Women Rights in the Middle East and North Africa
Women rights refer to all the rights and freedoms that every woman is entitled to, including those relating to her health, family life, property and personal autonomy. The idea is to ensure that women are not discriminated against, have equal access to economic opportunities and education, can make choices about their own lives, and can have control over their own destinies. Women’s empowerment is vital for transforming economies, societies and the world. This has been demonstrated time and again by the success of grass-roots women’s organisations, which can bring about lasting change in communities by securing land rights, ending violence against women, supporting education, promoting economic development and providing health services.
However, despite these achievements, many women still have a very difficult time living their lives on an equal footing with men. For example, 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded equal economic opportunity because of legal barriers that restrict their work or prevent them from earning enough money to support themselves and their families. Additionally, around 95 countries pay women lower wages than men for the same jobs.
Despite these challenges, progress towards gender equality has been made over the past decade. Majorities of both men and women in nearly all surveyed countries say that women have made more progress than they did 10 years ago. In addition, most people say that it is very important that women have the same rights as men in their country. Across the 34 countries surveyed, a median of 94% say this is very important. This includes all but one country (Sweden) in the developed world and a majority of respondents in the Middle East and North Africa, where a large share (71%) of women believe that they have more equality with men than 10 years ago.
This is largely because of the progress that has been made in five nations in the region: Bahrain mandated equal pay for work of equal value; Egypt enacted laws against domestic violence and on gender-based discrimination in financial services; Kuwait prohibited gender discrimination in employment; and Saudi Arabia lifted restrictions on women driving. Moreover, the new Sustainable Development Goals that have replaced the Millennium Development Goals include an ambitious target to end gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation. But governments need to go beyond rhetoric and implement concrete action plans in order to achieve these goals.
Women’s groups and organisations play a key role in advocating for women’s rights and driving political commitment to advance these goals. But only when women have their rights guaranteed in practice – from economic rights like equal pay and land ownership to human rights including health, education and safety – will the world move closer to the vision of a prosperous and peaceful future for all. The time to act is now. This is why it is so encouraging that global leaders are committing to a new set of goals for 2030, which embed gender equality and specifically include targets on ending discrimination against women and girls, including in the workplace.