After the Uprisings, Women's Rights Must be Upheld

December 1, 2011

By Tarah Demant, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence — “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women”— is a theme that resonates across the globe.  It’s especially timely in the Middle East and North Africa where we’ve seen unprecedented challenges to military regimes and repressive governments.

Throughout the region, women have joined with men in fighting against increased militarism and in calling for governmental and social reform.  We’ve seen women in the headlines of protest and revolution from Bahrain to Yemen, to Egypt to Tunisia and beyond.

While women have fought hard with men to oust oppressive regimes in the region, they are still fighting for their full and equal rights as women. A full commitment by all countries to women’s full and equal rights, especially the erasure of gender violence, is essential for global peace and stability.

Women have the same human rights as men.  What’s more at this critical time of change, women can be valuable peacemakers in post-conflict and post-militarization reconstruction. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, for example, was awarded to three women who have fought for peace and stability in their countries, and show us the critical role that women can—and should—play in peace and reconstruction, and in all political and civil life.

In Yemen, for example, women have taken an active role in the protests, but now with the news that President Saleh seems to have agreed to step down, the real test for women’s rights in Yemen begins, and women continue to fight to keep demands for their rights at the center of Yemen’s uprising.

In Bahrain, women have been a vital part of the protests there, yet women are still at particular risk: 33 women and girls who were arrested during pro-reform protests in September are feared to be at risk for torture.  Bahrain must live up to its treaty obligations under CEDAW and do more to combat discrimination and violence against women!

In Libya, women, like men, endured violence under Moammar Gadhafi, and also suffered gender-specific attacks and discrimination, so it’s no surprise that after women participated in the uprising that toppled the Gadhafi regime, they now rightly want a larger role in the new government.  While there are certainly many challenges facing the new Libya, those constructing Libya’s future must take measures that ensure the protection of and respect for the rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the Constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary.

In Egypt, many were rightly outraged to hear about the forced “virginity tests” of some female protestors, and yet few know about the degree to which women’s rights are daily violated in Egypt.  In Egypt, women faced discrimination, violence, and sexual harassment on a daily basis under Mubarak, and yet, in a post-Mubarak Egypt, these conditions have not changed for women.  A recent report by Amnesty details how hopes raised for women’s rights in Egypt have not been fulfilled – and women are still being largely excluded from taking part in shaping their country’s future. It is crucial that the experiences, needs, and views of women are integral to the process of change.

The United States has put a spotlight on women’s human rights in the Middle East and North Africa in the recent Senate hearing on “Women and the Arab Spring.”  Yet, the US’ words of support to women across the world ring hollow when the US is one of only six countries (including Iran and Sudan) to not have ratified the Women’s Rights Treaty (CEDAW).

Women have the right to peace and freedom from violence.  Join us during these 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence to find out more about how you can support the efforts of those in the Middle East and North Africa working for women’s human rights!