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Arab countries in transition

Gender rights and constitutional reform

This conference was organised by the Lebanese American University (LAU) and the Danish Center for Research and Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity (KVINFO) and took place with the support of the KAS.

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Arab women were active participants in the uprisings that swept the Arab world, calling for democracy, social justice, and reform. They took to the streets, organized and led protests, and played a central role in the fight for change.

Many Arab countries were forced to revise their constitutions or change them entirely by drafting new, less repressive texts which took human rights principles into account. Even countries that did not witness any real revolution were put under enormous pressure to introduce reforms and adopt constitutional changes.

However, recent political changes in the region have raised questions as to their marginalization and the extent to which their self-engineered empowerment has been able to impact current gender dynamics. The rise to power of Islamist movements in several countries, with their conservative agendas and patriarchic worldview, was and continues to be cause for alarm.

Will the revised constitutions safeguard previous gains that women have achieved? Is there a real commitment to women’s equality? The conference shed light on the fact that gender dynamics are intimately tied to evolving state institutions and social contexts, and the fluctuating relationship between them. It is important to recognize the capacity of the state to institutionalize norms, that is, propagate or suppress certain values by anchoring them within its constitution or protecting them by law. The speakers explained that it therefore becomes necessary to safeguard the sociopolitical gains made by women during the Arab uprisings by ensuring that their achievements are enshrined in constitutions and legal codes and that these are actively enforced.

It is, however, within this context that the paradox of the state as both a caretaker and as an integral part of the problem becomes relevant. The architecture of any given state and the regulations its bodies enact reflect dominant power configurations, that is, state policy can help sustain and legitimize a status quo which is unfavorable for women and other social groups. Conference participants therefore underlined the fact that it is imperative to not only continue exerting perpetual pressure on political agents, but to promote a different gender paradigm in society as a whole. It was decided that, to this end, virtual forums of regional and transnational networking should be established in order to facilitate the cross-national exchange of information and expertise. Additionally, it was indicated that is necessary to continue exploring how religion and the family unit can be used to help raise awareness in regards to women’s rights.

More information to the event here.

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