The United Nations has released its latest report on gender equality. Among the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia ranked among the highest while Syria, Iraq and Yemen ranked the lowest. Across the Middle East, the issue of citizenship law was noted as a problem in many countries.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, politics, protests, demonstrations and even battlefields have seen increasing participation of women. Women activists have been at the forefront of the protests in Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Sudan. Indeed, in Sudan, Ala Saleh, dubbed the “Nubian Queen” has gained iconic status. Meanwhile in Syria, the fighters of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) have gained similarly iconic status in some parts of the world due to the juxtaposition of their fight against ISIS.
However, one should note that the status of women is hardly uniform across the Middle East, with many countries showing numerous disparities, as well as different sources of inequality. However, the United Nations warns that there are a number of laws and factors across the Arab world that puts women at a distinct disadvantage.
In its report about gender equality within the context of constitutions, gender laws, sanction laws, civic laws and employment laws, the UN warned that citizenship laws are of particular concern. Citizenship laws often prevent women from passing their citizenship onto their children, meaning the only way a person can attain citizenship is from their fathers. This often leads to individuals and families who have been living in a country for several generations not being allowed to be naturalised, holding instead the citizenship of a country they no longer have any connection to. In the event where the father is from a population without a state, such as Palestinians, this can leave the children stateless even if the mother is a citizen of a country.
The UN report also noted that there is a disparity between the law and the practice. The report noted that in Syria, in particular, the constitution guarantees equality before the law. However, this rarely translates to actual practice, with conservative and even tribal social attitudes determining women’s place in the society rather than the law. Indeed, Syria, alongside Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen, rank among the lowest in the UN report. This is in contrast to Tunisia which has been ranked the highest among Arab countries. Mahrinaz al-Aoudi, head of the Centre for Women in Tunis praised the progress but warned that many Arab legislatures are unable to achieve equality.
On the whole, Iceland topped the list, as it has for the past 11 years.