The Danish Center for Research on Women and Gender (KVINFO), manages and coordinates Denmark’s work to promote equality and women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
Reforms and profound transformations in the societies have been part of life in the Middle East and North Africa for the past decade. These changes have also impacted the area of equality and women’s rights. Nevertheless, some changes are taking place only slowly and with hesitation.
One example is Morocco’s ban on child marriages. The law is 15 years old, but child marriages are still widespread (see https://kvinfo.dk/i-marokko-er-boerneaegteskaber-udbredt-selvom-loven-burde-forhindre-det). According to a 2017 UNICEF survey, 16 percent of girls in Morocco are married before they turn 18. A study by the country’s Ministry of Justice a year earlier indicated that the problem of child marriages is growing.
KVINFO and the Moroccan organization Droits et Justice are working together to put an end to this harmful practice. The campaign has several elements: In rural areas, Droits et Justice is collecting documentation about the extent of the problem and conducts awareness-raising sessions to create an understanding among families and among religious leaders that young girls should neither marry nor be married off. The legal system’s tradition of placing family priorities over the girls’ rights is challenged through dialogue meetings with judges. At the political level, the work includes trying to close the two loopholes in the law, by which not all child marriages are characterized as crimes.
The projects are being carried out in collaboration with local experts and organizations through four Danish organizations: Danner House (which assists women who are victims of domestic violence), the Women’s Council, LGBT Denmark, and the Danish Family Planning Association, and with KVINFO in direct cooperation with partners in the Middle East. Use this link to see the complete list of partners in the equality work. https://kvinfo.dk/mena/partnere-2017-22/
For over ten years, KVINFO has been responsible for the work on gender equality and women’s rights in the Danish-Arab Partnership Program.
Gender equality is one of the core values of the Partnership Program and at the same time both a goal and a means of achieving more democracy, stability and prosperity in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
Gender equality has this dual role, partly because societies become stronger on several parameters when they have gender equality in legislation and practice. For example, societies with a high degree of gender equality are better at managing and recovering from conflicts. Similarly, gender equality contains a considerable economic potential, that can be realized when all people, not just men, take an active part in society’s working life.
In the current program, called the Gender Equality Program 2017-22 (GEP), KVINFO is working directly in partnerships with organizations and institutions in all four countries on issues of legislative reform and political representation. At the same time, KVINFO is coordinating projects that combat violence against girls and women, and other projects aimed at ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all genders, which include, for example, the right to decide over one’s own body, sex education and prohibition of female circumcision.
While the work on legal reform and political representation concerns systemic changes that target all people in the four countries, the projects focusing on violence and for sexual health target more specific groups. A few examples: The organizations LGBT Denmark and the Tunisian Mawjoudin are collaborating to raise awareness about the existence of LGBTQI + people, support their identity and acceptance and to create safe spaces for them in Tunisia. In Egypt, female circumcision is being combatted by the Danish Women’s Council and Tadwein in campaigns and through changes of the teaching curriculum for doctors, as circumcision is highly medicalized in Egypt.
Sex education is entering the school system in Tunisia as a result of the persistent advocacy work of the Danish Family Planning Association and the Associacion Tunisienne de la Santé de la Reproductions. And in both Tunisia and Morocco, efforts are being made to implement the improved legislation to combat violence against women, and women’s shelters are using of Danner’s long experience in helping women subjected to violence. For a list of all the projects see this link: https://kvinfo.dk.linux150.unoeuro-server.com/mena/projekter/
Until 2022, KVINFO’s work in the Gender Equality Program will focus on ensuring support for legislative reforms that eliminate gender discrimination, for example in relation to giving women and men equal rights to inheritance in Tunisia and making the ban on child marriage in Morocco more effective. In Jordan, work is being done on a radical reform of the current Sharia-based family law. At the same time, work continues to ensure, among other things, the rights of LGBTQI+ persons, to make sex education a routine part of children’s schooling, to strengthen the women’s shelters, to fight against female circumcision and to ensure that women can run for both local and national elections on an equal footing with men. Likewise, work continues in monitoring that legislation to prevent and combat violence against women is implemented properly, while continuing to work to include marital rape within the law.
Regionally, we expect that a strong civil society voice will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference, which declared that women’s rights are human rights, and which will be discussed in the UN framework in 2020. Similarly, at regional level, we wish to see enhanced use of regional and international human rights systems and the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for promoting equality. Finally, we expect that several of the organizations with whom we partner will include a greater focus on working with masculinity as part of their strategic approach to promoting equality.
Knowledge and facts
Read more about the work for Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa on KVINFO’s website at this link: https://kvinfo.dk/mena/
Gender equality gap: Denmark is number 14 on the Global Gender Gap Index, published each year by the World Economic Forum. The ranking of the four countries participating in the Danish-Arab Partnership Program are as follows: Tunisia: 124, Egypt: 134, Jordan: 138 and Morocco: 143. A total of 153 countries have been ranked. For a link to the World Economic Forum’s, Global Gender Gap Report 2020 see https://www.weforum.org/reports/gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality.
Law and Justice: In 2018, a number of UN organization published the study Gender Justice & The Law: Assessment of laws affecting gender equality in the Arab States region. This study, which provides an overview of gender equality and gender discriminatory legislation in the countries of the region, can be read at this link: https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/12/gender-justice-and-the-law-in-the-arab-region