International organizations and multilateral financial institutions play important roles in advancing the status of women and girls worldwide. The United Nations and its agencies, such as the UN Development Program, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and others, have made strides in efforts to “mainstream” gender initiatives throughout their policies and programs. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in September 2009 to unify the four main organizations for gender equality into one unified entity. The new agency will unite UNIFEM, the DESA Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues, and INSTRAW under one roof. This move aims to strengthen international support for gender equality, reduce bureaucratic redundancies and inefficiencies as well as improve accountability a and oversight . There is also a call for increased participation by civil society in monitoring governments and international organizations to ensure that their respective programs are actually improving the lives of women and girls.
Testimony on the role of women in the Arab Spring by Tamara C. Wittes, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittees on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues and Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs,
Testimony Tamara C. Wittes Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions Senate Foreign Relations Committee Washington, DC November 2, 2011 Subcommittees on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues and Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs
Thank you Chairwoman Boxer, Chairman Casey, Senators DeMint and Risch and the other members of the Subcommittees for inviting me to speak to you today. I am honored to be here, and commend you for holding this timely and important hearing.
I would like to acknowledge the achievements of the women you have invited to testify in the next panel. Women have been at the forefront of the revolutions across the region, and I am grateful to hear their perspectives.
I am also very honored to be here with Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who is a tenacious and invaluable partner in our efforts to advance women’s empowerment and women’s inclusion – globally and in the Middle East in particular. She has already communicated the key point that Secretary Clinton has underscored throughout the Arab Spring – that the full participation of women is an essential ingredient for any democracy.
Therefore, we are committed to championing women’s full participation in the new democracies now emerging, and in the reforms that are underway across the region. The Administration’s whole-of-government approach demonstrates our belief that the women of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are essential partners in any successful transition.
The democratic transitions underway in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and the pressures for democratic change across the region, present a great strategic opportunity for the United States, for three reasons.
The first reason is stability, which is crucial to the pursuit of all our longstanding interests in the Middle East. The dramatic events of this spring were driven by deep, underlying trends in Arab societies. As Secretary Clinton noted nearly a year ago, last January in Doha, the status quo in the region was not stable. We have an opportunity now to help promote lasting stability in the Middle East – stability that will only come through democratic and economic reforms that will write a new social contract between governments and citizens.
The second reason we see an opportunity in the events of the Arab Spring is about democracy. As you all know well, where democracy and democratic freedoms are valued, the world also gains in security. Democracies give people a stake in their governance and weaken the appeal of those who call for violence. We see the changes underway in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as an opportunity to support the emergence of more democratic states, which will be stronger partners for the United States in advancing our shared interests in security, stability, and prosperity for the region and the world.
Finally, we see a strategic opportunity in these events because of the way this change has come about, and who is driving it – the Arab world’s rising generation of young people. The disciplined and determined young men and women who are driving the Arab Spring have put forward a powerful repudiation to the narrative of extremists who preach violence and confrontation as the only means to achieve change. They have also put forward their own indigenously generated, positive vision for the future of the Middle East, a future defined by dignity, freedom and opportunity. We have a keen interest in seeing that positive vision succeed.
The recent announcement of three courageous women receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is the latest affirmation of women’s ability to advance human progress and human rights in the region and around the world. As Secretary Clinton noted, the three winners – including one from Yemen – “are shining examples of the difference that women can make and the progress they can help achieve when given the opportunity to make decisions about the future of their societies and countries.” As you may know, one of those Nobel Prize winners, Tawakkul Karman from Yemen, is an alumna of the Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and also participated in State Department exchange and visitor programs. I met with Tawakkul last week in the State Department, and we discussed the absolute determination of the Yemeni people to see a political transition that is not merely a change of leadership but that ushers in real participation, and real justice for the Yemeni people.
There is no question that this period of transformative change carries with it some anxiety. The fate of the region’s democratic movements is uncertain, and in some countries citizens are facing brutality and repression from their governments in response to their legitimate demands. And the democratic transitions now beginning in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya are far from complete. So it’s crucial that the United States government stay engaged to support these democratic transitions and democratic reforms across the region. Let me tell you a little bit about what we are doing to further that goal.
