Arab women lag in workforce and parliaments, UN committee informed

5 December 2003

The Arab region has the world’s lowest proportion of women in the workforce and parliament, the United Nations adviser for women’s issues yesterday told the first meeting of a UN committee set up to assess the progress of Arab women.

Eight years after the historic UN conference on women was held in Beijing, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) attracted more than 250 female politicians, community leaders and experts in women’s rights to Beirut, Lebanon, for the first meeting of ESCWA’s Committee on Women.

In a message delivered to the committee meeting, Angela King, the UN Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the committee is poised to play a key role in improving the cause of women across the region. Wariara Mbugua, a senior social affairs officer for the UN, read out Ms. King’s message on her behalf.

In the message, Ms. King told the committee that “Arab women continue to be affected by the spread of poverty perpetuated by increased economic difficulties, political instability and deteriorating social conditions,” adding that armed conflict across Western Asia was also holding back women’s empowerment.

Ms. King also pointed out that three countries in the region – Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – have not signed or ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Only 5.7 per cent of parliamentary seats in the Arab region are held by women, compared to the global average of 15.2 per cent, according to Ms. King.

ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Mervat Tallawy, said Arab women had increased their contribution to the economy since the Beijing conference in 1995, especially in the services sector. She also noted that some countries had lifted their representation of both women in parliament and women as government ministers.

Ms. Tallawy added, however, “Arab women are still suffering from the negative mentality, attitudes, and trends which harm their status, role and image in society due to traditions.”

Delegates to the committee meeting came from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Oman, Qatar, Syria, the Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen. The committee meeting concludes today.

 

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