Imagine you are a mother of three in Djibouti, a tiny country on the Horn of the Africa with scarce farmable land or drinking water that is a frequent victim of devastating floods and droughts. In this challenging environment, high food prices make it difficult for you and your husband to feed and care for your children and yourselves.
On October 26, Tunisians go to the polls for the first time under their new constitution to elect 217 new parliamentarians to govern their small Mediterranean country for the next five years. Besides the hectic political campaigning, though, another struggle is going on: the gender push.
After dropping for many years, there has been a recent resurgence of fertility rates in Egypt. A woman born in the 1960s gave birth to an average of 1.4 children by the time she turned 25. Then there came a sharp drop, bottoming out at near 1.1 for women born in the late 1970s. But since then, fertility rates have bounced back, up to an average of 1.2 for women born in the mid to late 1990s.
President of the organization Fardos to empower women, Sameera Nasr Abdullah, addresses the value of having a space in which to build channels of communication with the government.
Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba came from Yemen, and although Ethiopia also stakes its claim to her, no one questions the fact that Yemen has had a number of indomitable queens in the past—something exceptional for its time. Today, Yemen has become exceptional in other ways: It ranks last, or near last, in global indices of gender gaps and female empowerment; it is one of the few countries in the world where there is no minimum age for marriage; and it has legal restrictions that impede women’s mobility and decision-making, their participation in society and their economic opportunities.
New entrants to the working age population in most Middle East and North Africa countries encounter economic structures and policies that have long failed to generate an adequate number of new jobs. In recent years, about 5 million people per year have reached working age but only 3 million of them have found jobs. Unfortunately, ongoing political turmoil and associated economic conditions and policies suggest that the jobs challenge will continue to fester for years to come. However, help may be on the way from a “curiously unnoticed” source: falling fertility rates.
December 17 marked the third anniversary of the Arab Awakening. On that date, three years ago, Mohammed Bouzazizi set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid,Tunisia. The political tsunami that has shaken Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria is well known. What is less known is the impact that the Arab Awakening has had on Arab youth. They were the driving force behind the revolution, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. However, youth are far from having reaped the fruits in either country.
According to Yemen’s National Population Council, maternal deaths in Yemen are the highest in the Middle East. Barely a third of births take place with the help of experienced health workers, and barely a quarter in hospitals or clinics, meaning that most Yemeni women give birth at home with only the help of unskilled health workers, exposing them and their newborns to greater risk.
Equality for women means progress for all. That is this year’s theme for International Women's Day, which falls on March 8 every year. To mark the occasion, we asked women from across the Middle East and North Africa region to share their views on what it's like being a woman in the Arab world; the challenges they face and what they need most to overcome them. After reading their views, we invite you to share yours.