|Will people power empower women?|
Submitted by Nadereh Chamlou on March 20, 2011
The democratic movements sprouting all over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are arousing high optimism for greater voice and inclusiveness. Democracies are about sharing power, and about reflecting the will of the people through peaceful processes at the ballot box. But, will the will of the people and people power usher in greater gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly as women fought shoulder to shoulder with men for change?
MENA’s experience in the past three decades or so has been that regime changes resulted in backtracking on women’s rights. The Iranian revolution of 1979 is one example: most rights that women had painstakingly advocated for over a century, and acquired in the 1950s and 60s were immediately repealed after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, even before a new constitution was drafted. Today, Iranian women and civil society work hard to regain some of those lost rights. Iraq provides another example. This country appointed its first female judge in 1959--in a profession seen as a male domain across the world and in nearly every religion. But with the fall of Saddam, women’s rights were seen as a high priority for reversal, again before a new constitution was put in place. Women would have lost their rights, were it not for the immediate, concerted, and proactive efforts of international and local women’s rights groups to push for a 25 percent quota in parliament, and to prepare a cadre of qualified women candidates to stand for election and fill those slots.
Let’s look at some evidence. In 2008/2009, the Bank conducted a survey in the three cities of Amman, Cairo, and Sana’a on the working patterns of men and women. The three cities are a cross-section of the region as a whole. And, capital cities were selected because capitals can be better compared across countries, as they offer better access to infrastructure, connectivity, and their inhabitants are better educated, more cosmopolitan, and modern in comparison to the hinterland. The survey data covered 8,000 households and altogether 40,000 men and women across age groups, five income strata, and educational levels. Aside from individual and employment characteristics, questions were asked about attitudes and social norms.