No Democracy Without Women’s Equality: Middle East And North Africa
2013 Women’s Political Participation Report MENA
By Zeina Zaatari, on behalf of the Social Science Research Council on Women's Political Participation/Representation in the MENA region
The images of women on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and even Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world have become daily recurrences on television screens, computer monitors, and newspaper pages. Questions were still raised by many western journalists and spectators about women’s presence in some of the more conservative countries, like Yemen and Libya. However, the reality of a quick online search will unveil endless images of women joining protests, marching in street demonstrations, organizing medical shift units in and around protest squares, writing blogs, organizing legal teams, and much more.
Women’s political participation in the broadest sense has become very visible since at least 2011 and onward. Yet, rarely do any of the important timelines listing the progress and milestones of these revolutions across the Arab world mention women specifically, address the role they played as women, or credit the significance of their political participation. This invisibility in the larger story—even when some credit is mentioned in a separate paragraph or a special story—is at the crux of some of the challenges and problems of political organizing, governance, and society’s understanding and valuing of women and the roles they play. This invisibility can be understood in two arenas. First, it can be seen through women’s invisibility in general in society, even when they are actually highly present. Women’s very visible roles and responsibilities as caretakers, for example, are assumed and thus easily ignored by the larger narrative of society and history. When they are active in the political sphere, their participation is seen as an exception to the rule. The second is women’s invisibility in political governance positions of post-revolution governments. While women participated in large numbers in the elections, this was not reflected in adequate representation in parliament, ministerial positions, or constitutional committees in most countries in the region.