Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have shaken the world. Throughout the region, countries are in a state of transition, although the nature and stage of the transitions differ dramatically. Hivos feels that the opening up of these societies provides unprecedented opportunities for investing in women’s empowerment and the improvement of gender equality. Yet there are also major challenges ahead. We are already witnessing a decrease in women’s political participation and a rise in gender-based violence in some MENA countries.
Dialogue is of the utmost importance: between government and opposition, government and civil society and also within civil society at large. Women must be ready and able to make their voices heard, not only when transitions are completed, as women’s organisations in the region emphasise, but also now. Hivos therefore wants to shine a spotlight on the best experiences and best practices in the MENA region on how women can be empowered.
Hivos has invited three high-level women human rights defenders to help pave the way. In the Netherlands and Belgium they will discuss their experiences with the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation to talk about how the Netherlands can best support them, as well as with the Dutch parliament and various influential EU institutions and officials. The women will also engage with the Dutch public. On September 20, they will hold a discussion with students at Utrecht University, and on September 21, they will play an important part in the Middle East Day organised by the Liberal Democrat Party (D66). Finally, they will participate in a debate open to the public organised by the Dutch foreign ministry and the Human Rights and Foreign Policy Platform (BMO) at the Spui 25 debate centre in Amsterdam.
Dr. Fatma al-Khafagy is an Egyptian activist who fights for equal treatment of women in the constitution and against the increasing sexual violence in her country. She is also a board member of the Alliance of Arab Women and actively supports women in Libya. In the past, Ms Khafagy worked for fifteen years at the United Nations. She is currently the National Ombudsperson for Women’s rights in Egypt.
Zahra’ Langhi is the co-founder of Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), a movement advocating for women’s socio-political empowerment and peacebuilding. Under her leadership, LWPP initiated the zipper list, whereby women and men alternate one-by-one on party lists. Ms Langhi used to be a co-producer of a TV show about the election of the National Congress and the Democratic transition in Libya.
Amal Basha is the chairperson of the Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) in Yemen. She advocates for women’s rights and greater political freedom, rights of detainees and improving the position of refugees. Currently, she is the official spokesperson for the technical committee tasked with organising the Yemenite National Dialogue Conference.