The events unfolding in the Middle East are the foreign policy challenge of our time. In response to and in support of these transitions, the U.S. Government has rededicated its efforts to assist the people of the Middle East and North Africa as they create more participatory, prosperous and pluralistic societies. We have realigned our resources to promote democratic and economic reforms across the region and to strengthen those within Arab societies who are advancing change. Many of those civil society leaders, like Tawakkul, are women, and we want to support their efforts.
The Department of State has also created a new Office of Middle East Transitions with Ambassador Bill Taylor at the helm as Coordinator. This office is tasked with ensuring U.S. assistance to transition countries is coordinated and prioritized across all agencies and programs. We know that resources are limited, and that with so much at stake in the region, we need to be efficient and make every dollar count. In addition to my regular duties as the Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for democratic reform in the Middle East, I now also have the privilege of serving as Deputy Coordinator for this office. So I come to you with a very clear view of the efforts we are undertaking to support successful democratic transitions in the region at this critical time.
As you know, I supervise the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is located in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. MEPI has had women’s empowerment as one of its key priorities since it was first founded in 2002. I’m delighted to have this fantastic program as one of the key tools we are using to support women during the political transitions across the region. Let me speak briefly about some of the efforts we have underway in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya specifically.
As Ambassador Verveer noted, Tunisia’s women have a proud history as active participants in their country’s political, social, and economic life. When Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January, MEPI mobilized the bulk of our initial U.S. government response to support civil society and election preparation in Tunisia – and in all of that work, women’s inclusion and women’s participation is a constant theme. Indeed, some of MEPI’s longstanding partners in Tunisia, who operated under significant constraints previously, became crucial players in the work of voter education this year. A singular example is CAWTAR, the Center for Arab Women Training and Research. With MEPI support, they are promoting women's rights in Tunisia through media, trainings and public debates.
The American Bar Association is another important MEPI partner in Tunisia in advancing women’s political inclusion. Later this year, they will be hosting, with their Tunisian colleagues, a national forum on the role of women in transitional processes focusing on comparative experiences; women’s rights in law and constitutional reform; and advocacy for law reform. Participants will include women jurists, rights groups, civil society organizations, and political party representatives, among others.
MEPI is just one program undertaking efforts to support the political, economic and social participation of women in Tunisia. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives supported a "Get Out and Vote" campaign designed to encourage women of all ages, backgrounds and means, through mainstream and new media channels, to vote and participate in Tunisia’s democratic reform process.
The Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) is supporting programming in Tunisia, on transitional justice and independent journalism, including a project to empower women in civil society and media.
In Egypt, the United States is working with international as well as Egyptian organizations to ensure that the gains made in women’s legal rights before the revolution are not lost, and that women play a central role in the definition of rules and institutions for Egypt’s new democracy.
USAID is focusing on women’s issues across all its programs in Egypt. USAID is bringing together women-led civil society organizations from all governorates in Egypt to strategize on ways to they can improve women's participation in elections and political parties. These conversations are specifically focused on increasing the participation of women candidates before the upcoming parliamentary elections. During this time of transition, USAID is continuing its crucial work to improve maternal and child health, combat violence against women, and extend equal access to justice and education for women and girls. On the economic front, USAID partners will provide 1,000 new business loans within the next twelve months in Qena, one of the poorest, least served areas of Egypt, to spur job creation and to increase employment opportunities for the poor. Women are slated to receive about 60 percent of these loans.
MEPI is working with Vital Voices to create a network of women activists across the region, and to help Egyptian women’s groups develop their priorities for egislative change. MEPI’s local Egyptian partner, the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, is training younger women as future leaders, and encouraging women to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Other State Department programs assist women who want to compete in the newly open political process. In the past several months, more than 200 women from a diverse array of political parties have taken advantage of U.S.-government-funded training programs, which are offered on a non-partisan basis, and which provide everything from training on how to confidently deliver a stump speech -- to organizational skills that will help them sharpen their party platforms and build campaigns that resonate with voters.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is working with the International Labor Organization to strengthen women’s participation in key labor market institutions. This project will help women and employers, along with government institutions, become more practiced in fundamental labor rights and procedures, giving more women the chance to enter the labor market, and building the capacity of Egyptian businesses to offer decent work to women.
