A World After Covid-19: Charting a Path for Gender Justice in the Arab Region

There was a recent, critical, event that can be useful in creating a path forward for gender equity and justice in a post-COVID world: Accelerating Gender Justice in the Arab States region: a pathway to achieving the 2030 Agenda post-COVID.

Fadia Kiwan spoke about the context of the economic crisis in Lebanon where women: were the first to be fired since men are considered the “providers of the household,” have suffered under the double burden of working from home and supporting the family and the children, and have been facing increases in violence.

WE NEED: to look at the labor laws and amend them to protect women and provide them with facilities, as well as close the gap between unequal work for men and women at home; to strengthen women’s public affairs roles, where women have weak power; support by women’s NGOs, and gender mainstreaming implementation. The contribution of women in the Agenda of 2030, should focus on social change and gender mainstreaming. We also need to engage men in gender mainstreaming and public policies.

Fatema Barkan spoke on the several challenges in Morocco as the suffering and crisis is ongoing. There have been some steps to support families and women through creating a committee to take quick decisions regarding this support. The decisions involved the private sector because one sector only should not take the fall of the results of COVID-19. It was important to support people in the informal sectors since most of these workers are women. Support cards were provided for people with a focus on women. Social media campaigns focused on supporting women in finding shelters if needed and especially those who suffered from violence. During the lockdown, we were able to develop a national plan that already existed. We developed it and were able to reach a larger number of women: 199,000 women benefited from the support programs.

Shamsa Saleh spoke on the status of the United Arab Emirates. She regards the UAE as one of the best success cases in managing the pandemic. For example, the Minister of Education managed to support women who have children attending online school by sending them paid leave from their work to support their children. Gender equality is extremely important and is included in the long-term plan of the UAE for the next 50 years. They are looking at alternative working ways, especially remote work, to make the pandemic an opportunity. In regards to political participation, there is a 50% quota for women in parliament. All companies and banks are obliged to treat both women and men equally as well. There is a new protection law: a law to protect women and girls and all family members without discrimination. There are nurseries in companies exceeding 50 employees. These are the types of efforts being made.

The UN Women Regional Director Arab States, Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, shared preliminary research from a UN Women and partners study on Access to Justice Mechanisms for SGBV Cases of Syrian Refugee Women and at-risk population in Lebanon.

Some Findings:

There is a high prevalence of gender-based violence against Syrian Refugee Women in Lebanon, which increased during Covid-19 and the economic crisis. Women are afraid to appeal to state justice services out of fear of arrest or abuse. Even if they decide to come forward, there are limited legal protections, services, and information available.

Syrian refugee women confront social, legal, and structural barriers to the formal justice system, often turning to informal justice mechanisms. Patriarchal socio-cultural expectations expect women to endure abuse and avoid formal justice mechanism, especially in instances of family violence. Lack of legal residency, economic fragility, lack of information about rights, and dependence on perpetrators exacerbate these life threatening issues.

Male-dominated and patriarchal justice structures control women’s choices. Men make up the majority of police and judges. Male leaders with decision making power in refugee communities are men, particularly among Sheikh and Shawish communities.

ACTIONS & SOLUTIONS

-Provide proper accountability and supervision of informal justice actors, such as the sheikhs, religious judges. 

-Prioritize funding for sustainable long-term economic empowerment programming targeting refugee survivors of SGBV.

-Increase women’s representation in the justice and the legal system at the national and decentralized level (in line with WPS1325)

-Advocate for more permissive policies on legal stay for refugees, including faster and more affordable residency approval procedures. 

-Scale-up programming that engages men and boys, particularly community and religious leaders to prevent SGBV and change harmful behaviors and attitudes. 

– More female lawyers, which results in more laws focused on gender equality

The panelists gave suggestions on improvements still needed and how to move forward.

Some of which included:

– More follow-up on the work the countries are doing. For example, the database capacities of the hotlines the countries are added to should be improved. 

– Civil society and private sector need to be partners in policymaking. A culture of self-criticism needs to be a pillar in the government’s work in the Arab region. 

– Key objective: help governments achieve the sustainable development goals. 

– Help for governments to achieve Principal SDG 5, and also 4 and 16

– Codifying the international standards for justice and equality before the law

– Reviewing laws with a gender justice approach, looking at states with strong gender justice.

– Allow sexual and reproductive laws to be on the table.

Gender justice is multidimensional. No one left behind is a key principle

COVID has been both a disruptor and accelerator across all industries but has been decelerator for women’s rights, especially in the MENA region. Consequences of the pandemic have been more difficult for the MENA region and we need to address gender justice during the recovery from this pandemic. Women’s participation in the labor force has lowered, women are more susceptible to contracting COVID, and lockdowns have increased violence against women across the board. While representation and awareness are important, action is key.