As the world celebrates International Women’s month, it is essential to emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls, and empowering them to be active community leaders as these are important aspects of building a robust rule of law in nations and regions around the world. This is especially important in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as women, who make up more than 50% of the population, redefine their roles and forge new pathways of participation and leadership.In the UN Arab Human Development Reports, gender inequality was identified as one of the main obstacles to development in the Arab region. Although significant advances in social indicators, political participation and legal rights have been recorded over the past years, the gender gap remains the prominent challenge for the region. Tackling this deficit is a prerequisite for moving forward. It is necessary for improving economic growth, creating jobs, and advancing the rule of law.
Political Participation and the Rule of Law
Many governments of MENA countries often overlook the strong potential that women have to bring about reform. Since the uprisings began in the region, we have seen women being denied freedom of expression and despite such obstacles, they continued to mobilize through technology and physical movement. These historical uprisings show how important it is to educate the region’s growing women population about political participation: the rights and obligations that tie them to their state.
In these times of change, it is crucial to foster dialogue across different stakeholders including government, civil society, and the private sector to develop collaborative projects to bring fresh ideas from women to the forefront, to enhance legal protection of women and to support their role in advancing the rule of law development process. More importantly, it is time to re-assess countries efforts to bridge the gap between national commitments to gender rights standards and their implementation and enforcement across the region.
Case Study of Morocco
As a young Moroccan-American, having grown and worked cross-culturally through progressive legal and social complexities, I feel the need to emphasize Morocco’s evolving experience in addressing women’s issues as it can serve as a template for discussion across the region. The reform of the Moroccan family law, the Moudawana, is a bold move and a progressive piece of legislation for women in Morocco.
King Mohammed VI himself has shown his determination to reassert and reinforce the rights of Moroccan women. When he addressed Parliament about the changes to be made to the Moudawana, King Mohammed VI posed the essential question “how can society achieve progress, while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence and marginalization?”
These reforms, which signify a new commitment on the part of Moroccan government to improve the status of women and children have set the country on a path to become a modern, democratic society, and a leading model of both a strong women’s movement and progressive reforms in the Arab world.
Economic Participation and the Rule of Law
Comparative studies on gender and economic growth show that the Arab region can gain significantly in economic terms if it closes the gender equality gap. According to a 2010 gender report by the World Bank, each employed person in the Arab world supports more than two nonworking dependents. Unsurprisingly, high unemployment and low female labor force participation rates make MENA’s economic dependency ratio the highest in the world.
Across the region, further efforts are needed to promote women’s equality at work. There is a pressing need for consciousness-raising and gender sensitization at all levels among women themselves, their communities, and decision-makers. Ultimately, mainstreaming gender in national development plans and policies can pave the way for greater female participation, thus improving the capacity of women, and the productivity of the economy.
With the growing concerns in MENA over the level of women inclusion in the development process, these times present a major break-through in the ability of women to contribute to progress and rule of law promotion, across the region.
As my generation experiences an unprecedented level of interaction and interdependence throughout the Arab world, I can only hope that in years to come we will still have the drive to look beyond obstacles and develop innovative solutions for women to create positive change throughout the region.
 Throughout this overview, the rule of law will be defined based on four principles developed by the World Justice Project: 1) governments and their officials and agents are accountable under the law; 2) laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including security of persons and property; 3) the process by which laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient; and 4) Access to Justice is provided by competent, independent and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.