Since the first days of the revolution, when Libyan women formed sewing circles to create the ubiquitous independence flags, Libyan women have been at the heart of the revolution. Some of the most promising and effective non-profit initiatives have been founded by women leaders. Wafa and Hana Gusbi, twin sisters and previous US Embassy Public Affairs grant recipients, co-founded Wafa Charity Organization. The Gusbis left for Tunis in May 2011 and, utilizing the skills they learned through managing their earlier USG-funded project, they have organized social programs for Libyans living in exile -- serving up to 20,000 hot meals per day to refugees during Ramadan. Now is the time to demonstrate to these women our support for their efforts.
In Libya, we are working through the United Nations Special Mission in Libya to target our assistance to priorities identified by the Libyans themselves. But we have already begun to offer our support to the newly emerging NGOs in Libya and to support those who want to create new political parties to compete in Libya’s planned elections. We will continue to focus on ensuring that Libyan women are active beneficiaries of our efforts.
Our work in these three countries in transition is just one element of our regional focus on empowering women and girls. Through MEPI, and working with democratic partners around the globe, we continue to promote further progress in women’s political, economic, and social participation. Through the Community of Democracies’ Working Group on Gender Equality, which Ambassador Verveer co-chairs with the Lithuanians, the United States is taking a leadership role in promoting gender equality and good governance, with a particular focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Under the auspices of the working group, the U.S. is partnering with the Dutch government to conduct dialogues with civil society leaders and academics from across the region to better understand the priorities of women in transitioning societies and how the United States and the international community can best assist them.
Working with the International Republican Institute, MEPI is supporting the Arab Women's Leadership Institute, which assists women leaders across North Africa to maximize their political gains during periods of transition. In countries undergoing reform or transition, the Leadership Institute is providing female officials currently in office, candidates for office, and civil society leaders with models of good governance and coalition-building to help them realize the reforms their constituents are demanding. In addition, the Institute is giving women civic leaders advocacy skills so they can fight for equal social and political rights for women as their countries define new rules of the road in politics.
The U.S. Government is also supporting the Middle East and North Africa Women’s Business Forum of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This group accelerates the development of women’s entrepreneurship in the region.
Without a doubt, the final outcome of the region’s democratic transition is uncertain. But because we believe that democratic transformation in the Middle East is profoundly in our interests, we are committed to remaining engaged and to providing the necessary long-term support for women in these countries who are already working as agents of positive change. In his May 2011 speech, President Obama said, "History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.” This is a guiding principle for us as we support democratic transitions in the Middle East.
We look forward to working with you, our partners in Congress, to ensure that we can sustain our urgent support the Middle East in this historic moment.
Girl Up is drawing attention to the need to count, advocate for and invest in girls worldwide. Investing in a girl today means in the future she will have the tools to reinvest back into her family and community, which helps build a better world for all of us.
With the seventh billion child expected to be born this month, Girl Up is drawing attention to the need to count, advocate for and invest in girls worldwide. Investing in a girl today means in the future she will have the tools to reinvest back into her family and community, which helps build a better world for all of us.
Today's youth generation is the largest in history with more than 1.2 billion adolescents ages 10 to 19, half of whom are girls. As such a sizeable segment of the population, adolescent girls represent the world's greatest source of untapped potential. Research shows that less than two cents of every development dollar goes toward adolescent girls, and according to the Population Council, in some cases 80-90% of youth program participants are boys.
“With a growing population of adolescent girls among the world's 7 billion people, it is more important than ever that we ensure all girls are provided with the tools, information and resources they need to bring about change,” said Gina Reiss-Wilchins, Director of Girl Up. “Counting girls in order to properly steer national and development resources can help prevent child marriage, afford girls access to education, provide them with health services and prepare them to be the next generation of future leaders.”
