New Hivos initiative provides great boost for women in the Arab world

March 8, 2013

On this International Women’s Day, Hivos is proud to announce that it will manage a new initiative for women in the Arab world: Women on the Frontline. The three-year €5.8 million initiative is funded by the Dutch Government and will promote women’s participation in the political process in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. Hivos will manage the fund together with PwC.

Throughout the MENA region women have sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of freedom, democracy and dignity. Syrian women inside the country and abroad are working hard to ensure full equality now and in the post-Assad era, and we specifically honour them today for their efforts.

While women are equally represented in the uprisings against the dictatorial regime of Syria, they are not equally represented in the transitional structure that will shape their lives and society, and determine the future of Syria. True freedom and democracy are not achievable if only 50 percent of the Syrian people are represented.

Since the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, women’s political participation has decreased while fundamentalism and gender-based violence are on the rise. Now is the time to prevent this from happening in Syria by investing in the participation of women in the Syrian transition.

Therefore, Women on the Frontline aims to strengthen women’s groups and activists in their pursuit of equal political representation. The initiative will give a major boost to the push for women’s rights in Syria and to improve their position in society.  

The events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since early 2011 have shaken the world. Unprecedented civic uprisings have ousted dictators who had been in power for decades. The demands of the people participating in massive protests were clear: freedom, dignity and justice for all. Women and men demonstrated side by side, and for once gender seemed irrelevant. The transitions are still unfolding and old structures are being challenged, while new foundations of civic engagement are being laid.

The opening up of societies in the MENA region provides unprecedented opportunities for investing in women’s empowerment and improving gender equality. However, as noted above, the uprisings are also generating major challenges for women. The political representation of women after the fall of the dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia has declined against a backdrop of increased reports of gender-based violence (GBV) in all countries in transition. The tendency towards more conservative interpretations of Islamic sharia law – which has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives – is adversely affecting the exercise of their rights.

This is why Hivos so strongly supports women’s organisations in their quest for full and equal participation of women in transitional societies in the Middle East and North Africa.