacy of women’s rights? Is this an opportunity to redefine the roles of both women and men? Will the citizens of Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Region, have women’s rights and feminism on their agenda? Before the election there were some positive signs when with the help of groups such as Karama’s advocacy and lobbying in September, Tunisia became the first country in the region to withdraw all its specific reservations to CEDAW opening the door for a more liberal family code. But, as UNRISD’s analyst Kristine Goulding suggests, the challenge will be to confirm a collective belief in women’s capacity to help rebuild the country’s social fabric and economy. *

    Karama is working to ensure women’s advocates take up the opportunities offered by the Arab Spring. In September 2011 the network hosted with the Swedish Institute of Alexandria  a workshop on ‘Electoral Processes to Incomplete Revolutions: Women and the Arab Revolts, Eight Months On’.

    In Egypt, Tunis, and Jordan the focus is on how to rebuild the political landscape, hold elections, and reform existing constitutions. In other areas
of the region, including Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the violent clash between state and anti-government protesters continues. As next steps are taken to reform old regimes, the future of the region requires groups like Karama to ensure that civil society engages in recommending strategies to end economic injustice, poverty, unemployment, political stagnation and human rights abuses. Most of all it is crucial that women’s rights are not left off the agenda. This requires ensuring women’s political participation, guarantees to protect women and ensure their safety in areas of conflict, while reforming laws the enshrine women’s equal status with men in all areas of life.

    * See Arab Spring, Islamist Summer … Feminist Fall?

    • http://www.feministpeacenetwork.org/2011/11/09/rape-as-a-weapon-of-war-in-libya-new-permutations-on-an-old-theme/ Rape As A Weapon Of War In Libya: New Permutations On An Old Theme » Feminist Peace Network

      [...] While we celebrate their activism, we need to be mindful that this in and of itself does not secure women’s rights as part of the change taking place in the Middle East.  In August I was asked to write a piece for the Women’s International League for Peace and [...]

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