Adolescent girls have tremendous potential, and we know the keys to unlocking that potential are access to quality education, health information and services, social and economic skills training, and violence prevention and protection services. Yet, because research rarely measures adolescent girls as a segment, they become invisible and our ability to meet their needs is jeopardized.
Fewer countries made strides toward improving equality between men and women in 2011, while Nordic countries held the top spots, according to a ranking of 135 nations by the World Economic Forum.
From the article:
Fewer countries made strides toward improving equality between men and women this year, while Nordic countries held the top spots, according to a ranking of 135 nations by the World Economic Forum.
Iceland claimed the No. 1 position for the third year in a row, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden, in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index released today by the Geneva-based group. Of the countries surveyed, 55 percent narrowed the gender gap, compared with 59 percent the previous year, while 85 percent improved gender-equality ratios since the first survey in 2006.
“Women make up one-half of the brain power of the human capital that’s available to an economy,” Saadia Zahidi, head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity program and co-author of the report, said in an interview. “If that one-half is not fully integrated into a particular country’s development and into its development over time, it’s fairly evident that there would be a detrimental effect.”
The survey measures the difference between men’s and women’s economic participation and opportunities, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. While differences in health and education are disappearing, women still lag behind in economic participation, which includes salaried and skilled jobs, and political representation, according to the report.
“Labor-force participation is where the success starts to drop off,” said Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a co-author of the report and professor at the University of California-Berkley, during a press briefing today about the study in New York.
The Global Gender Gap Index, introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, is a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress. The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health-based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups, and over time. The rankings are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps.
Report by GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
300 Million Fewer Female than Male Subscribers: A US$13 Billion Opportunity
Mobile phone ownership in low and middle-income countries has skyrocketed in the past several years. But a woman is still 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. This figure increases to 23% if she lives in in Africa, 24% if she lives in the Middle East, and 37% if she lives in South Asia. Closing this gender gap would bring the benefits of mobile phones to an additional 300 million women. By extending the benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women, a host of social and economic goals can be advanced.
Nine in Ten Women Feel Safer Because of Their Mobile Phones
Ten years on from the start of the western intervention in Afghanistan, Afghan women are facing an uncertain future. Women have strived for and made important gains since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including in political participation and access to education, but these gains are fragile and reversible. As security deteriorates across the country, violence against women is also on the rise. Both the Afghan and US governments are attempting to engage in parallel talks with the Taliban to reach a political solution to the conflict before the international military forces withdraw by the end of 2014.
Published: 3 October 2011
Louise Hancock, Oxfam Policy Advisor; Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Afghan academic
Ten years on from the start of the western intervention in Afghanistan, Afghan women are facing an uncertain future. Women have strived for and made important gains since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including in political participation and access to education, but these gains are fragile and reversible.
As security deteriorates across the country, violence against women is also on the rise. Both the Afghan and US governments are attempting to engage in parallel talks with the Taliban to reach a political solution to the conflict before the international military forces withdraw by the end of 2014.
The assassination of the government’s top peace broker, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011 underscores how difficult peace and reconciliation will be to achieve in Afghanistan. There are no shortcuts to peace in Afghanistan. The only way forward is a transparent and inclusive peace process which involves representatives from all parts of Afghan society, including women. The more that women feel involved in and committed to a political settlement which safeguards their rights, the more likely they are, within their families and communities, to promote changes in attitude and genuine reconciliation – essential for a lasting peace.
Western leaders have a responsibility toward Afghan women, not least because protection of women’s rights was sold as a positive outcome of the international intervention in October 2001. In this report – ‘A Place at the Table: Safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan’, co-authored with well-known Afghan academic Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Oxfam warns that women’s hard won gains are fragile and could slip away. It stresses that women could face a dangerous future after 2014, if the US, UK and the Afghan government sideline them in the search for peace. At the 10th anniversary of the intervention, Oxfam calls on world leaders not to sacrifice the hard-won gains that Afghan women have made.
The Afghan government and the international community must ensure women’s rights are not sacrificed and make a genuine commitment to meaningful participation of women in all phases and levels of any peace processes.
