Progress of Arab Women, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 2004.

A UN report reveals that while women make up 49 per cent of the population in Arab countries only 28 per cent are in the active workforce, making these figures the lowest of any region in the world. However, the report acknowledges and emphasises the number of successful professional women in executive positions in a variety of Arab countries and also notes the increase in Arab women's representation in national parliaments, the establishment of the Arab women's organisations and the rising role of NGOs. These findings are listed in the report which aims to provide an insight into the world of Arab women and the progress achieved throughout the years. The report's key objectives serve as a tool for identifying unfulfilled promises and for revisiting current strategies and programmes of action for protecting women's security in the Arab states. Three levels of action in the region are investigated towards women's empowerment in the report: The policy level where international commitments are being made, the operational plans and actions at the national level, and the achievements and challenges in terms of the everyday lives of women. This is the first report of its kind in the region that UNIFEM issues on the progress of Arab countries. The report, marking the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, is expected to serve as a mapping tool for Arab countries to review the progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The report also reflects the experience of Arab women in the context of social, economic and political security in a region that continues to face traumas and insecurities including radical social transformations, demographic transitions, poverty, resource shortages as well as occupation, war and civil strife. In the context of social security, the report examines the family, a vital social institution and an integral part of the Arab identity in light of social transformations and demographic transitions. Revisiting family codes and state practices which make women's citizenship contingent on family relations, reforming welfare regimes so that they accommodate the needs of women, and regulating labour markets with gender sensitive and flexible mechanisms are proposed as three key elements of social security. Economic security, as introduced in the report, refers to the need to protect people through the provision of job opportunities, a secure income, economic rights, and effective participation in economic life. Education, training, microfinance and access to other loan and financial resources have been identified as means for enhancing women's opportunities for income generation. The chapter on “securing politics” re-examines possible explanations for the low political participation of women in Arab states, since “the number of Arab women involved in politics is still far from representative of their proportion in society.” Some of the obstacles, according to the report, include lack of support and guidance necessary for women to reach decision-making positions and lack of knowledge and understanding of political rights and responsibilities. Yet, the report adds that the number of successful professional women in executive positions in a variety of Arab countries is an important accomplishment.
Author(s): Co-author: Hania Sholkamy  
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