Page 24 - FSJ_May12

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F
OCUS ON THE
A
RAB
S
PR ING
W
OMEN AND
THE
A
RAB
S
PRING
24
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 1 2
ew people will soon forget the im-
ages of people taking to the streets of Tunisia, Egypt,
Libya and Yemen, and now Syria, to overthrow auto-
cratic regimes. These images belie long-held notions of
the lack of popular democratic aspirations in the Arab
world. So, too, did images of women, standing along-
side men, undercut stereotypes of voiceless, invisible
Arab women.
In Tahrir Square and Change Square, and on the
streets of Tunisia and Libya, women and men marched
together to demand change and a new order. These
were the actions of people seeking a new political fu-
ture.
Life under these repressive regimes had become so
difficult that many believed only revolutionary change
could remedy the situation. And for women, things
were particularly difficult.
The Gender Gap
The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap
Reports show that the quality of economic and political
participation for Arab women declined in the years
leading up to the Arab Spring. No Arab country ranked
above the bottom seventh in either the 2010 or 2011 re-
port. The United Nations Development Programme’s
own Arab Human Development Reports confirm that
the exclusion of women from public life has been a
prime factor undermining overall economic progress
across the region.
According to the WEF, while some Arab countries
have closed the educational attainment gap between
men and women, the economic opportunity or partici-
pation and the political empowerment gaps grew
steadily between 2006 and 2010. Even Tunisia, where
women secured legal equality and the education gap has
been closed for decades, ranked only 107 out of 134
countries in 2010. In the five years before the 2011 rev-
olution, it had slipped 17 spots in the rankings.
Objective evidence shows these countries are still
lagging behind global trends that increasingly recognize
the value of empowering women. Although Tunisian
women comprised the majority of college graduates
under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, they
have faced significant barriers in attaining key decision-
making positions in politics, the civil service and busi-
ness. Only one woman was formally employed for every
2.6 men, and their average earnings were less than a
O
NE OF THE CHIEF LESSONS OF THE
PAST YEAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS THAT
DEMOCRACY IS EVERYONE
S BUSINESS
.
B
Y
M
ELANNE
V
ERVEER
Melanne Verveer has served as Ambassador-at-Large for
Global Women’s Issues since April 2009.