The progress of Arab countries towards aligning their laws with international human rights standards on gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women remains mixed and uneven. This was the emerging agreement among government officials, gender experts, civil society activists, legislators and jurists, who convened for the virtual launch – hosted by Saudi Arabia— of the new set of Gender Justice and the Law reports covering 17 Arab countries.
Findings show that across the region progress has been made in the area of legal capacity. Today, women have equal rights in all 17 countries to a national identification card; to request a passport; to enter into contracts; to own assets and register businesses; and to initiate legal procedures in civil matters.
Similarly, in the area of employment and economic benefits, women’s rights to equal pay with men is protected by law in 16 countries. Women’s rights to equal pay for work of equal value is protected in nine countries. Furthermore, women are now protected by law from sexual harassment in the workplace in eight countries, namely Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and UAE; albeit only two countries, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have provisions allowing for civil claims and remedies for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ten countries, namely Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, the State of Palestine, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Sudan, Tunisia and UAE, have adopted quotas for women in national parliaments to promote greater participation of women in politics, although only four, namely Somalia, the Sudan, Tunisia and UAE have a quota that meets or exceeds 30 percent of parliamentary seats to be occupied by women. Only Tunisia has enacted a law that explicitly criminalizes violence against women in elections and politics.
Eight countries have enacted laws for protection from domestic violence. Both Kuwait and UAE have adopted new laws on protection from domestic violence since 2018, while Lebanon and Jordan have introduced some positive legal reforms since 2018. A new law that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM) was passed in the Sudan and amendments to existing laws provide more protection to victims of FGM in Egypt.
Remaining challenges, gaps and pointers to required action
The reports show that sexual and reproductive health and rights continue to pose a challenge in the region, singling it out as the area where there is the least progress towards international human rights standards. This underlines the importance of taking action to protect, respect and fulfil this important cluster of rights to achieve gender equality.
The 2022 reports also highlight common gaps which require legal action. They point to the importance of adopting sex-disaggregated statistics and data, which are critical for evidence-based policymaking.
To ensure greater engagement of women in politics, the reports also provide bases to argue for greater adoption of women quotas in political representation, strengthening of existing quota provisions and laws that criminalize violence against women in politics/elections.
Similarly, as women’s participation in the labour market in the region is the lowest in the world, the reports highlight the need to end all restrictions on women’s work in labour laws; adopt specific laws that guarantee a safe environment for women in the workplace; and expand maternity leave laws to align with the minimum international standard of 14 weeks, and to guarantee paid paternity leaves.
Also, given the persistent gender inequality in the family and the prevalence of gender-based violence in the region, the reports provide data to support advocacy for introducing reforms personal status laws to grant equal rights for men and women within the family, as well as to adopt comprehensive legislation against gender-based violence