Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Egypt: Out of 22 Arab States, Egypt Rates Worst of All Countries According to Survey's 3rd Gender Report

According to Reuters, Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting and a surge in violence and Islamist feelings after the Arab Spring uprisings have rendered Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, a poll of gender experts showed on Tuesday (November 12).

Discriminatory laws and a spike in trafficking also contributed to Egypt's place at the bottom of a ranking of 22 Arab states, the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey found. 

Despite hopes that women would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the Arab Spring, they have instead been some of the biggest losers, as the revolts have brought conflict, instability, displacement and a rise in Islamist groups in many parts of the region, experts report.

COMMENT: "As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution, one against the various dictators who've ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruin our lives as women."

The Foundation's third annual women's rights poll is reported at:

 http://poll2013.trust.org

Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting and a surge in violence and Islamist feeling after the Arab Spring uprisings have made Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, a poll of gender experts showed on Tuesday (November 11).

Iraq ranked second-worst after Egypt, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Comoros, where women hold 20% of ministerial positions and where wives generally keep land or the home after divorce, came out on top, followed by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

The poll by Thomson Reuters' philanthropic arm surveyed 336 gender experts in August and September in 21 Arab League states and Syria, which was a founding member of the Arab League but was suspended in 2011.

Questions were based on provisions of the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which 19 Arab states have signed or ratified.

The poll assessed violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman's role in politics and the economy.

Experts were asked to respond to statements and rate the importance of factors affecting women's rights across the six categories. Their responses were converted into scores, which were averaged to create a ranking. (Visit poll2012.trust.org

Women played a central role in the country's revolution but activists say the rising influence of Islamists, culminating in the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as president, was a major setback for women's rights.

A UN report on women in April said 99.3% of women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt, which some analysts say reflects a general rise in violence in Egyptian society over the past half-decade.

Human Rights Watch reported that 91 women were raped or sexually assaulted in public in Tahrir Square in June as anti-Morsi protests heated up.

Respondents also cited high rates of forced marriage and trafficking.

"There are whole villages on the outskirts of Cairo and elsewhere where the bulk of economic activity is based on trafficking in women and forced marriages," said Zahra Radwan, Middle East and North Africa program officer for the Global Fund for Women, a US-based rights group.

Female genital mutilation is endemic in Egypt, where 91% of women and girls, 27.2 million in all, are subjected to cutting, according to UNICEF. Only Djibouti has a higher rate, with 93% of women and girls cut.

In Iraq, women's freedoms have regressed since the US-led 2003 invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the poll showed.

A decade of instability and conflict has affected women disproportionately. Domestic abuse and prostitution have increased, illiteracy has soared and up to 10 percent of women - or 1.6 million - have been left widowed and vulnerable, according to Refugees International.

In Saudi Arabia, ranked third worst, experts noted some advances. The Kingdom remains the only country that bans female drivers but cautious reforms pushed by King Abdullah have given women more employment opportunities and a greater public voice.

Since January, 30 women have been appointed to the 150-member Shoura Council, the nearest thing Saudi Arabia has to a Parliament - but the council has no legislative or budgetary powers.

Saudi Arabia's guardianship system forbids women from working, traveling abroad, opening a bank account or enrolling in higher education without permission from a male relative.

"Saudi society is a patriarchal society and all its laws pertain to the rights of men," said a Saudi legal adviser who defends victims of domestic abuse. "The woman is considered second class."

Syria's civil war has had a devastating impact on women at home and in refugee camps across borders, where they are vulnerable to trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence, experts said.

Rights groups say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have targeted women with rape and torture, while hardline Islamists have stripped them of rights in rebel-held territory.

In Yemen, ranked fifth worst, women protested side-by-side with men during the 2011 revolution and there is a 30 percent quota for women in a national dialogue conference convened to discuss constitutional reforms.

But they face an uphill struggle for rights in a largely conservative country where child marriage is common - there is no minimum marriage age - and the US State Department says 98.9% of women have faced harassment on the streets.

In Libya, ranked 14th for women's rights, experts voiced concern over the spread of armed militias and a rise in kidnapping, extortion, random arrests and physical abuse of women. They said the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi two years ago had failed to enshrine women's rights in law.

Women in 12th-ranked Bahrain are more active in political life than in many Gulf states, but experts said sectarianism was a barrier to rights following the Sunni regime's crushing of a pro-democracy uprising by majority Shi'ites in 2011.

In Tunisia, ranked best among Arab Spring nations, women hold 27% of seats in national parliament and contraception is legal, but polygamy is spreading and inheritance laws are biased towards males.

Along with Syria, all Arab League member states except Somalia and Sudan have signed or ratified CEDAW. In the absence of full statehood recognition for the Palestinian territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas symbolically endorsed the convention on behalf of both the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.

But protection offered by CEDAW is superficial, experts said. Signatories may raise reservations against any article that contradicts sharia (Islamic law), a country's family code, personal status laws or any piece of national legislation.

Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is leading the way on women's rights in the Arab world, the poll found.

Women are not under pressure to give birth to boys over girls. Contraception is widely accepted and supported by state-run education campaigns, while property is usually awarded to women after divorce or separation, experts said.