Women's plight holds back Arab renaissance
* UN report says
proportion of women MPs in Arab nations lowest in the world
* Calls for reopening of some Islamic jurisprudence
GENEVA: Huge discrimination against women in the Arab world is holding back
overall economic prosperity and social development in the region, a United
Nations report said on Wednesday.
“An Arab renaissance cannot be accomplished without the rise of women in Arab
countries,” the “Arab Human Development Report 2006” said.
“Directly and indirectly, it concerns the well-being of the entire Arab world.”
The UN Development Programme’s report, which was compiled by Arab experts and
academics, said countries in the region must give women more access to the
“tools” of development, such as education and health care, and consider positive
In many nations, women’s exclusion is enshrined in laws that specifically
restrict their activities, even though the constitutions of most Arab states
would provide a basis to eliminate bias, according to the report.
“The business of writing the law, applying the law and interpreting the law is
governed above all by a male-oriented culture,” the report entitled “Towards the
rise of women in the Arab world” said.
“A complex web of cultural, social, economic and political factors, some
ambiguous in nature, keeps Arab women in thrall,” the report said, pointing to
“cultural hangovers” and the way societies are structured to deal with education
and the family.
Women’s rates of participation in economic activity in the Arab world are lower
than in any other part of the world, the report said. Female unemployment rates
are between two and five times higher than those of men in most Arab nations.
Less than 80 percent of girls attend secondary schools in all but four of the
Arab nations, with the highest rates of deprivation in the less economically
developed countries. One half of women are illiterate, compared to one third of
However, the report also highlighted some of the stark differences that exist
within the Arab world.
In Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, more girls are
enrolled at school than boys. Mediterranean Arab nations were frequently cited
as providing more rights for women.
Most Arab countries - except Gulf states - granted women the right to vote in
the 1950s and 1960s, and more governments have been appointing women ministers
in recent years.
However, the proportion of women parliamentarians in Arab nations remains the
lowest in the world, just ten percent, and female ministerial posts are often
“symbolic”, the report said.
Some of its authors argued that mainstream currents of Islam were not the key
factor hampering women’s empowerment, despite western perceptions.
But the report called for a reopening of some Islamic jurisprudence to reflect
the different dynamics of modern Arab societies and “fundamental Quranic verses
that recognise equality and honour human beings”.
Conflicts, foreign occupations, terrorism and the dominance of “conservative and
inflexible political forces” protecting “masculine culture and values” were the
biggest obstacles, it added.
Maternal mortality rates are “unacceptably high” in Arab nations, averaging 270
deaths per 100,000 and ranging from just seven per 100,000 in oil-rich Qatar to
over 1,000 in impoverished Somalia and Mauritania, the report said. afp