Arab women's political
participation "is only symbolic" - UN report
dpa German Press Agency
Published: Thursday December 7,
Sana'a- The political process in Arab nations is still far from
representative of women and their needs and concerns, as their political
participation is generally still symbolic and limited, says a UN-sponsored
report released Thursday. The Arab Human Development Report, a project sponsored
by the UN Development Programme, said the nature of women's participation in
governments of Arab states has generally been only symbolic, limited to smaller
portfolios and conditional.
The report, the fourth in a series began in 2002, said Arab governments enable
"a few notable women to occupy leadership positions, without extending
empowerment to the broad base of women."
It said pressure for the greater inclusion of women in the political process has
increasingly come from Western governments and international organizations,
producing changes that have often been "more symbolic than substantive."
The report, entitled Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World, noted that
Arab governments accepted the formal incorporation of women into political life
"on condition that they remain a mute, motionless presence."
For many Arab rulers, said the report, the issue of women's political rights
became a type of "democratic facade."
According to the report, that was prepared by around 100 researchers and
intellectuals, Arab leaders offered an "easily manipulated symbol for countries
that wanted to escape political criticism of their undemocratic conditions."
The report said women's participation in senior levels of government remains
"largely cosmetic" with a few women in high- profile positions "without much
The report says that "real decisions in the Arab world, at all levels, are in
the hands of men."
Women's roles, the report argues, are symbolic - one or two female ministers in
most cases; limited to smaller portfolios like women's or social affairs
The UN Assistant Secretary-General Amatul-Alim al-Soswa addressed the report's
launch ceremony in the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
She said the report had an important and clear message that "the rise of women
is in fact a prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparable from the fate of
the Arab world and its achievement of human development."
That rise is mainly hindered by two dominant forces inside Arab states,
according to the report.
The first are the autocratic secular regimes, who manipulate women's issue
depending on their political interest. The second, is the rise of Islamic
movements in the.
"The Islamist's true difficulty with women is not linked only to their discourse
and conservative view of women's place in society, but to their broader
ideology," the report said.
"The challenge before the Islamist's vision of women is how to develop an
Islamic alternative that can coexist with differing or opposing trends and
advance women's position forcefully in discourse and practice not as a result
of, but as one of the conditions for, building the Islamic society that they
desire," it added.
The reports' authors recommended that the quota-form female representation in
political institutions should be widely used throughout the Arab world as a
first step toward broader equality.
The quota system have led to a significant presence of women into parliaments in
Iraq, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia, said the report.
Arab women also cannot achieve equal status without the elimination of a
profound knowledge deficit resulting from "deep inequality between the sexes in
booth access to and the quality of education," the report said.
"Despite tremendous spread of girls' education in Arab countries in the last
five decades, Arab women remain poorly prepared to participate effectively and
fruitfully in public life by acquiring knowledge through education," it added.
Even amid signs of progress like increasing enrolment rates and better test
scores for women, the report points out that the Arab world remains in the lower
ranks internationally in the education of women, especially at the higher levels