The European Union – UN Women joint programme, Spring Forward for Women, enabled the formation of the Arab Women Parliamentarians Network for Equality “Ra’edat”, Pioneers in Arabic.
Evidence shows that states with more women in parliaments and policy making tend to have better laws, social programmes, and budgets. States, especially during transitional periods, need the participation of everyone. In June 2015, women in Arab states’ Parliaments and Houses of Representatives hold in average 17.1 percent of seats, compared to an average of nearly 26 percent in Europe. What appears to be a small statistical difference, is far more than that.
Women’s political participation recently increased in many Arab states due to the introduction of affirmative actions, such as quotas or direct appointments of women. In addition, Arab states vary in terms of population size, regional influence, and socioeconomic structure. Tunisia for example, a state with a population of nearly 11 million, reached an impressive 31.3 percent of women in Parliament whereas Egypt, with a population of nearly 90 million, only attained a 1.8 percent representation of women after the last parliamentary elections in 2012. In addition, during the past few years, many states in the region have been going through policy reforms and conflicts.
It is also crucial to understand that Parliaments and Houses of Representatives in Arab states play different constitutional roles, ranging from being a main source of legislation to offering advisory services to governments. They also vary in electoral systems and mechanisms. Naturally, these conditions have resulted in significant differences in the conditions of women in this region. The Gender Gap Index ranks political participation in Algeria as high as many developed countries (a global rank of 60), while it ranks Yemen on the same indicator very low (a global rank of 138).
There are pressing needs and promising opportunities for a regional platform that enables effective exchange of knowledge and good practices between Arab women parliamentarians. Such platform can enable the regional lobbying towards more gender-sensitive policy reforms with respect to each state’s unique conditions.
In November 2014, UN Women, the European Commission, and the European Parliament brought women parliamentarians from 12 Arab states and the Arab Parliament to a two-day Spring Forward for Women Conference at the European Parliament in Brussels (Belgium) to meet their European peers. Participants from both regions shared their experiences in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Aspired to maximize benefits acquired during the conference, participants discussed the idea of forming a regional network for current and former Arab women parliamentarians. The idea seized consensus quickly. Participants elected five members to put the idea into action. Six months later, in May 2015, the delegation met in Cairo (Egypt) to discuss, review and endorse the Network’s Internal Governing Rules, Charter, Establishment Declaration, Structure and Mandates of Committees. Moreover, founding members agreed on the network branding and elected Heads of Committees. By the end of the two-day meeting, members held a press conference and officially launched the Arab Women Parliamentarians Network for Equality “Ra’edat”, Pioneers in Arabic.
The “Ra’edat” Network aims to unite efforts in the Arab states region to raise the share of women’s representation in decision-making and achieve gender parity by 2030. Political participation of women is the network’s priority to change legislations regulating political participation, in particular electoral laws for Houses of Parliaments, Municipal Councils and local governments, and laws for political parties. The network also operates as an influence group on government policies to adopt strategic agendas and plans supporting women and encouraging transformation towards gender-sensitive budgets. It seeks to activate funds and programmes dedicated to the empowerment of women economically, politically, and socially.
“We now aim to broaden the membership of the network and build strategic alliances with active regional and international entities.”
Dr Rula Alhroob, member of the Jordanian House of Representatives and President of the Arab Women Parliamentarians Network for Equality “Ra’edat”.
Ther “Ra’edat” Network currently has 22 members from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, and Tunisia. Members aim to expand membership and plan the long-term sustainability of their network. They also plan to conduct a regional conference in December 2015 to promote the network and engage their partners.
The “Ra’edat” Network comes within a broader strategy for the Spring Forward for Women programme’s political participation component. The EU – UN Women joint four-year programme (2012-2016) aims to enable women to reposition themselves economically and politically in decision-making spaces so that they have greater influence in shaping the future of their countries and the region. Within the framework of the Spring Forward for Women programme, the “Ra’edat” Network will inspire a much-needed South-South collaboration between Arab countries concerning women’s empowerment during these crucial crossroads in their history.
For more information on the network:
www.womenparliamentarians.net (under construction)
 UN Women website, 2011
 IPU.org, 2015
 Spring Forward for Women website, 2015
 UNDP, 2015
 Spring Forward for Women website, 2015
The European Union – UN Women joint programme, Spring Forward for Women, joins forces with the Jordan River Foundation and Khaldiya Association for Special Education in Jordan to help women with disabilities become economically independent.
Aida lives in a rural community in the Governorate of Mafraq. She and her husband are both Polio survivors, a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Living with disabilities in a community already marked by high poverty and unemployment rates, has been a constant struggle for Aida and her family. In spite of her condition and the social stigma that surrounds people living with disability in Jordan, Aida has always strived to work. She sought decent work that would help support her family and realize her own ambitions.
In 2014, with support of the Spring Forward for Women programme, she developed a small business selling simple goods, such as clothing and household items. Once the investment began to generate dividends, she expanded her business by establishing a productive, commercial kitchen - offering its services on demand to her community. Aida invested her profits in the purchase of a small car which allows her to serve as a mobile store. In rural and remote communities where transportation is both difficult to access for women and cultural constraints can limit their movements, this mobility allowed for her business to expand to new markets.
Within the framework of the Spring Forward for Women programme, Aida’s inspiring story is being replicated to help other women living with disabilities in Jordan and other Arab states to become economically empowered.
Jordan continues to work to address the rehabilitation and integration needs of people living with disability. However, persons with special needs tend to suffer from social exclusion and vulnerability, as evidenced by low levels of education, literacy, employment, and participation – and this is particularly true for women living with disabilities. According to the National Center for Human Rights in Jordan, around 78 percent of youth living with disability in Jordan did not reach high school level education. Among those who were able to pursue a higher education degree, only 30 percent were women. Moreover, less than 12 percent of women with special needs in Jordan currently have a job.
Within the employment sector, the challenges faced by women with special needs include long working hours, low wages received under the pretext of low productivity, lack of recognition of their professional abilities and lack of operational facilities that facilitate their movement. These challenges can grow exponentially for those who live in marginalized areas.
The Spring Forward for Women programme works to address this. The four-year programme (2012-2016) aims to enable women to reposition themselves economically and politically in the decision-making spaces so that they may have greater influence in shaping the future of their countries.
In doing this, the programme supports women to overcome obstacles to become economically independent. This benefits the overall well-being of their families and societies. Aida, a woman living with disabilities from the Khaldiya District of Jordan, illustrates an example of this.