Analysis: Arab Spring nations backtrack on women's rights, poll says

Mon Nov 11, 2013 8:08pm EST
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By Yara Bayoumy

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab women played a central role in the Arab Spring, but their hopes the revolts would bring greater freedom and expanded rights for women have been thwarted by entrenched patriarchal structures and the rise of Islamists, gender experts in the countries say.

Almost three years after popular uprisings toppled autocratic leaders in one of the most conservative corners of the world, a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on 22 Arab states showed three out of five Arab Spring countries in the bottom five states for women's rights (for the methodology behind the poll, please see

Egypt emerged as the worst country to be a woman in the Arab world today, followed closely by Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Egypt scored badly in almost every category, including gender violence, reproductive rights, treatment of women in the family and their inclusion in politics and the economy.

Arab Spring countries Syria and Yemen ranked 18th and 19th, respectively - worse than Sudan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and insurgency-hit Somalia, which scored better on factors such as political and economic inclusion, women's position in the family, reproductive rights and sexual violence.

Libya and Tunisia came in 9th and 6th.

But while the situation is dire, some activists saw reasons for optimism. For one thing, the revolts led more poor women and those on the margins to be aware of their rights.

Women's rights have traditionally been a concern of the "intellectual elite" in Egypt, where many are illiterate and live below the poverty line, said Nihad Abul Komsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights.

"We used to suffer from the fact that talk of women's rights came across as talk ... limited to the creme-de-la-creme ladies of society," she told Reuters.   Continued...

Women shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany