Joint Statement by UN Human Rights MENA and UN Women Arab States on the occasion of Human Rights Day

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As we mark International Human Rights Day 2021, we ask “what are some of the key steps that policy-makers can take to ensure that all women and girls in the Arab States region enjoy equality in dignity and rights?”

Between 25 November and 10 December each year, advocates, decision-makers, and grassroots communities around the world commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The timeline links the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls to International Human Rights Day, highlighting that the elimination of violence is a critical pre-condition for women and girls’ enjoyment of their fundamental human rights.  While a number of States have taken significant steps forward in recent years to adopt legislation that provides greater protection to women and girls from diverse forms of violence, gaps persist in the legal recognition of equality between women and men.

In many cases, there is still a significant gap in implementation, including the provision of critical support services for survivors. Online space, particularly essential to women’s participation in public life during the pandemic, has also become increasingly hostile to women and girls. In a recently released regional survey by UN Women, 44% of women who had experienced online violence in 2020 reported that the incident moved offline. Allocating sufficient human and financial resources to implement national laws will ensure that the rights of women and girls are better protected. This includes the full and effective national implementation of States’ commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. To enjoy full citizenship, women must be able to enjoy equal rights to men, including in acquiring, changing, and retaining the right to nationality and the rights to confer on spouses and children.

At the same time, evidence shows that when women are in positions of leadership and decision-making, everyone benefits. Currently, the Arab States region is below the global average on the number of women in national parliaments (19.6% compared to 25.6% globally) and in managerial positions (8.6%, compared to 28.2% globally). These are averages, hiding extreme variations between countries, some that exceed global averages and others, mainly countries in conflict ranks exceptionally low. Supporting women at all levels of public life to achieve leadership positions will ensure that women’ perspectives and rights are better reflected in national laws and policies for more equitable outcomes, that benefit all, women, girls, boys and men throughout our countries.

All women and girls have the right to live in equal dignity and human rights. Enforcing laws and policies to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and fostering women’s leadership in national decision-making bodies are critical steps for States to end violence and achieve gender equality.  

Roueida El Hage, Regional Director, UN Human Rights Middle East and North Africa

Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, Regional Director, UN Women Arab States