Comparative assessment of women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa: A profund disadvantage, in the 17 countries reviewed


Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice

Summarized by ECWR’s intern Samera Agha


Freedom House released the first ever comparative assessment of women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa. The study offers a unique and critical analysis of the status of women in one of the most complex and important regions of the world.

The report, "Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice" found a substantial deficit in women’s rights in the 17 countries and one territory reviewed. Women are at a profound disadvantage in practically every institution of society: the criminal justice system, the economy, education, health care, and the media.

The goal of this survey is to facilitate and support national and international efforts to empower women in the Middle East and North Africa region through the comparative evaluation of women’s rights in 17 selected countries and territories. These countries, where women’s rights remain a salient issue, are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine (Palestinian Authority and Israeli-Occupied Territories), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

The report was summarized by our intern, Samera, for 17 MENA countries as follows:













Saudi Arabia



United Arab Emirates


Algeria-Freedom House Survey Summary

Algeria has been under a state of emergency since 1992 after the cancellation of national elections in 1989, at which point civil war erupted in the country between Islamist opposition and those loyal to the government. While rights of association and assembly have been curtailed, around 50,000 NGOs operate in Algeria. Many women’s rights organizations function in Algeria despite intimidation by Islamist groups.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 3.0

The legal system is based on French legislation except for family code, nationality and which follows interpretation of Islamic Shari’a which reinforces women’s inequality before the law. Women are treated as legal minors in such matters. A woman may only pass on citizenship to her children if the father is unknown, stateless or a foreigner born in Algeria. Wives have legal obligations to obey their husbands and are not considered guardians of their children. Women continue to lack awareness or financial access to legal rights. Punishments for adultery are generally equal but rapists may escape punishment if they marry their victims. Arbitrary arrests and detentions occur regardless of their being prohibited. Political leaders do not demonstrate support for women’s rights or NGOs.

[Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.4

Male family members and Islamist extremists both serve as obstacles to women’s autonomy in Algeria. Islam is the state religion but all individuals are free to practice their religions. Women’s freedom of movement is typically restricted by family and by social norms that emphasize the women’s role at home. Marriage requires the consent of a male guardian regardless of age; the minimum marrying age for women is set at 18.

Torture continues to be used against opponents of the government and a few extremist groups have abducted and sexually assaulted women but failed to have been prosecuted by the authorities. Violence against women is believed to be a prevalent problem in Algeria but no accurate statistics exist. Domestic abuse is not criminalized in the legal system.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Poverty is widespread in Algeria which also suffers from housing shortages and unemployment. Women have the right to own and dispose of their property independently. Even though inheritance laws legislate that women receive half of the inheritance amount that men do, studies have shown that more and more families in an attempt to distribute their inheritance equally, devise fictitious donations or sales to circumvent the law.

The illiteracy rate of women aged 15 and above is 40 percent, twice the rate of men. Women’s participation in the labor force has been on the rise and is now at 27 percent. Legal provisions exist to ensure equal compensation for employed men and women and the terms of employment contracts. Labor laws also provide for paid maternity leave and nursery care facilities for larger companies.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 3.0

Algeria’s government is filled with many members of the old ruling elites and members loyal to the dominant political party the FLN. Women are underrepresented in senior level political and governmental posts. Freedom of assembly and association must undergo review and approval by the authorities. Human’s rights organizations that attempt to investigate the disappearances of thousands of Algerians during the civil war are denied authorization.

Algerian women are well-represented in the upper-levels of the judiciary: constituting 34 percent of magistrates including the president of the Council of State, one of the highest institutions in the country. In the legislature, women hold a little over 6 percent of the seats in the National People’s Assembly and almost 20 percent in the upper house of parliament. In 1999, political parties, except for the FIS, were allowed to organize.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.9

Algerian women are not independent when it comes to exercising their social and cultural rights due to a number of factors including discriminatory laws, traditional social structures and religious conservatism.

The government made important strides with its family planning policies which have reduced fertility rates from 7 to 2.8, reimburses the purchase of contraception and where 90 percent of births are delivered in public-health facilities. However unequal access to health care is common in Algeria where access depends upon social class and location of residence. The pressure to veil has increased in the past 15 years particularly in the poorer areas of the country. Virginity tests are still carried out on girls. For many women, especially those that are divorced, finding housing is difficult. Poverty has increased among women who are becoming the heads of households in greater numbers as a result of the deaths and abductions of the civil war. Furthermore, wives of abductees must wait a period of four years after petitioning the state before they can access any finances or property of their missing husbands. The numbers of street women who were subjected to abduction and rape find no shelters or assistance from the state.

Algerian women make up 50 percent of all public and private print media employees and tend to exhibit solidarity with women’s rights movements. Women NGOs face the obstacles of conservatism, security threats, government restrictions and lack of financial backing which all limit their abilities to advocate.

Bahrain- Freedom House Survey Summary

After gaining independence from Britain in 1971, the monarch Isa Al-Khalifa abolished the country’s constitution, dissolved the national assembly and enforced Emergency and State Security Laws. Civil society organizations and political parties were banned and the monarch served as the head of all three branches of the Bahraini government. IN 1999, the monarch’s son, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa ascended to the throne and implemented measured political reforms resulting in the creation of a bi-cameral parliament, political rights for women and amnesty for political prisoners. The work of women NGOs remains limited and restricted.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.2

The monarch issued a new constitution in 2002 which in its wording stated that it would work to maintain a balance between a woman’s family obligations and employment and to help equal status of men and women within the bounds of Shari’a. Bahrain’s nationality law does not allow women to pass nationality on to their foreign husbands or to their children. They may sponsor their spouses for employment. Women are entitled to equal access to the judicial system but often face discrimination within the courts. Outside of Shari’a courts a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man’s. Domestic abuse remains difficult to prove or prosecute since the victimization takes place inside the home and witnesses aside from family members are not present. Family pressure tends to deter a woman from seeking justice. Outside of marriage incidents such as rape or assault are subject to punishment; however, other laws encourage leniency against such aggressors by allowing rapists to marry their victims in order to avoid punishment. Murderers in the case of adultery are also given lighter sentences.

There are currently 14 NGOs in Bahrain working on women’s issues but the Societies Law allows the Ministry of Social Affairs to intervene in the internal affairs of NGOs.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.3

While reforms have expanded the general rights of Bahrainis, many curtailments of personal freedom still persist. All individuals are free to practice their religions but conversion within Islam between the Sunni sect and Shia sect are is not favored. There are no legal restrictions against a women’s freedom of movement but social practices persist in regulating travels or activities outside the home.

Family law is not codified in Bahrain leaving women subject to male judges’ interpretations of Shari’a. Marriage contracts for Sunni brides require the permission of a guardian. Torture or degrading treatment is prohibited in the country and there are no reports of prisoners being abused. Female prisoners do not need to have a male guardian for release from jail. Treatment of foreign workers particularly domestic help, are reportedly subjected to many forms of abuse and their cases tend not to be examined seriously. Bahrain has public indecency laws but women are generally embarrassed to report incidents for fear of tarnishing their reputation. Only two women’s organizations offer legal and social counseling services.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.9

Bahrain is pursuing a course of economic diversification and development of small to medium-sized industries. Women’s lack of familiarity and access to business and commercial procedures pose obstacles to their contributions in this sector. Women may own and dispose of their property but typically pass on the responsibility of administering properties to male relatives. Non-Muslim women can’t inherit from their Muslim husbands and Shia wives may not inherit land. Shia daughters inherit everything from their fathers if they have no brothers but Sunni daughters.

Education is free through the secondary level and female enrolment in universities exceeds that of males except in the schools of engineering. Female graduates tend to pursue jobs in education or in the public sector which are now unable to support new graduates. Gender discrimination in hiring practices particularly in the private sector is common as well as disparities in wages and training received.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.1

All citizens have the right to suffrage and to run for elections. Freedom of expression and association are guaranteed in the constitution. The state-owned television has expanded programming and has covered issues such as violence against women and political rights.The number of female journalists is on the rise.

NGOs are still prevented from engaging in political activities. Not one woman was elected to the both the municipal or national councils and all judges in Bahrain are male. Women have been active in the political societies that have sprouted across the country and the monarch has appointed a number of women to high-level posts such as ambassadors and ministers.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.8

Medical care in public hospitals is provided free of charge for citizens. The high standard of living contributes to health awareness and access. Health services such as education and birth control are also provided and do not require a husbands consent. There are no accurate statistics on poverty and gender. A few NGOs serve to enhance women’s participation in economic life by educating them on access to micro-credit and promotion of traditional crafts.

Egypt-Freedom House Survey Summary

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 3.0

Egypt’s legal system is based on French, English and Islamic codes of law.The country has an independent judiciary and varying court levels.The constitution includes a statement that there shall be no discrimination based on gender, women’s access to inherit and own property, education and freedom of movement. Implementation of such laws is not consistent however and no protection mechanisms exist.

Two recent amended laws have expanded women’s rights but still don’t allow for equality. The khul’ law allows women to be granted a divorce after three months without a husband’s consent. The women must give up their dower so such a law only benefits women who are economically independent. The second law allows a woman to pass her nationality on to her children of non-Egyptian father. Women face discrimination in the court system where patriarchal attitudes of judges, overburdened dockets and lengthy bureaucratic procedures prevent women from realizing justice. Egypt is now set to have family courts with the appointment of some female judges.

Domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape are common in Egypt but tend to go unreported; when they are reported, such cases are not prosecuted comprehensively and domestic abuse is not considered a crime. Egypt has an active women’s rights movement with a long history that has made noteworthy gains for women in the country.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.8

Gender discrimination is present in all aspects of woman’s life and personal security is always threatened. Egypt does not have a unified personal status code so each religious community has differing laws. The marriage age is set at a minimum of 16 but the regulation is not always enforced. The Christian community has followed the Islamic Shari’a in matters of inheritance and does not permit divorce except for in special circumstances. Egyptian men can still sue their wives for a lack of obedience and succeed in denying financial support for them. Activists were effective in abolishing the law that forgave rapists of their crime if they married the victims.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women are entitled to own land and property but there is a major discrepancy between the numbers of registered male and female landowners. Inheritance laws follow Shari’a but Christian wives of Muslim men are not entitled to receive a portion of the inheritance. Literacy rates are still very low for Egyptian women at around 46 percent, is uneven in urban to rural areas and lags behind that of men. Enrolment rates of girls in primary and secondary schools are on the rise but due to overpopulation, the quality and facilities are declining. Women’s placement in leadership positions in the public sector remains minimal.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.7

Egyptian men and women have limited capacity to elect their representatives or the president of the republic although in theory it is supposed to be an open, democratic process. The National Democratic Party dominates the political sphere and the members of the national assembly. Freedom of speech is restricted and criticizing the presidency, the military or religion is forbidden. There are approximately 17,000 organizations working on social, educational or economic issues but their activities are monitored and controlled. The Ministry of Social Affairs has right to dissolve any NGO and place its employees on the board of any organization. Newspapers and publications are subject to censorship.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.4

Many women in Egypt do not have access to basic health services especially for those women rural areas. Contraceptive use is on the rise and is estimated to be around 56 percent and 96 percent of women live near a family planning center. While female-genital mutilation was outlawed in 1996, it is still a serious problem for young girls. Female-headed households are the most vulnerable group to suffer from poverty due to limited economic activities. Social security is currently assigned and paid out according to Islamic law but even its distribution is not fully implemented thereby denying women their right to financial support.

Iraq-Freedom House Survey Summary

Assessment of women’s development in Iraq has been complicated as a result of the recent Iraq War and the resulting insurgency and violence. Moreover the continuing series of developments in the last three decades have

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.7

Iraq’s Interim Governing Council approved an interim constitution with wording that guarantees women equal rights with men and a 25 percent representation in the National Assembly. The previous constitution drafted by the Ba’athist regime in 1970 also included guarantees of equal rights of women and men and across ethnic backgrounds as well. Iraqi courts were secular and women were encouraged to represent themselves. Iraq was one of the first Islamic countries to ratify CEDAW although with reservations. The secular and socialist Ba’athist ideology promoted opportunities for women in the political, economic and social sphere. Laws made it illegal for a husband to verbally divorce his wife, to obtain the permission of his first wife if he intended to take a second wife and easier methods for women to obtain custody of their children in the event of divorce. The General Federation of Iraqi Women established in 1972 by the state worked to implement state policy through urban and rural community centers offering training, literacy programs and legal aid. By the late 70s, women constituted 60 percent of civil service employees. The Iraq-Iran War in 1980 in effect deteriorated the gains women had made in the previous decade because of the resulting economic burden, national debts, food and medicine shortages and large number of women who became widows. Saddam Hussein to guard against the growing opposition and backlash began to repeal more progressive laws to appease tribal and religious groups. Women were forbidden from marrying foreigners and encouraged to return to their homes so that army officers could find employment. Punishments for honor killings were reduced from 8 years to six months. Women were now required to travel accompanied by a male and men could now wed a second wife without the consent of the first. By 2000, less than 25 percent of Iraqi women were literate. NGOs are currently sprouting around the country in efforts to build a thriving civil society and remedy the ills of the Iraqi society.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.6

The patriarchal and increasingly religious structure of Iraqi society limits women’s movement and autonomy. In particular after the second invasion of Iraq, women now live under conditions of almost complete lawlessness and lack of security along with a rise in sectarian divisions. Incidents of abduction, rape and assault against women prevent them from venturing out in public. Early marriage is common in Iraq and girls voice little objection to such arrangements. In 2003, the IGC repealed the previous liberal Iraqi Law of Personal Status and attempted to replace it by resolution with the Islamic Shari’a; this signaled a step back for women’s rights. The resolution was never signed into law and eventually voted down after pressure. Torture was common under Saddam’s rule and a rise in human trafficking occurred after the first Gulf War in 1991.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

The cycle of wars, sanctions and general patriarchal attitudes have limited women’s economic participation. Legally women are afforded a range of rights to buy, rent property, acquire loans, enter into business contracts and use their incomes independently. Inheritance rights follow Shari’a therefore women only receive half of the inheritance of men. Iraq’s policy of increasing literacy resulted in the country’s population having some of the highest literacy rates in the region and female literacy was the highest. Labor laws included protection from harassment in the workplace, generous maternity leaves, childcare facilities and transportation to and from work. After the 1990 Gulf War, Saddam ordered the gender segregation of schools and encouraged women to return to the home and not compete with men for jobs.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.2

All Iraqis under Saddam Hussein’s rule lived under a repressive political regime that punished opposition or deviation from the Ba’athist party line. The freedoms of Kurds and Shi’as were further restricted. Under the CPA, political association and expression has mushroomed from a range of ideological perspectives, however the CPA did not follow through on its stated goals of providing women with a more active, directive role in shaping the new Iraqi constitution and government. No women were appointed to the presidential council or the committee of the interim constitution. Only three women were appointed the IGC and only one woman was appointed to the interim cabinet. Kurdish women and NGOs as a result of the creation of an autonomous region were able to organize freely and receive the direction as well as financial support of international organizations.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.1

Oil revenues of the 1970s allowed the Ba’athist regime to create a welfare state offering a generous range of social services. Prior to the series of wars and sanctions, Iraq had a adequate health care system with available access for most, since then however the condition of medical centers and access have declined considerably. After 1980, Iraq adopted a pro-natal policy to spur population growth and offered subsidies for families. Because of deteriorating health care conditions, mothers were put at high risk and maternal mortality rates have been continued to remain high. Abortion was made illegal under the Ba’ath party and in general women do not have control over their reproductive health rights.

The numbers of widows, female-headed households and unmarried women has increased dramatically since the 80s. An overall lack of awareness of women’s issues, isolation from the international community, economic downturns and critical security problems create a mountain of obstacles to NGOs working in Iraq.

Jordan-Freedom House Survey Summary

Women’s rights organizations have made important strides in placing the issues of greater equality for women at the forefront of national policies and debates in Jordan.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.4

Jordanian law combines aspects of Napoleonic code, Shari’a and tribal customary law. The Jordanian Personal Status Law is derived only from the Shari’a collected from the four different schools of interpretation with reference to the Hanafi school for new decisions or rulings. The constitution includes provisions guaranteeing equality for all Jordanians before the law but neglects to specify discrimination based on sex hence there are also no protections against gender discrimination or mechanisms for remedying it. For a period of two years from 2001-2003 when the national assembly was dissolved, King Abdullah and his council of ministers introduced a number of provisional laws promoting women’s rights; these laws were subsequently rejected when the House of Representatives resumed its session.

The Jordanian nationality law does not grant women the right to confer citizenship to their foreign husbands or to the children of the marriage and granting residency status to the foreign husbands is difficult.

Women can serve as plaintiffs and defendants before the courts and their testimony is given equal weight to those in men except for cases under the jurisdiction of Shari’a courts such as marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance where the testimony of two women is equivalent to that of a man’s. There are certain penal code concessions made for women who are pregnant such as reduction of sentencing from death to life imprisonment or allowing a married couple convicted to serve consecutive terms.

Honor killings in Jordan are a serious problem and perpetrators of such crimes generally tend to receive light sentences. National and international attention has been brought to the issue and women NGOs have been persistent in lobbying the government to change the punishments for these crimes.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.4

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Jordan if practices do not harm the public morality or order of the country. Islam, Christianity and Judaism are the three recognized state recognized faiths although small communities of Druze and Bahai are present. Personal status matters for non-Muslims are heard under separate tribunals although some Christians elect to apply Shari’a in matters of inheritance. Citizens are able to travel freely within the country and the previous law requiring women to receive permission from their male guardians to obtain a passport was replaced to allow women to independently renew and apply for a passport. Still through nonofficial channels some cases of males preventing women or their children from traveling abroad have been reported. A system of welaya or guardianship is incorporated into Jordanian law allowing a male guardian to act on behalf of his female dependent if she is under the age of 40 or previously married grants him the right to force his dependent under supervision. Only fathers are granted legal guardianship over their children.

Men are allowed to take up to four wives, however restrictions have been placed on such arrangements; permission is granted by the courts only after a judge has determined the husband to be financially capable of supporting the other wives and that the first wife and second have been informed of his marriage(s).A male guardian’s consent is required for marriage contracts based on Maliki interpretations of Shari’a. Arbitrary divorce by men is still sanctioned although becoming less accepted in society while women now have the option of khul’, suing through the courts for the dissolution of the marriage, which is typically granted given the abandonment of any financial marital rights.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women have the right to own and administer their personal property without restriction but only 10% of all property in Jordan is owned by women due to obstacles of obtaining economic resources. Inheritance is dictated by Islamic law and in some cases heads of households may transfer ownership of their property to the sons, preventing women from receiving their share.

Women may freely enter in to business-related activities and receive the majority of micro-financing. Women tend to pursue professions in the fields of education or nursing which are viewed as socially accepted.Furthermore regulations delineate a number of occupations that women are barred from working in hazardous environments and working hours are defined. While hiring in the civil service sector does not appear to be discriminatory, the benefits allocated to male employees are not equally distributed to women such as a cost of living allowance and family allowance. Women with children are those pregnant receive special protections such as a 10-week leave of absence, breaks for breast-feeding and nurseries to care for children.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.8

Although citizens may organize and demonstrate to some extent with the approval of the appropriate authorities, the Press and Publications Law restricts the freedoms of journalists by giving the government control over editorial content, issues fines, shutdowns and licensing barriers. Women can participate fully in the electoral process and appointments to government posts as well as a quota system for parliamentary candidates have aided in increasing women’s contribution. Women’s representation in the judiciary is considerably low with not a single women judge in the higher courts nor serving as public prosecutors. Women are also underrepresented in senior civil service positions as well as the diplomatic corps. Women participated in the founding of 28 of the 31 political parties in the country.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.5

Societal norms dictating the roles of men and women in the public and private spheres continue to remain one of the major obstacles to obtaining full legal and social equality.

Medical coverage isn’t readily available for many women due to financial constraints Statistics indicate that the chances a woman over 55 will be widowed or abandoned are high and may be eligible for aid under the National Aid Fund

Kuwait-Freedom House Survey Summary

Kuwait just last month in May of 2005, passed legislation granting women the right to vote and run for seats in parliament. It was a victorious struggle for the women’s movement. Women are poised to become very active in the government after years of denial of suffrage rights.

Kuwait is a traditional monarchy with a limited parliamentary system but with a per capita income that is one of the highest in the world and offers its citizens an extensive welfare system.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 1.9

As Islam is the state religion in Kuwait, laws are based upon Islamic Shari’a thus creating differences between the rights of women and men. The creation of a Shi’a Court of Cassation rules on personal status and family issues according to Shi’a interpretation. In the jurisdiction of secular courts women’s testimony is equal to that of man’s. The penal code treats men and women equally for the most part but the crime of honor killings still allows for reduced sentences for male offenders. Kuwait practices the death penalty but the punishment is not carried out on pregnant women or those with dependent children. Particular laws relating to personal status, welfare and housing describe women as dependents of men, not individuals. Women may not pass on nationality to their foreign-born husbands or to the children of such a marriage. The strict policies governing citizenship and refugees in Kuwait have created a large minority of residents without a nationality. Kuwait’s National Assembly Human Right’s Committee receives complaints of violations, discrimination from nationals or from expatriates regarding employment issues but the activities of women’s rights groups have not advocated enough against gender discrimination and unequal access to justice.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.2

All religions can be practiced freely in Kuwait. Freedom of movement is hindered to some degree. For instance a married woman may not obtain a passport without the written permission of her husband, however a single women at the age of 21 can directly receive one. Women do not have the option to petition the courts for a divorce, while men more or less are given unconditional rights to divorce. A woman is granted custody of her children after a divorce unless she remarries, forfeiting those rights. The extent and severity of domestic abuse is not well-documented Kuwait so it is difficult to assess. Abuse of domestic workers and denial of their freedoms is common in Kuwait however many times those workers are restricted from reporting such incidences due to lack of awareness or economic insecurity.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.9

Kuwaiti women comprise two-thirds of all university students and graduate at higher levels than men. An unfortunate consequence was that Kuwait University instituted an affirmative action type policy raising the minimum GPA scores for women in the departments of engineering medicine so that more men would be accepted into the programs and most likely continue into the labor force upon graduation. Many women even after receiving years of education are pressured by families not to work outside the home. Kuwaiti women are employed in a variety of fields but are barred from employment in the police, the army or judiciary. There appears to be no widespread discrepancy between the remuneration of women and men in the public and private sectors. Harassment laws need to be introduced to protect all workers who may face verbal or physical

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.4

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a National Assembly elected every four years. In May of 2005, women were finally granted suffrage rights and the right to run in country elections after years of activism by the Kuwaiti women’s movement. There are no political parties in Kuwait but groups with similar political ideologies that work within NGOs. Women’s rights groups face restrictions on creation, management and structure of organizations. There are only five licensed women NGOs in Kuwait all of which are required to accept government subsidies and restricted from receiving funds from international donors. Men are not allowed to become members of women NGOs. Women do participate in civic associations, professional associations and unions.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.8

Kuwait has an extensive, generous welfare system for its citizens. The health care system is well-developed and in general women have control over their health and reproductive rights and access to contraception. Abortion is illegal in Kuwait and doctors are reluctant to perform them even in cases where the life of the mother may be threatened. Women are excluded from receiving low-interest loans from the government for housing and divorced women are even more vulnerable to economic struggles. In cases of divorce even when the mother receives custody of the children, the state allocates child support benefits to the father. The media in Kuwait have allowed for women’s issues and women’s roles to be highlighted in public

Lebanon-Freedom House Survey Summary

Lebanon’s instability since its granting of independence from France has rendered the country a divided, complex territory invaded, occupied and fought over both internally and by foreign advances. Lebanon’s government recognizes 18 separate religious sects and administers 15 different personal status codes complicating significant attempts to address national’ issues and in particular women’s rights.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.8

The Lebanese constitution recognizes all citizens has being equal under the law however no particular legislation stipulates that gender discrimination is prohibited. Nationality laws discriminate against women barring them from passing on citizenship to both foreign-born husbands and the children of such a union. Lack of citizenship prevents access government benefits, employment opportunities or own property. While most women have equal access to the judicial system of Lebanon certain restrictions may prevent those who are from a lower socioeconomic status, education, age or patronage.

