Arab Spring to take years to improve women's rights: activists

Tue Dec 4, 2012 5:18pm EST
 
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - The Arab Spring has failed to deliver greater political power to women in the region or to offer them better protection from sexual harassment, but may yet yield female-friendly reform, a conference on women's rights heard on Tuesday.

Human rights campaigners had hoped that women's involvement in protests that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya would lead to more power for women in Arab states.

The uprisings unseated a string of autocrats and triggered some change, including relatively free elections. But two years after the first uprising erupted, activists said women had seen precious few gains and that the rise of Islamist governments in the region was fuelling concern about growing conservatism.

Dina Wahba, an activist and coordinator of the Women's Committee in the newly established Egyptian Democratic Social Party, described recent changes in Egypt as "alarming", saying a proposed constitution drafted by only men would endanger women's rights and social justice.

The draft constitution will be put to a vote on December 15.

"It feels like two years have gone by and with all these sacrifices for nothing," she told the conference, organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune.

In Egypt, a quota for female representation in parliament has been abolished, while in Tunisia, quotas mean that 30 percent of assembly members are female. However, local rights groups complain that women ended up with only a handful of posts in a transitional cabinet of over 40 ministers.

Recent episodes of sexual harassment in Tunisia and Egypt, and the handling of these incidents were also of deep concern, women's rights activists said.   Continued...

 
A woman waits as security personnel close off a street leading to Al-Azhar mosque when Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi is in it performing the Al-Gomaa prayer in Cairo August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany