Raya Abu Gulal
Last updated: 17 July, 2013

MENA countries ignoring their women?

Women will keep facing security challenges in the MENA in the next few years until governments adopt more effective initiatives, writes Raya Abu Gulal.

Women are facing growing security challenges in the MENA region due to structular changes within countries themselves, a general shift towards extremism and political uncertainty. This is particularly the case in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria where women are facing threats on their personal security on a daily basis. It should be noted that this is part of a continued detoriation in general security conditions within the above mentioned countries.

Several examples will be considered to better understand the nature of security threats on women. In recent events a group of women taking part in peaceful human rights demonstrations in Egypt and Iraq were violently attacked by extremists and security forces. In these cases police and army officers provided little or no protection. The reasons for these attacks remain unclear.

In a similar incident, an Egyptian NGO documented 19 assaults where women were being groped, violated, and had their clothes torn off during demonstrations in Tahrir Square on January 25. According to the same sources, no arrests were made for these flagrant violations.

Security issues on women cause a serious impact on society as a whole

In Iraq, women continue to face similar threats across the country. These include random attacks by extremist groups and honor crimes.  Moreover, various reports have showed that many Iraqi women who wish to participate in the political process are facing threats and kidnappings. Lack of security and initiatives from extremist groups have proved to be the main obstacle preventing advancement of women rights in the country.

Syrian women are facing serious threats to their personal safety inside and outside Syria, including numerous reports of rape, abuse and forced marriages. This is taking place inside Syria, amid the continuation of the civil war. It is also happening outside Syria, particularly in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.  According to recent reports, 400 Syrian women have been raped with 250 resulting in unwanted pregnancy.

In this major conflict, rape has reportedly been used as a method for control and humiliation by both sides as well as some of the authorities in the refugee camps. Also, forced marriages have been used as a tool to survive financially in refugee camps, whereby girls were sold for dowries to feed their other family members.  According to the UN Women report issued on June 20, more than 33 per cent of participants were married when they were still children.

Governments in these countries do not appear to be concerned with taking genuine steps to improve the security situation for women. This is due to war, as well as the bureacratic and inefficient nature of political processes there.

Security issues on women cause a serious impact on society as a whole, as well as affecting countries’ international relations and human rights records. This has also led to an increase in women suffering mental and physical problems and other acute illnesses, which further impact the society, families and the economy.

Women will keep facing security challenges in the MENA in the next few years until governments adopt more effective initiatives or conflicts come to  an end.  Some countries are in a better position than others to adopt effective policies to improve the security sitaution for women.

However, efforts should be made to offer more security for women, particularly in areas affected by war. Policy-makers on a national and international level should recognize the importance of security for women by increasing participation of women’s participation in decision-making, implementing actions by rewriting the penal codes to add gender violence definition and tougher punishments.

It is also important to note that a viable country cannot be built on the persecution of women, nor can any stable society. These countries cannot ignore half of their populations.

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