In all courts except for the Sunni and Shi’a religious courts, a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man; for Sunni and Shi’as two women comprise the equivalent of one man an in all religious courts, women are prevented from becoming lawyers or judges.

NGOs’ priorities are geared towards social and economic activities and programs for rural women. Establishing NGOs is easily facilitated through government channels although support for NGOs is generally minimal and the Lebanese government would be better served to invest and contribute towards more

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.9

Free practice of religion in Lebanon is guaranteed to all citizens however they must be in accordance with one of the 15 personal status codes. Civil marriage is not recognized in Lebanon unless it has taken place outside of the country. Freedom of movement for women while not legally restricted is constrained by social customs and family traditions. The role of the family in determining a woman’s profession travels and residence persists. Laws and courts are not as important in shaping the choices of women and the attainment of their rights. Family, religion and socioeconomic background are three factors carrying greater weight. Domestic violence, rape including marital rape are not prosecuted diligently in Lebanon.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women’s representation in the labor force remains low, migration for work is prevalent, and economic condition due to consecutive wars is struggling. All non-Muslim women inherit equally to their male counterparts. There are no gender restriction on economic activity and occupation although typically women pursue studies in social sciences and relevant job opportunities. Palestinians in Lebanon are denied citizenship therefore restricting their job opportunities within the economy

Political and Civic Voice: 2.9

Ban on public demonstrations, new media laws curtail freedom of speech particularly for sensitive political matters, elite families dominate the political arena and women are socially constrained (politics is a dirty arena and not a proper place for women) from pursuing political careers, the government has yet to institute a quota system for women parliamentarians, there are currently on 3 women MPs, and only 26 women have run for elections since 1956. women are active in civil society. There is more improvement necessary for women in the political sphere.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.9

Women have equal access to health care both public and private in Lebanon including family planning centers. In addition women are not required to obtain the permission of their husbands for any medical procedure. Abortions are illegal except under circumstances deemed to endanger the life of the mother and contraceptive use is not very prevalent particularly for single women who are expected to maintain their virginity until marriage.

Women may exercise their right to own property and choose their place of residence. Single women living alone are found more often in urban settings and usually for those studying at a university away from home. The trend of cohabitation between unmarried males and females while less common, is also increasing.

Media’s representation of women does not follow a policy of improving gender stereotypes or raising awareness of women’s issues. Women are typically absent from decision-making levels of media institutions.

There exist disparities between male and female wages especially in the agricultural sector, where a woman’s contribution may not even be recognized. Competition for funding amongst Lebanese NGOs places them in an environment that does not necessarily encourage collaboration and cooperation, therefore draining potential concentrated energies into the women’s movement.

Libya- Freedom House Survey Summary

The country of Libya has been ruled by Moammar Al-Gadhafi since 1969 he assumed control after a blood-less coup. The one-party republic is a presidential dictatorship coupled with authoritarian rule and a police state apparatus. Patriarchal values and tribal affiliations pervade the social structure of Libya’s culture and norms particularly regarding the roles of women. While women are afforded a number of rights to employment, marriage, divorce and education, there is evident discrimination against them legally, socially and economically.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.3

There are contradictions contained within the Libya legislations and declarations (there is no constitution) both claiming that women and men are equal before the law but then note biological differences making equality impossible. Access to justice in theory is the same for both men and women with a judiciary consisting of a fusion of civil and Shar’ia courts, however family issues are still dictated by Islamic law and therefore discriminate against women. Moreover, women are discouraged from seeking legal redress due to the pressures to resolve matters within the family structure. The penal code and criminal legislation generally treat men and women equally however regarding punishment for adultery, men are often granted more lenient sentences. Imprisonment of women for engaging in political activities is tempered practice by the regime.

Transference of nationality from a woman to her foreign-born husband or children is not possible under Libyan laws. Qadhafi merged the civil and Shari’a courts and currently there are four court levels in Libya the highest being the Supreme Court. Women have the right to submit complaints of discrimination to the courts although the exercise of this right is conditions by class status, family and religion. The regime in Libya is cautious about arresting or imprisoning women for political activity. Women’s groups operate in Libya but always through the state so there are no real independent, NGOs due to repression.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.1

Women as do men, suffer from the authoritarian nature of the state where civil liberties are curtailed. Furthermore, women suffer from traditional social structures, violence and abuse. Islam is the state religion and the practice of most religions is tolerated. Friday sermons are monitored and the veiling of women is accepted. Travel within Libya and internationally by women does not require permission from a male guardian but in reality, most women are expected to seek it. Women generally travel accompanied by a male. A man may divorce his wife but needs to petition the court and receive permission from a legislator. Women may petition for a divorce if the husband cannot maintain her, is impotent or absent. Custody of children is a right that both parents have. In the event of a divorce, custody is granted first to the mother, then her mother, then the child’s father. The child must be financially supported by the father in any case. The minimum age for marriage is 20 and does not require the consent of a guardian. There are anti-trafficking laws in Libya to prevent women mainly from sub-Saharan Africa to be sent to Western Europe. Domestic violence, marital rape, and sexual harassment are all present in Libyan society but there is no legislation punishing such crimes.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.3

Females remain underrepresented in the Libyan economy in spite of the fact that Qadhafi has encouraged them to participate. There is little private ownership in Libya as a result of the revolutionary policies. Women may own property, dispose of their income independently and obtain bank loans without the requirement of permission from their husband. Few women choose to engage in business activities. Inheritance distribution follows Shari’a, but it is reported that for the minority Tuareg population, inheritance follows the female line. Girls continue to lag behind boys in education and about 30 percent of Libya females over the age of 15 are illiterate. At the university level all academic disciplines are open to women. Labor force participation for women is around 22 percent and Qadhafi contrary to popular tradition has encouraged women to pursue careers in the police force and the military. Labor legislation provides for equal pay, maternity leave and childcare facilities for women.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.2

Political parties are banned and such activities may be punishable by death. All decisions rest under the control of Qadhafi and his inner circle. Unauthorized assembly is not legal, freedom of expression is nonexistent and the security apparatus is active in monitoring citizens. Minority populations are not recognized in Libya and the Berber population is denied from using their language in schools or giving children Berber names. Women face many obstacles to participating in politics and few women have been appointed to the decision-making bodies of the Libyan state.

Social and Cultural Rights: 1.8

Religion and tribal affiliation define Libyan society. Reproductive health remains a family affair. Contraceptive use is low and abortions are illegal. Women work in the media but all outlets are state-controlled. Women therefore have limited methods to advocate on behalf of women’s rights or change attitudes within society.

Morocco- Freedom House Survey Summary

Morocco is a country undergoing positive changes towards economic and political liberalization in particular more recently under the leadership of King Mohammad VI who ascended to the throne in 1999. Morocco is a traditional, hereditary monarchy with a limited parliamentary system. NGOs advocating on behalf of women’s rights are generally free to organize, plan conferences, seminars...

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 3.2

Morocco’s legal system is based on the Maliki School of jurisprudence under Islamic law and the civil law systems of both France and Spain. According to the constitution, women are afforded equal political rights as men however there is no statement of equal civil rights. There are measures taken to advance the status of Moroccan women such as the creation of a ministry responsible just for reviewing the status of women. For Muslim citizens, family courts adjudicate over issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, etc. which are partial to men’s rights. In addition, Moroccan women can neither pass on citizenship to foreign-born husbands nor to the children of their foreign-born husbands except under special circumstances. New laws enacted have generally promoted the interests of women under the penal code. Cases of adultery, abuse, violence and are punishable equally for men and women but young women are prosecuted for pregnancy out of wedlock, Witness/testimony of a woman is still not equal to that of a man and while Morocco passed CEDAW, it did adopt reservations to certain articles.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 3.2

While the majority of people in Morocco are Muslim, there are small Christian and Jewish minorities who are free to practice their religions. Muslims who choose to convert other religions encounter social ostracism and it is unlawful for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim husband. Laws preventing women from traveling independently or obtaining a passport have been repealed however in practice government officials may still request young girls and married women to produce consent from fathers or husbands.

A progressive step towards gender equality within the family was an amendment to the CSP stating that women and men shared joint responsibility over the family and family matters with rights and duties of both spouses without discrimination; raising the marriage age for girls from 15 to 18 years is another example of policies adopted to gradually improve the status of women. Women are now offered the option of consensual divorce and divorce due to irreconcilable differences.

They are still at a disadvantage in custody cases and the trafficking of young women whether Moroccan or African is a serious problem for the country. Underage employment remains a common element of Moroccan society where young girls between the ages of 10 to 12 are hired as domestic servants although the legal employment age was raised from 12 to 15 in 2002.

Women continue to suffer from violence and harassment within the family and in public and better measures should be taken to prosecute such offences.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 3.1

Discrimination against women in the Moroccan economy is a factor holding back gender equality. A lack of access to equal economic rights is generally more common amongst the rural population than the urbanized segments of society due to lack of literacy and knowledge about rights, however apply to all women when it comes to inheritance laws which still distribute property according to Islamic law. Moroccan women are legally entitled to freely and independently dispose of the incomes they generate and property inherited. Women-owned businesses represent a tiny fraction of female labor participation; those in business tend to rely on personal funds or family capital to start-up and are unwilling or uninformed about access to credit resources.

Figures for women’s illiteracy rates in Moroccan are high at 61.7%. Elementary education only became mandatory in 2000 and rural women are disproportionably affected.

Labor codes uphold equality in the workplace with respect to employment and salary but some occupations remain off limits to women such as firefighter, active service in the army and territorial administrative officials and wages continue to be higher for men due to social customs. Unemployment tends to be higher among women as well with those holding advanced degrees exhibiting a higher proportion of unemployment than any other group of women.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 3.0

Women are free to participate in the legislature and judiciary branches and have measurably freedoms of public expression. In 1999, 30 seats were allocated in the parliament for women candidates a valuable increase from a little over 1% of parliamentary seats to 10.8% of the parliament. Candidacy and participation in local elections continues to lag without proactive government support and mechanisms to increase representation. Women constitute one-sixth of all lawyers in the country and serve as judges within most court levels. Their participation at the ministerial level of government does not demonstrate great success with only one woman being appointed to the Secretary of State position.

Social and Cultural Rights: 3.0

Inequalities exist between men and women in the areas of education, employment, health care and social freedoms. The rural-urban divide creates another layer of factors barring many women from development. Therefore access to social and cultural rights is limited and in some cases restricted for women in general but for rural women to an even greater extent. Poverty-housing, income, health-traditional practices, virginity tests, health care in the home, sexually transmitted diseases.

Media and the press in particular have promoted positive changes for the status of women. Women are playing more active roles in radio and television.

NGO activity has been instrumental to women’s development and rights, working on poverty alleviation, illiteracy micro-credit programs.

Overall, the Moroccan government can do more to support women’s rights by increasing its budgetary allocations, widening its scope and depth of attention particularly to the needs of the rural population.

Oman -Freedom House Survey Summary

Oman is a monarchy headed by Sultan Qaboos who introduced limited expansion of political reform after the creation of a consultative council and a state council. Universal suffrage was granted only in 2003.The Sultan has also pursued economic liberalization policies that have raised standards of living for Omanis.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.0

Oman’s constitution is based upon the Ibadi interpretation of Islamic Shari’a. Civil, commercial and criminal cases are handled in the courts of first instance while personal status cases fall under the jurisdiction of Shari’a. The judiciary while technically independent is under the influence of the sultan and ministry. The 1996 Basic Law granted some civil liberties, defined the process of succession and stated that there shall be no discrimination based on gender, religious sect, language, color, origin, social status or domicile. In reality there are no protections for the residents of Oman who are not citizens and women in general. Both men and women can gain access to courts and have legal defense and recently the procedures for prosecuting criminal cases were defined. Many Omanis remain unaware of the rights however. Rural women are particularly vulnerable as they have no legal literacy.

Few NGOs are active in Oman and the establishment of both human rights and women’s rights NGOs is banned. Women’s issues are monitored by the government and handled by the Oman Women’s Association. The association’s activities include lectures, handicrafts, informal legal advice, and the promotion of Omani values and customs. There are also a number of approved women’s associations working to educate women and raise awareness among them. Omani women desperately need more legal advocacy and literacy and for more women to become active as lawyers and legal aid advisors. Oman has not signed CEDAW.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.1

Islam is the state religion but other religions may be practiced freely.

Women must receive the permission of their male guardian in order to travel abroad. If an Omani citizen wishes to marry a non-citizen they must have the approval of the government. Women typically have more leeway in choosing their spouses or in rejecting those suggested by their families.

Foreign workers, particularly female domestic workers, are occasionally denied control over their travel documents or an employment contract.

There have been no reports of degrading treatment, psychological torture or humiliation and the prison of Oman adhere to international standards.

Domestic violence is not reported nor discussed in the media or by the government but nonetheless it does exist.

Economic Rights and Equal Access: 2.7

The “Omanization” of country’s economy has become a priority for the government since 80% of the employees in the private sector are foreign and makeup 50% of the entire labor force. Women may dispose of their own property and enter into business contracts freely. Women and men’s literacy rates are still unequal although many gains have been made in the field of education. According to an enrolment quota system implemented at the level of higher education, men are accepted in higher numbers in the fields of medicine and engineering and the number of allotted seats in the professional or technical colleges is less for women. Their labor force participation is on the rise with an estimated 20% economically active. Men tend to receive more employment-related benefits and concessions than women as they are deemed to be the heads of households. The government has taken measures to prevent discrimination in the hiring process based on gender. Employees do not have the right to collective bargaining or to unionize but have organize representative committees to represent them and their interests. Sexual harassment has been reported in Oman but there are currently no laws to punish such acts.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.2

Omanis cannot fully participate in the political life of their country although their rights are increasingly expanding. In 2003, universal suffrage was granted and women are beginning to participate in elections and government positions. Freedom of the press is restricted and journalists oftentimes practice self-censorship. The government is the largest employer of women; about 33% of the civil sector.

Women are not allowed to serve as judges in Oman. Women still need to access roles that influence policy decisions in leadership positions.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.1

Reproductive and health education has been offered by the government and a birth-spacing program was launched to inform couples of the benefits of such a plan. Birth-control and counseling are available for free in institutions affiliated with the Ministry of Health. Abortion is illegal. FGM has never been widely practiced in Oman except for in localized communities and there it appears to be on the decline.

Divorced and widowed women are the most vulnerable to poverty in society.

Palestine-Freedom House Survey Summary

The ongoing political crises and occupation have created unfavorable conditions for the state of the Palestinian economy, society and government. Palestinians as a whole and women specifically have suffered as a result of the damage to the infrastructure and social services structure. While women NGOs have been active in raising the priorities of women in the territories, politics and resistance against the occupation remain the focus of the Palestinians.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.6 The constitution of Palestine states that there should be not discrimination based on sex but in practice it is a different scenario. However, women’s rights groups have worked closely with legislators to make the laws more gender-sensitive and provide punishments for discrimination. Palestinians fall under the jurisdiction of four different legal systems: Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian or Israeli, depending upon their id cards, place of residence or period of forced migration. As Jordanian and Egyptian laws are still applied to the West Bank and Gaza respectively women may not pass on their nationality to their children or husbands. Palestinian women do not share equal access to the justice system as men and are not treated equally under the penal code. The courts and law enforcement sector are male-dominated which may prevent some women from seeking justice. Furthermore after the second Intifada of 2000, the overall structure of law enforcement and judiciary has been weakened and many Palestinians have resorted to customary or tribal law. Honor killings are widespread in Palestinian community.

Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation by Israeli authorities. Palestinian women in Israeli jails may experience humiliating and degrading treatment.

Palestine is not able to ratify CEDAW because it is not officially an independent country.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.7

Freedom of religion is protected in Palestine and there is solidarity between Christian and Muslim communities. Women are legally entitled to independently obtain a passport after the age of 18 but some officials may still require written consent from a male guardian in complete neglect of the law. The Israeli erected separation wall and 123 checkpoints within the Palestinian territories severely restrict mobility. Personal status laws are in accordance with Jordanian and Egyptian codes. There are no laws specifically punishing domestic violence and women tend to be discouraged from raising such matters to the public eye. There is only one battered women’s shelter found in the city of Nablus.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Even though they have the right to own property, studies reveal only around 7 percent of all registered real estate/ property is owned or shared by women. Decision-making in the household is generally shared by both men and women. Inheritance laws govern that women receive half that of men and oftentimes that share is not even claimed.

The Ministry of Education has made a concerted effort to construct more schools for girls and implemented a new policy allowing engaged or married girls to return to school to complete their education. Literacy levels among women averages 87 percent.

Most women in Palestine remain outside of the labor force, an estimated 90 percent. The desperate economic situation because of occupation plus lack of support services serve as obstacles to their participation.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.6

The Israeli occupation, social and cultural traditions and economic burdens restrict the civil liberties of women. For the most part the right to public assembly can be easily obtained via permission from the governor with the PA territories; however within Israel they may be subject to attack from the army or police. Women are free to advocate on behalf of their rights but under the prevailing conditions tend to give priority to the nationalist movement. Women’s representation in the judiciary and courts remains low; the number of posts held at senior-level public office positions is minute and out of a total of 3,081 local government officials, women occupy only 30 places.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.9

Palestinian women have very high fertility rates due to the socio-political environment and low levels of labor force participation. Studies indicate that women do not have control over their reproductive rights such as the number of children to have or the use of contraception. Abortion is illegal except in cases that endanger the life of the mother. Some Palestinians women who can travel into Israel may receive an abortion there. Elderly women are the most marginalized group in society and no health programs target their needs. The practice of FGM while not widespread is still practiced especially in Gaza in areas closest to Egypt. In Palestine, 10 percent of all households are female-headed and are overwhelmingly poverty-stricken.


Qatar Freedom House Survey Summary

The monarchy of Qatar granted women equal suffrage in 1999 and subsequently that same year the first municipal elections were held. Approval of a new constitution establishing a legislative advisory council was the result of a referendum voted on by 97% of Qataris. The population of Qatar is comprised of 75% non-citizens who furthermore constitute 85% of the workforce.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.0

The constitution states that both sexes are equal before the law and should not face discrimination. No mechanisms are in place to inform women neither of such rights nor for complaints to be lodged. Qatari citizenship is difficult to obtain and preferential treatment is given to the members of the ruling royal family. The judicial system is divided into the Islamic (which mainly have jurisdiction over personal status matters) and non-Islamic courts. Half of Qatar’s judges are non-citizens and there is not one female judge. Only in 2000 did Qatar grant the first woman a license to practice law. Qatar has not signed CEDAW or very many international conventions. The government has banned all nongovernmental women’s rights groups. The Supreme Council for Women’s Affairs (affiliated with the government) is the only active group promoting women and children’s advocacy. Their actions have resulted in the marriage age being raised to 16, the right of women to keep custody of her children in the event of a divorce and the right of a divorced woman to three years’ alimony.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.1

Islam is the state religion of Qatar and is interpreted according to the Wahhabi tradition. Worship by Christians, previously banned in Qatar, experienced a milestone when in 1999 authorization for the construction of the first church was granted. Shi’a Muslims are allowed to practice publicly except for certain ceremonies such as self-flagellation. Other religious groups do not practice in public but are not faced with persecution either. Qatari women must obtain the permission of their male guardians to acquire a driver’s license. In the workplaces, schools, banks and most public spheres women have their own separate section and are discouraged from integrating with men not related to them.

Women may petition the courts for a divorce and can be granted one if she proves that she can no longer live with her husband. Polygamy is widespread and accepted in Qatari tradition. Qatar also serves a destination for trafficked women who often endure coerced labor. Domestic abuse and abuse by employers is common. Domestic abuse incidents are usually resolved and reconciled by the extended family.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women have the right to own land or property and dispose of their incomes independently. Inheritance laws follow Shari’a laws. Non-Muslim woman may not inherit unless specified in the marriage contract at which point they can receive up to one-third of the inheritance. Women are beginning to be involved in investment activities although it is still rare and family may voice opposition to business arrangements involving association with un-related men. Education is free at all levels for citizens but remains segregated. Women’s literacy rate is just about even with men at 82%. There is little variety in the degrees most women pursue, making an oversupply of applicants for the available jobs. Moreover women are not allowed to study in the faculties of engineering or law at the University of Qatar. Women constitute 26% of the Qatari national workforce yet filled only 4.5% of administration and senior-management positions. A new labor law enacted in 2004, grants men and women the right to equal wages for similar positions as well as training and promotions. Gender-specific provisions for working women with children are offered by the Qatari government.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.7

Peaceful assembly is restricted, public demonstrations and political parties are banned and authorization of civil society groups is limited. Local media does not critically treat politics, domestic issues or women’s rights within Qatar but does report on such issues in other countries. Women have the right to vote and participate in elections and the first and only woman elected to the municipal council in 2003.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.5

Family is central to Qatari society. Most women wear the hijab (veil) in public. Citizens have free access to the national health care system which also covers mental, dental and childbirth treatment. Abortion is legal with the consent of both parents but reproductive rights and contraception are not discussed. Women’s participation in the field of media is relatively small but growing. Most of the reforms put forth promoting women’s rights have been under the direction of Shaikha Muza, the emir of Qatar’s wife.

Saudi Arabia-Freedom House Survey Summary

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where its citizens do not have any suffrage rights, political parties are illegal and the strictest interpretation of Islamic religion is employed as the foundation of the legal and judicial systems.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 1.2

The Saudi legal system is based on the Wahabi interpretation of Islamic law which denies any citizen due process, protection from torture or legal representation. The hierarchal nature of Saudi society furthermore offers privileges to those of the royal family and wealthy elites. In 2002 women were allowed to apply for their individual identity cards albeit with the approval of their male guardian. The ID card registers women in the national records making them eligible to receive state subsidies.

Women’s equal access to the justice system is hindered by the stipulations that they must hire a male lawyer, have a male representative or represent themselves.

