Almost everyone has heard of the annual International Women’s Day, but have you heard of the Arab Women’s Day? Despite having grown up in Syria, I have not heard of it. When I mentioned this Day to my family and friends living throughout the MENA region, most them responded with a confused: “You mean Mother’s Day?”
Arab Women’s Day, which takes place every February 1, is not only designated to celebrate the achievements of Arab women, but also to advocate for their rights and enhance their ability to participate in the economy. This year several sessions and meetings surrounding this day were held throughout the MENA region in countries such as Egypt and Sudan. Under the supervision of the Arab Women’s Organization, these events promoted discussion on women in the Middle East. Countries such as Bahrain vowed to initiate legal reforms that would guarantee women all rights and empower them to contribute to the economy.
Despite the slow rate of imposing reforms towards gender parity, the few recently enacted legal changes and the meetings to discuss legal instruments are positive steps towards gender equality. Since 2009, the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law has tracked three legal reforms in the MENA region towards gender parity. Even in the face of revolution, war, and instability, MENA countries such as Tunisia and Egypt have empowered women by adding non-discrimination clauses to their newly enacted constitutions.
Reforming the law is an important first step to ensuring women’s rights. The next steps are to implement these laws on the ground and complement them with trainings and workshops that raise the awareness of women’s rights. Highlighting the profile of Arab Women’s Day will provide a rallying point for the events, media attention and public awareness necessary to make the legislation a reality.