In Tunis from 10-12 October 2014, the Hivos Women on the Frontline programme brought together female and male activists of all walks of life from seven countries of the MENA region to take stock of political participation of women in the region and strategize. They are all committed to respond powerfully but peacefully to the demands of women in the MENA region for gender equality, inclusion and active participation in all ongoing political processes.
In the current climate of increasing authoritarianism and extremism, giving voice to the demands and concerns of these women rights activists has become more important than ever. Public and international political support must work hand in hand with any form of project support if positive change is to come about in the MENA region. Hivos therefore urges regional and international community leaders to start investing in these future leaders. There is no time to lose.
During the expert meeting, the general lack of human security and rule of law throughout the region was stressed. In fact, many countries face a total security breakdown that has significantly reduced the space for women rights activists to operate. Women in particular must confront a new kind of political violence and exclusion that needs to be tackled if they are to effectively promote the values and principles that first sparked the 2011 uprisings in the region. Addressing the root causes of violence, inequality and discrimination is essential if one aims to combat socially sanctioned violence against women as well as that of ISIS and other militant groups.
Given the current harsh environment in which active change-makers must work, Hivos is advocating that the international community closely engage with these peaceful activists to better understand and meet the needs of their daily work while together searching for solutions to the root causes of the challenges they face. Many of them have lost loved ones; they work with limited to no protection and no clear prospects for improvements in the future. However, they are committed to realizing the dreams of the original uprisings they helped give impulse to.
Besides the dire need for more structural, yet flexible, financial support, it is also clear that moral support and advocacy are key to maintaining and bolstering both the efforts and spirits of women’s rights activists in the MENA region. The Tunis meeting served not only as a strategy session, but also as a platform to inspire one another with the amazing spirit of each and every individual.