Women, peace and security in the Middle East and North Africa

Julie Diallo Gender, Inequality

Women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) face many difficulties and inequalities in their daily lives, and conflict in the region only exacerbates the situation. Julie Diallo and Sariah Ghazzaoui introduce the first in a series of new webinars on gender justice hosted by Oxfam’s Regional Gender Justice Programme, exploring peace and security for women.

“(…) now, people are scared […] for example, two months ago, when they said [ISIS] is coming, we all wanted to evacuate from our cities, and at least to bring our families to a safe place, because of the way they took girls, these girls and these women, and all this news how they are raping them and taking them, made everyone to be scared.”

This is the voice of an Iraqi activist who speaks out for the realities of many women and girls living in conflict. He shows how sexual violence is being used as a weapon. For several years, political upheaval, instability and conflict have been on the rise in the MENA region and have been preventing women and girls from enjoying and exercising their basic human rights. The fact that the number of Syrian refugee women has reached 2.3 million by the end of December 2015, which is slightly higher than the number of male refugees, is yet another illustration of how women and girls are paying the price of conflict. A recent study stresses that in Jordan, 28% of households surveyed have reported to have left Syria fearing violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. 

2015 was an important year for women and girls. The world ‘celebrated’ the anniversary of the resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security adopted by the Security Council in 2000; this landmark resolution was the first initiative that highlighted the need for women’s protection from all forms of violence in conflict as well as their full inclusion in the processes of conflict prevention and resolution. Even though resolution 1325 creates a clear road map for the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, governments and international organisations have failed
to put their commitment into practice. This year, yet another resolution was adopted, UNSCR 2242 which reinforces the importance of women’s protection, leadership and active role in decision making. 

Significant gaps in legislation and implementation on ending VAWG persistThe MENA region is indeed no exception to the global epidemic of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and many countries are still failing women and girls by not adequately addressing this issue. Significant gaps in legislation and implementation on ending VAWG persist; according to OECD “almost two-thirds of countries (in MENA) lack legislation on sexual harassment, rape or domestic
violence”. In some countries, these gaps are translated into high prevalence rates of VAWG and in pervasive social norms that fuel the acceptance of VAWG. In 2013, Harrasmap, an Egyptian organisation, revealed that 99.3% of women in Egypt have experienced either sexual harassment or violence. 

Even though women’s participation is recognised as a prerequisite for sustainable peace and inclusive societies, some countries in the MENA still lag far behind in women’s participation in the public sphere. With only 17% of women parliamentarians, the MENA has one of the lowest regional averages. This limited participation further hinders the fulfillment of their economic and social rights.

Looking at women’s representation and participation in peace making processes, both states and the UN system in MENA have yet to ‘walk the talk’ in terms of increasing women’s participation in peace processes. In 2014, none of the delegations which participated in the Geneva Conference II on Syria included women. Additionally, in 2015, the global average of women in peacekeeping missions has remained at 4%, a similar percentage to that registered for the four UN peacekeeping missions in Middle East and North Africa. 

Fifteen years and seven resolutions after UNSCR 1325, women are still mostly affected by conflict and still have little say in peace processes and decision making processes. 

Webinar information (updated)

Oxfam GB’s Regional Gender Justice Programme is launching a series of webinars that will look at gender justice issues relevant to our work towards advancing gender equality and women’s rights.

Watch the first webinar: Women, Peace and Security: Reflecting on UNSCRs 1325 and 2242 – What are the ways forwards for the MENA region? An audio file is also available in Arabic

This online discussion brought together experts, women’s rights organisations and partner organisations to focus on the latest global commitments on the WPS agenda and country experiences in advancing women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict settings. 

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Photo caption: Zahia Fandi, Sarah Fandi and Hanadi El Omari fled the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Author: Julie Diallo
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.