The Afghan government must enhance efforts to increase representation of women in elected bodies and government institutions at all levels to 30 per cent; encourage religious leaders to speak out on women’s rights in Islam; and intensify efforts to promote female access to education, health, justice, and other basic services.
The Afghan government must improve awareness of women’s rights and human rights law in the justice and security sector, and ensure effective implementation of these laws; and increase substantially women recruits in the security and justice sectors.
The international community must support expanded civic education programs to raise awareness of women’s rights at community level and support efforts to improve female leadership
The international community must intensify support to promote access to education and other key services, and ensure this support will continue at current or increased levels even as international military forces prepare to withdraw.
The UN must continue to monitor all government actions including the peace processes and provide increased support to the Afghan government on all negotiation, reconciliation, and reintegration processes.
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 was awarded on Friday to three women from Africa and the Arab world in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. The winners were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia — the first woman to be elected president in modern Africa — her compatriot, the peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner.
As Nancy Dorsinville, a policy adviser in the United Nations’ Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, recently told a gathering of experts in New York, there is an urgent need for training peacekeepers, humanitarian aid staff, local law enforcement and social workers to prevent gender-based violence in refugee camps and other vulnerable areas.
The gender dimension of aid and security policies has only recently come under scrutiny, despite widespread occurrences of sexual assault and rape. There is neither an adequate system for documentation of these claims, nor judicial capacity to handle sex violence reports.
Training is absolutely essential. For example, while there is now a domestic violence hot line through the police department in Port-au-Prince, there’s a need for training agents on how to respond to callers with sensitivity and appropriate action.
Without training all those who can help to prevent sexual assaults and rape, these horrific instances of violence against women will continue.
Linda Basch President, National Council for Research on Women New York, June 24, 2010
The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010, conducted from September to December 2010, found that 48 percent of Nepalese women, aged between 15-49 years, felt their husbands had the right to beat them if they spoilt the food while cooking, refused to have sex, neglected the children or argued.
The Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010, covering 24 of Nepal's 75 districts, focused on the state of women and children in two regions most vulnerable to disasters and the most underdeveloped: the midwest and the farwest.
These are also the districts that were the most affected by the 10-year Maoist insurgency and see thousands going to India across the border every year due to food scarcity and natural disasters.
Conducted by Nepal's Central Bureau of Statistics and supported by Unicef, the survey covered almost 6,000 households, talking to over 7,000 women about their family lives, health issues and children.
The survey, conducted from September to December 2010, found that 48 percent women, aged between 15-49 years, felt their husbands had the right to beat them if they spoilt the food while cooking, refused to have sex, neglected the children or argued.
Also, a whopping 62 percent believed mothers-in-law were justified in beating them if they failed to bring in dowry, went out of the house without telling them, didn't finish housework in time or argued.
Though Nepal's laws make it a punishable offence for a girl to marry before she is 18, the survey found an overwhelming 60 percent had been married before the legal age of consent.
Sixteen percent got married while below 15.
Though women dominated the population with the male-female ratio being 100:92.9, the dreaded tradition of chhaupadi still prevailed, despite being banned by the government.
Chhaupadi is the custom of regarding menstruation as a period of impurity during which women are not allowed to touch anything, including water, plants and their husbands.
Though it is not observed so rigidly in the capital and major cities, in the remote villages girls and women are confined to cowsheds during menstruation. Both girl students and women teachers are barred from attending school.
The survey found the midwestern mountain region to be the worst affected -- 52 percent, while the farwestern hilly region reported a 50 percent prevalence.
A whopping 83 percent of the children interviewed said they had been disciplined either by severe psychological abuse or physical punishment.
NCRW is a network of leading university and community based research, policy, and advocacy centers with a growing global reach dedicated to advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls. We also have a Corporate Circle comprised of senior diversity professionals from leading U.S. and global member companies and a Presidents Circle of college and university leaders who share our commitment. NCRW harnesses the collective power of its network to provide knowledge, analysis, and thought leadership on issues ranging from reducing women’s poverty to building a critical mass of women’s leadership across sectors.