Foreigners, Shia and working class Saudis may be subject to arbitrary arrests. Domestic servants are particularly vulnerable to abuse and harassment by law enforcement and employers.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 1.1

There is no freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia even for different interpretations of Sunni Islam; the only legal practice is of Wahabi school of Islam. Women are not be outside the confines of their neighborhood without their mahram and physical contact between an unrelated male and female is illegal. Public spaces are male domains with special periodic access for women. Passports are seized upon arrival of foreign workers from developing countries and only returned upon departure from the country. Marriage is typically an arrangement between two families; women can be granted a divorce only if stipulated as such in the pre-marriage contract, choosing the khul’ option which denies right to maintenance or mahr or by way of proving the husband to be impotent or of his desertion.

In matters of child custody, paternal grandparents have priority over the mother if the father is not present or deemed unfit to parent. Foreign women married to Saudi nationals have no legal channels to gain custody of their children once they are in the country. Domestic violence and rape are prevalent in Saudi society but continue to be underreported due to social constraints. There are no laws protecting women from such abuses and the burden of proof rests on the victim’s shoulders.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 1.4

Women’s personal use of property and wealth is curtailed by the rules of gender-segregation making it difficult for women to enter banks, businesses, offices due to the interaction between males not related to them. Any woman planning to start a business is required to hire a male manager before being granted permission. The creation of women-only banks, departments and retail establishments have increased women’s access to economic activity. Women comprise 56% of Saudi university enrollment but are denied from studying engineering or enter the university for oil and minerals

Political Voice and Civic Rights: 1.0

Women are not permitted to attend the weekly majlis meetings where citizens can raise grievances; instead they must send a written petition. Women are forbidden from serving in the judiciary as either judges or lawyers. Petitions to the royal family to expand political, religious, and civic rights have accelerated in the last few years and conferences organized by the crown prince has brought attention to the issues. NGO activity and organizations are difficult to establish.

Social and Cultural Rights: 1.6

Medical and health care in Saudi Arabia are well-developed and accessible without charge for nationals. Women however face restrictions for surgical operations which require the permission of the woman’s guardian. Contraception is now available to women and its use is on the rise. Women may own property but it is illegal for a woman to live alone. Women’s groups in Saudi Arabia are prevented to working with other NGOs outside of the kingdom and with international organizations only with the review of the government. There does appear however from polling conducted that overall the majority of Saudi society is in support of expansion of women’s rights

Syria Freedom House Survey Summary

Syria is largely run by a military regime under the Ba’ath party. Still a rather largely rural population, its economy is based on the agricultural sector and oil-related industries. Syria has a sizable Christian population as well as a Kurdish minority. A state of emergency imposed by the Ba’ath party remains in effect today and the state security apparatus restricts most civil society activities. Government policies in Syria have promoted the development of women and through education, participation in the workforce and family-planning services. Syria still remains a traditional, patriarchal society which curtails the advancement of women’s equal rights.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.7

According to the Syrian constitution, both men and women share the same rights to freedom and responsibilities however in actuality in matters of nationality, personal status code and the penal code. A Syrian woman may not pass on her nationality to her foreign husband or her children from the marriage. Moreover, approximately 120,000 Kurds were stripped of their nationality in 1962 and to this day they and their children remain stateless.

The judiciary is divided into secular and religious courts and is technically to remain independent of the executive branch. Two other court systems were established, the Supreme State Security Court and the Economic Security Courts; both men and women tried under these systems are not guaranteed the right to fair trials.

The penal code does not provide adequate punishments for men involving abuse, harassment or adultery. Perpetrator of honor crimes may have their sentences reduced, proof and conviction of adultery of the husband requires written documentation and is only considered if the adulterous act took place in the home.

The General Women’s Union is the only registered women’s rights group approved by the government and is claimed to speak for and represent all women. Such a tactic by the government contributes to stifling any other women’s NGOs from registering or developing independent aims. NGOs in general lack sufficient funding and may be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.2

While the president of Syria is required to be a Muslim, Syria has no official state religion. IN general freedom of religion is a right of all religious communities. Women still face social barriers to traveling alone either within the country or abroad however they no longer need the permission of their husbands or male guardians if they are over the age of 18, to obtain a passport. All women must have a male guardian to contract their marriages. There is a minimum age for marriage in Syria even though it may not always be enforced. Nonetheless, the age at first marriage is around 25 years for women. In matters of divorce a husband has the right of repudiation, whereby a woman must sue for a divorce in court or follow the procedure of khul’ and renouncing any claims to her dower. The custody of children may be granted to the mother up to a certain age, however she cannot become a legal guardian unless the father has died or is incapacitated. Domestic abuse is tolerated to some degree in Syrian society where there does not exist recognized facilities or shelters to treat/assist abused women.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women are entitled to initiate legal cases, own property and manage businesses even if in practice the numbers of women doing so remains low. Both girls and the Kurdish minority face lower levels of school enrolment than Syrian boys and may encounter difficulties, as in the cases of the Kurds of even gaining access to the school system. The government has made a concerted effort to reduce the gap between literacy rates of girls and boys. Girl’s illiteracy rates dropped from 80% to 25% in a little over two decades. In addition, school textbooks have been rewritten in accordance with recommendations of CEDAW, to portray girls in a variety of roles not just traditional ones. Women’s labor force participation is around 29% but women have yet to make strides in business leadership. Women tend to be employed in low-paid manual labor and constitute 70% of the agricultural labor. The public sector employs 73% of the labor force of which women hold 20% of all positions. Gender-based discrimination in hiring is reportedly low however women are automatically at a disadvantage in that they do not share the same level of experience, education or trainings that men receive.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.2

Syrians have no methods of changing their government or influencing national policy. Political opposition groups, human rights activists and religious groups face observation, detention and punishment. Rights to peaceful assembly are curtailed and any meeting must receive the approval of the government. Freedom in media is also repressed although some subjects previously off-limits such as religion and women are not addressed. Elections are orchestrated guaranteeing a majority of seats to Ba’ath party members and the government must approve all candidates running for seats. Women hold about 10% of seats in the People’s Assembly. Their representation in the judiciary is even higher which comprises 13% of judges, 14% of state lawyers and a woman has held the highest post of the judiciary that of general prosecutor, since 1998. In the executive branch women tend to be the most underrepresented.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.3

Still a traditional society the domains of men and women tend to be dominated by cultural and religious perceptions of proper roles. Women are now more able to determine their reproductive health however within rural communities this is not reflected. Abortion is illegal under any circumstances in Syria. Primary health care is free and generally accessible to most residents. Rates of women giving birth under the care of medical professionals have been on the rise.

The minimum age for a girl to marry is 16 although some girls as young as 13 wed under special approval by the courts.

Women experience higher rates of poverty, unemployment and lack of information.

Tunisia-Freedom House Survey Summary

Tunisia regularly scores high on most measurement criteria in comparison with other countries of the region. Tunisia remains one of the most progressive, balanced states for women’s rights in the region. The 1956 Code du Statut Personnel (CSP) enacted by the first president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba expanded women’s rights in marriage, divorce, custody, education and employment. Women’s participation and representation in political life indicates a contribution to the parliament, cabinet and judiciary of Tunisia, with a demonstrated number of women filling senior-level posts Tunisia’s fertility rate has remained one of the lowest in the region while the percentage of women economically active is above average in comparison with the regional average.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 3.6

Tunisia’s legal system is based on a combination of mainly French civil law and partially Islamic shari’a. The Tunisian constitution recognizes the equality of both men and women, protecting against gender-discrimination and the government ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but some articles of the convention which do not conform to the CSP have not been implemented, such as the nationality law still persists in treating women and men unequally preventing women from passing on their nationality to foreign-born husbands. Women do have equal access to the justice system and have made important strides in protecting themselves against domestic violence, enforcing more stringent punishments for honor crimes.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 3.4

While the constitution mentions Islam as the state religion, Tunisian law guarantees all persons freedom to practice their own religion and while it is socially still taboo for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man, it is not illegal. The husband however can only acquire citizenship through the conversion to Islam. Women have freedom of movement within Tunisia as well as for travel abroad without the permission of the father or husband but all Tunisia’s freedoms of movement can be restricted by the state security apparatus. In general Tunisian women to do not encounter typical forms of harassment or violence in public, or are not victims of sexual crimes.

