Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Women in EgyptRecently, five young Egyptian women were sentenced to two years in jail each for violating public morals through videos they uploaded to TikTok. These women in Egypt are influencers on TikTok and Instagram and have over two million followers. Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old student at Cairo University, uploaded the video. In the video, she encouraged other young women to meet and cultivate friendships with men. Men are able to do this through a sponsored video chat app.

More Inequality Toward Women in Egypt

This repressive verdict is only the most recent in a series of laws and court decisions. Similar to others, it squashes young women’s freedom of expression in Egypt. This is especially done on the internet. More than 40% of Egyptian youths are regular internet users, which opens many doors for communication, education and entertainment. However, the certain punishments of young women for their behavior on the internet do not apply to young men in the same way. For instance, a belly dancer who posted videos on the internet was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for debauchery, and other female singers, artists and dancers have received similar treatment.

Given that gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial to eradicating global poverty, attacks on women like these by the Egyptian government are especially troubling. In light of these disturbing outcomes for young women in Egypt, it is important to highlight nongovernmental organizations. These are the NGOs that do the important work of fighting for gender equality and empowerment in Egypt. The below organizations work to elevate women’s status in Egyptian society by providing opportunities for economic participation. They also work to address sexual violence and improve access to education.

What is Being Done

Only 26% of Egyptian women participate in the labor force, compared with 79% of men. Women in developing economies that include the economy of Egypt will forge progress in gender equality, economic growth, and poverty eradication.

The Center of Egyptian Family Development operates in Upper Egypt, providing women with economic opportunities. The NGO provides technical training and marketing support for handicraft production offered exclusively to women in this area. The NGO has reached nearly 340 women with its economic initiatives and has seen numerous positive outcomes. Communities are more aware of gender equality issues, women have improved negotiation power, and many women have since become interested in running for local elections.

Women also suffer from lower literacy rates in Egypt at 65% compared to 82% for males. Access to education for women and girls is critical to ensuring their active participation in the workforce and the reduction of poverty. One NGO working to protect access to education is the Association of the Advancement of Education. This organization prioritizes reducing dropout rates for Egyptian girls through researching and influencing education policy.

Based in Cairo, the NGO works with the United Nations as well as the Egyptian Ministry of Education to achieve its goals.

More Help from Organizations

Another enormous obstacle that women in Egypt face is the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence. Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault in Cairo provides a hotline for victims of sexual assault, and also works to combat sexual harassment in public places. This organization steps in to evacuate women from violent situations. It also provides them with legal and medical assistance and operates safe houses as well. The group also believes in the importance of female participation in its cause. It erodes the narrative that women need to be rescued by men. Activist Reem Labib said, “The solution is not just for men to defend us. We, too, have to participate.” Where the Egyptian government and courts fail the women of the country, groups such as OpAntiSH step in.

 

The NGOs highlighted above are only a few of the myriad organizations working tirelessly toward women’s equality and empowerment in Egypt. They face many barriers like the recent women’s censorship online and the harsh punishments that followed. However, one thing is clear: Egyptian women have demonstrated their refusal to be silent and complicit. As a result, a new generation of young activists yields hope.

 

Addison Collins
Photo: Care