Regional Workshop: “Women’s Political Participation in the Arab Region”
On February 28, 2023, The Arab Institute for Women (AiW), in collaboration with the Arab Network for Democratic Elections (ANDE) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), hosted a regional workshop titled “Women’s Political Participation in the Arab Region” to discuss the most recent developments related to women’s engagement in political life in Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
In an opening statement, Director of The AiW, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, welcomed the attendees, introduced the speakers, and reiterated the pivotal role which The AiW has long played, since its inception 50 years ago, to promote gender equality and enhance women’s power and agency in all realms of life. As she affirmed, women’s political participation in the Arab region is key to achieve inclusive democratic systems which ensure fair representation and good governance. Then, Executive Director at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), Mr. Ali Slim, gave a brief overview of ANDE’s vision, mission, and values and emphasized the importance of democratizing political systems in the Arab region to promote the fair and equal participation of all factions of society in decision-making, especially marginalized groups like women.
Session 1: The Egyptian and Tunisian Experiences, moderated by Ms. Amina Zghonda, Director of Electoral Process Support and Political Participation Programs for the Tunisia Office covering North Africa and West Asia in International IDEA
Following the introduction, Egyptian Feminist and Founder of the Caucus of Women in Politics MENA, Ms. Mozn Hasan, ushered the discussion by presenting a brief overview of her research paper on women’s political activity in the Arab region. During her presentation, she addressed the most contemporary challenges faced by feminist movements in Egypt and other Arab countries to stimulate women’s political participation. As she explained, social movements are crucial to bring attention to women’s political participation and create change in laws and societal behavior. These movements, Ms. Hasan finally argued, shall be aligned with all feminist principles to achieve gender equality and avoid any inadvertent reproduction of patriarchy.
Then, Feminist and University Professor, Dr. Hafidha Chekir, delivered a presentation about the consequences of the new Tunisian electoral law on women’s representation in parliament and participation in decision-making. As she explained, the new law, which is stripped of the gender parity clause, reverses the gains achieved for women’s political participation in the post-uprising law and reproduces gender discrimination. This amendment, Dr. Chekir confirmed, will inevitably make it increasingly difficult for women to run for elections and will greatly limit their representation in parliament. Hence, she further mentioned, in the absence of a quota which guarantees women’s political participation, traditional elites and parties are expected to tighten their control on the Tunisian parliament in the coming years.
Session 2: The Lebanese Experience, moderated by Ms. Abir Chebaro, a Feminist Activist
Ms. Dayana El Baba, Senior Projects Coordinator at LADE, presented the organization’s “2022 Elections Monitoring Report from a Gender Perspective”. As she pinpointed, several factors continue to contribute to the marginalization of women from political life, of which are the absence of a gender quota, the sectarian and patriarchal system, and the control of traditional elites and parties on positions of decision-making, among many others. The report which LADE recently issued, she explained, documents these challenges based on the responses of several women who ran for the May 2022 parliamentary elections. Mitigating these emerging challenges, Ms. El Baba confirmed, is critical to ensure women’s fair participation in political life. Yet, she concluded, the opportunities to counter these challenges are limited amidst the absence of political will and the traditional parties’ resistance to change.
Finally, Activist and Researcher, Ms. Chantal Bou Akl, presented a rapid assessment report on the role of feminist organizations in creating spaces for women’s participation in the 2022 parliamentary elections in Lebanon. As she greatly emphasized, structural inequalities, which have only been very minimally alleviated, continue to hinder women’s participation in political life and decision-making positions. The limited participation and representation of women, Ms. Bou Akl added, is further exacerbated by the many discriminatory laws which significantly limit women’s autonomy and access to resources. Thereby, she affirmed, organizations play an important role in promoting women’s political participation amidst an unwelcoming political arena. Although increasingly difficult, Ms. Bou Akl concluded, it is critically important to fight the challenges to establishing inclusive governance in Lebanon.
The panel discussion was concluded with a Q&A session.