Presented by Brookings, Vital Voices Global Partnership, and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

Thursday, October 25, 2012
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
The Brookings Institution, Saul/Zilkha Rooms
(1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW)

Women played an integral role in the Arab uprisings, and the continued empowerment of women will be critical to the emergence of democracy in the region. Gender rights and women’s equality are among the most consequential and controversial issues facing newly elected governments across the Arab world. Some fear that the election of Islamist parties will turn back the clock on women’s rights, but others see more open politics as a new opportunity for efforts to achieve equality in the Arab world. How has the Arab awakening affected the women of the region? How are activists and politicians seeking progress for women in this uncertain and evolving landscape?

On October 25, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, Vital Voices Global Partnership funded by MEPI, and the Project on Middle East Democracy will host activists from Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan who are advocating for women’s rights in a variety of ways: combating child marriage, working to repeal gender-discriminatory laws, promoting gender equality in the new Egyptian constitution, and protecting the rights of women workers. Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion.

Please join us for a discussion with:

Lina Ahmed
Lebanese League for Women in Business

Marianne Ibrahim
Al Gisr Center for Development

Randa Naffa

Souad Slaoui
Isis Center

Moderator: Tamara Cofman Wittes
Director and Senior Fellow,
Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings

For full event notes, continue reading or click here for a PDF.


Souad Slaoui discussed her role in a campaign to educate young women and the public about the 2004 al-Modawana family law, which stipulates that girls under 18 years of age could not legally get married, except by a judicial decree. Recognizing the extra-legal social and economic reasons preventing implementation of this law, Souad and the Isis Center began an awareness campaign bringing doctors, judges, and politicians to rural areas to discuss women’s rights and the new law. She emphasized the importance of translating legal documents into Moroccan Arabic and Berber since many rural communities lack knowledge of formal Arabic, or French.

Randa Naffa articulated how the Sadaqa campaign took action to advocate for a fair workplace in Jordan. Article 72 stipulates that any company that employs more than 20 women is required to provide daycare services. However, most women were unaware of the law, while many employers simply ignored it. Despite Ministry of Labor fears that implementation of Article 72 would make employers apprehensive about hiring women, the ministry is now developing clear guidelines to clarify and facilitate full compliance with the law.

Marianne Ibrahim spoke about advocating for women in Egypt’s constitution drafting process. As executive manager of al-Gisr Center for Development, Marianne conducted a survey across Egypt to determine what women wanted to see in the new constitution. The organizations developed a set of 14 demands, of which two appeared on the draft constitution. Additionally, Ibrahim discussed the difficulty of fighting for women’s rights during a period that even liberal representatives said was not the right time to think about women’s issues.

Lina Ahmad said that despite Lebanon’s relatively high level of education, there is relatively low rate of female participation in the work force. With the Lebanese League for Women in Business, Ahmade worked to build an alliance of business leaders, lawyers, and parliamentarians to pass a law addressing maternity leave.

During the Q&A session, the panelists discussed the role of men in the fight for women’s rights. Three of the panelists agreed that men needed to take leadership roles alongside women in initiatives in order to be effective. However, Ahmad said that although she was open to the idea, men were not a necessity for the campaign. She emphasized the role of the mother in teaching their children the values of equality. The panel concluded with a discussion of the economic dimension of women’s rights. Economic necessity pushes women to work, while economic independence empowers women by giving them the ability to choose their own path.