Middle East gender inequality is ‘corrupting the region’

Iranian women show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes during the presidential election in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2017. (TIIME via REUTERS)
Updated 06 December 2017

Middle East gender inequality is ‘corrupting the region’

BEIRUT: Failure to narrow the gender gap and confront violence against women in the MENA region is stalling progress and exacerbating crises, according to activists.
Panelists at a regional conference on gender-based violence in Beirut highlighted the damage that marginalizing women does to Middle Eastern societies.
These countries must start taking the challenges facing women more seriously, said Dr. Lina Abirafeh, director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at the Lebanese American University.
“You cannot have half of the region’s population under-utilized, discriminated against and treated like second-class citizens then expect to make progress,” she said. “Your economy will fail, your political structures will be undemocratic and your conflicts will continue unabated.
“Gender inequality is corrupting the region; it’s the biggest imbalance and injustice that we have and gender-based violence is the most obvious manifestation of that inequality,” she added.
The Middle East remains the least gender-equal region in the world, with an estimated 365 years before the balance is righted at the current pace of change, according to projections in the World Economic Forum 2016 Gender Gap report.
Recent research by the World Bank and the IMF points to a strong correlation between a country’s progress in closing the gender gap, particularly in education and the labor force, and its economic competitiveness.
Speaking ahead of the panel discussion, Asma Khader, former minister of culture in Jordan and president of SIGI, a women’s rights NGO, pointed out that “Middle East societies are losing half of their available human resources.”
“You cannot build any development or a truly representative political life without half of the population,” she said.
At the two-day conference, which was hosted by the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World in partnership with IM Swedish Development Partner, Diakonia and Norwegian People’s Aid, speakers said that women continue to be an “under-utilized force in the region” and “under-represented at every level.”
“We can’t continue to come up last in every single (gender) measure across the world,” Abirafeh said.
In some quarters of government, “a select few leaders” are beginning to appreciate the value of carving out a wider space for women, according to Khader.
“I think a few leaders in the region have started to realize this need to engage women and respect their right to be part of public life.”
Recent months have seen a rush of legislative developments advancing women’s rights across the region.
Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have all overturned controversial articles enabling rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims and activists are now looking to Bahrain and Palestine, in the hopes of a knock-on effect in these and other countries upholding rape-marriage laws.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the lifting of a longstanding ban on female drivers as part of a comprehensive reform program that aims to promote greater participation of women in the workforce as the country overhauls its economy in line with Vision 2030.
However, passing laws is just the first step. Activists are emphatic about the need to ensure effective implementation backed up by sufficient funding to create an inclusive environment for women across the social, economic and political spectrum.
“When it comes to women’s rights this is usually the missing part of the conversation. Having these laws is very important but the most vital thing is implementing them and having the tools to do so,” said Ikram Ben Said, Middle East program officer at IM Swedish Development Partner.
In countries across the region, the percentage of national budgets allocated to women’s rights is negligible, she said, outlining the huge overhaul of state apparatus needed to combat gender-based violence — from establishing shelters and reforming health care systems to re-training the relevant law enforcement personnel.
Jihan Idredi, general prosecutor of the High Criminal Court in Jordan, told Arab News that judges, lawyers, prosecutors and police officers need to be trained to create judicial systems capable of upholding and enacting women’s rights laws, “so that they really believe and adopt the new laws based on equal rights. Otherwise they will be implemented from the same traditional mentalities and nothing will change.”
Legal progress must go hand-in-hand with confronting a value system that sustains inequality as the status quo, he added.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.