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Women losing out in the Arab Spring

31 Aug, 2011


Women are having mixed fortunes in the new electoral and constitutional arrangements in Arab Spring countries.

The best news comes from Tunisia, where elections are due to be held in Ocober. Political parties will be required to field equal numbers of men and women on their lists, and to ‘zip’ them, that is, to alternate them so that women have an equal chance of election. Currently 28% of Tunisian MPs are women, but If the new measures are successful, Tunisia could be catapulted into the top three worldwide, overtaking Sweden and finding itself behind  Rwanda and Andorra.

Elsewhere things are not so good. New electoral laws in Morocco reserve ‘at least 30’ of the new parliament’s 326 seats for women, and if the quota is achieved a minimum of 9.2% of Moroccan MPs will be female. This is only good news in that the new laws convert what has since 2002 been a non-binding agreement between the political parties into law. Currently 10% (i.e. 34) of Moroccan parliamentarians are female which means that the elections due in November this year could actually see a small reduction, and are unlikely to produce any real increase.

In Egypt, women were excluded from the Constitutional Commission altogether, and the constitutional arrangements which emerged from it contain no mention of equality or women’s rights. Moreover, the new electoral laws have abolished the quota for women (12%) and replaced it with a requirement that each party’s list must contain at least one woman, though it does not specify how far up the list that woman must be. There are currently 65 women in the Egyptian parliament; it is not impossible that after the elections (also in Novermber) the level will be down to single figures.

It remains to be seen what happens in Libya, where so far there have been very few visible women in leading roles in the uprising. However, it seems that there are three women members of the National Transitional Council, one of whom, Salwa Fawzi El-Deghali, is responsible for legal affairs and women, and may also be responsible for overseeing the process of drawing up a new constitution.

CFWD will be monitoring how the elections in a number of Arab countries go during the autumn, and will be especially looking to see how women are affected.