Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Riyadh, 13 February 2023 – 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 today for the virtual launch – hosted by Saudi Arabia— of the new set of Gender Justice and the Law reports covering 17 Arab countries.
The 2022 country reports examine six areas of legislation, namely the general legal framework of the State; legal entitlement and public life; protection from violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres; employment and economic benefits; personal matters and family life; and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Inspired by Goal 5 on Gender Equality of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new reports expand the number of indicators employed to assess the status of alignment of national laws with international standards in these six areas from 29 indicators used in the seminal set of similar reports published in 2018 to 74 indicators.
The indicators are featured in a single regional matrix that uses colour-coding to indicate change in the status of laws and give a regional overview of progress and remaining gaps at a glance. The regional matrix and the country reports together provide countries with an effective tool that sheds light on areas that require attention for advancing women’s rights and gender equality according to international standards.
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.
The reports are produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women) in consultation with national stakeholders.
Attributable Statements about the new reports:
“Nearing the ICPD +30 review of the Arab region, we must take stock of the progress made towards ensuring that all women and girls can exercise their bodily autonomy and equally participate in decision-making, free from gender-based violence. The Gender Justice and the Law reports are a valuable tool to contribute to our shared goal of ending gender inequalities.”
Laila Baker | Director for the Arab region | UNFPA
“The reports underline that progress on women’s participation in public life in the region remains uneven. Legislative reforms and work on the ground are vital to build the leadership of women of diverse backgrounds and abilities, amplify their voices and enable their full participation as decision-makers in all domains and at all levels.”
Sarah Poole | Deputy Regional Director for Arab States | UNDP
“Comprehensive gender-sensitive legislative reform is necessary to tackle the deepening chasms of discrimination and inequality that trouble this region. This initiative not only provides space for a multistakeholder dialogue, but also serves as a tool for policymakers to constructively review their legislative frameworks and develop national priorities that work to achieve gender equality while also attaining their vision for inclusive and sustainable development.”
Mehrinaz El Awady | Director, Gender Justice, Population, and Inclusive Development Cluster | UN ESCWA
“Progress on women-related labour legislation will ensure a safe work environment for women, with free movement, free of discrimination, in which they will be compensated fairly and reach leadership positions. It will facilitate access to opportunities in sectors that secure women’s place in the future of work in the Arab Region.”
Janneke van der Graaff-Kukler | Deputy Regional Director for Arab States | UN Women
* Notes to the Editors:
- The 2022 Gender Justice and the Law reports can be accessed through UNDP, ESCWA, UNFPA and UN Women websites.
- Fifteen reports from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen provide updates of the data included in the 2018 reports, adding 45 indicators.
- Newly introduced reports from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates provide first-time data for both countries.
- Data for Algeria, Djibouti and Libya, remain under collection.
- The Comoros and Mauritania are not included. The four partnering UN agencies do not all include them within their regional geographic coverage.
- The 2022 Gender Justice & the Law reports do not reflect the entire range of efforts undertaken by countries to achieve gender justice, nor do they assess the degree of implementation of existing law and their impact.
For more information about the reports and to arrange for media interview, please contact:
UNDP Noeman Alsayyad | email@example.com | +962 (79) 567 2901
UN ESCWA Rania Harb | firstname.lastname@example.org | +961 (70) 008 879
UNFPA Samir Aldarabi | email@example.com | +20 (10) 6848 4879
UN Women Montira Narkvichien | firstname.lastname@example.org | +66 (81) 668 8900
UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet.
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States and works on enhancing regional integration.
UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.