Tunisian women’s groups have been credited with advancing the cause of women and expanding their rights legally. These organizations have generally been free to advocate for greater personal rights and status within the family.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 3.1

Executive, managerial, and supervisory roles are dominated by men, women being an underrepresented minority. Female labor force participation in the economy stands at 37% of all women, while unemployment is placed at around 15%. The private sector is increasingly an important milieu for women to pursue economic activities and seek employment even though women tend to draw upon personal savings rather than seek bank loans for start-up business ventures. Tunisia’s labor policies accommodate a woman’s balance of family life and employment outside the home with maternity leave, part-time hours, and nurseries for companies with a certain number of employees and welfare system. Tunisian law regarding inheritance adheres to Islamic law stipulating that women inherit a smaller proportion of property and finances than men.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.8

The repressive, one party, Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), domination under the presidency of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali continues to prevent fruitful democratic change in the country. The government’s repeated crackdowns against the opposition, journalists and human right’s activists have lead to Tunisia’s labeling as reverting to a police state apparatus. Women in Tunisia have been able to vote and stand in parliamentary elections since 1959; with 11.5% of parliamentary seats won by women in 1999 and their success at the local and municipal levels have been even stronger. Greater numbers of female appointments to the judiciary Civil liberties are curtailed and free association or assembly is subjected to petitioning the government bodies in order to receive permission which is a length process and is repeatedly denied. Moreover even established organizations are subjected to surveillance and harassment when advocating a platform of greater human rights and democratization.

Social and Cultural Rights: 3.3

Since Tunisian independence women have legally been empowered over their reproductive and health rights even though a lack of awareness exists among the social class of the poor, rural and illiterate. The national family planning programs have reduced fertility rates, allowed the importation of contraceptives, the legalization of regulated abortions, and have limited government allowances for the first three children all of which combine to make Tunisia’s fertility rate among the lowest in the developing world. There is no evidence of female genital mutilation (FGM) practices in the country and the average age of first marriage is at 27.Campaigns to combat negative female stereotypes and gender discrimination portrayed in the media are undertaken by NGOs in cooperation with Tunisian journalists.

Tunisia consistently scored the highest from amongst the countries of MENA according to the Freedom House assessments in all arenas of study with the exception of adequate freedom of political rights and a civic voice where it fell behind Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon.

United Arab Emirates Freedom House Survey Summary

The United Arab Emirates is a tiny Gulf country with a high per-capita income due to its natural oil resources and diversified economy including banking, free trade and tourism. Hence a majority of its residents are foreign nationals working in the emirates. Only 20% of the population is native and furthermore only 34.2% of the population is comprised of women. The UAE is a federation of traditional monarchies and there is no elected, representative government.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 1.7

The Shari’a is the predominant source for law in the UAE along with Egyptian legal traditions and UAE customs. The constitution declares all citizens to be equal and prohibits discrimination against its citizens however does not mention specifically gender discrimination. In fact the constitution highlights the family as the basis of UAE society and supports the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ traditional interpretation of a women’s role within the family structure. Legal discrimination and the implementation of legislation also vary according to a women’s position in society whether she is employed in the professional sector, a domestic worker, or a foreign expatriate. Furthermore enforcement of laws protecting the rights of women is not generally enforced in the private sphere, where women and children experience most pressure and restriction.

Women are forbidden from marrying a foreign man and those that marry a non-Gulf man are required to give up their citizenship. Some exceptions can be made by petitioning the presidential council. Female non-nationals face discriminatory practice as well; they are not allowed to sponsor their children to live in the UAE unlike male non-nationals. Access to justice is limited due to the traditional structure of society and the stigmas attached to entering police stations or courts of law. Women are discouraged from taking their problems or complaints public.

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.1

The majority of UAE nationals are Muslim whether Sunni or Shia and those non-nationals who are not Muslim are free to practice their religions in the country. Monitoring of Friday sermons at mosques is a common practice by the security apparatus to protect against dissention. A woman’s personal movement can be restricted by her husband or father who sometimes withholds passports. Such practices also pertain to foreign domestic workers who a subject to the arbitrary actions of their employers; although a banned was placed on these measures, the law is not enforced.

Islamic Shari’a is applied in all cases of personal status however Shia Muslims have the option of using a special Shia council than the Shari’acourts to resolve such matters.

Most marriages continue to be arranged although a girl has the right to petition the courts if her guardian does not agree to the marriage. It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim and polygamy is still sanctioned; however, a man must obtain the permission of his first wife to marryagain.Womenare only granted a divorce if the husband was proven to have harmed her physically, has abandoned her for more than three years or has not provided for the family. Divorced women forfeit their right to custody of children if they remarry.

Human trafficking for sexual or labor exploitation is a significant problem in the UAE and the government has taken measures to combat it.

Domestic abuse is prevalent but goes widely unreported in marriages; as the documentation of such incidents increases particularly in divorce cases, more studies can be undertaken. Harassment of women in public is punishable and the photos of men accused of such are published in the newspapers.

UAE labor laws do not apply to domestic workers who typically originate from Sri Lanka, the Philippines or India. The estimated number of domestic workers is now equivalent to the indigenous population of 116,000. Many have limited freedom of movement and are generally isolated from society. There are few shelters and hotlines that women who have suffered physical or sexual abuse may contact but again there outreach is limited.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.8

Women may independently own land after turning 18 and if they marry, the property remains strictly under their ownership even if the event of a divorce. They are not entitled to the generous housing benefits allocated to men which includes either a piece of land along with $130,000 or a previously built home. There are no restrictions on licensing for women entrepreneurs who have established businesses in a variety of fields. The school system is gender-segregated at all levels and teachings reinforce girls’ domestic roles. The literacy rate for females is higher than males and enrolment in university is higher for females. While the types of professions women pursue is still fairly influenced by family and social norms, women have begun to enter more diverse, typically male-dominated fields such as the security officers, taxi drivers and oil industry.

Labor unions are not allowed.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.2

There are no rights to suffrage in the UAE and no political parties. UAE nationals are not able to influence policy or decision-making process and may only voice their concerns through consultative meetings or majlis. Organized gatherings and meetings are limited. There were 100 registered NGOs in 2003. Subjects treated in the media and journalism are strictly monitored. Women are underrepresented in senior-level government positions. Access to information is a barrier to awareness for UAE women; legal aid and literacy NGOs are rare

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.3

UAE society is segregated by gender and ethnicity and little integration occurs making the introduction of new ideas unrealized. Maternal health and fertility rates have benefited from more active attention and promotion of these issues with the majority of women receiving prenatal care and being attended by health personnel. However contraceptive use remains limited as pharmacies do not generally stock such items. Abortion is illegal except in the cases which endanger a woman’s life. Breast cancer poses a danger to women in the UAE and may go undetected for years as woman are embarrassed or uneducated on exams. Female-genital mutilation is still practiced in UAE and performed mainly by female doctors on approximately 30% of girls aged 1 to 5.


Yemen-Freedom House Survey Summary

Yemen is ranked towards the bottom of the human development index with low per capita GDP, a poverty rate of 46% and an agrarian-based economy. Urbanization levels are some of the lowest in the region at around 26%, coupled with high birth rates should make development of women’s issues central to the country’s advancement. Historically two great queens ruled Yemen during the Islamic era and the region experienced prosperity and peace. However the largely patriarchal, tribal and agrarian culture in the present context impedes the movement for gender equality and empowerment.

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.4

The constitution enacted after the 1990 unification of North Yemen and South Yemen stated that all Yemeni citizens were equal before the law and cited the illegality of discriminating on the basis of sex; however amendments to the constitution made in 1994 state that women are sisters of men and will receive the rights guaranteed to them under Shari’a and the law. Rather than be treated as independent equals, women are defined in relation to men and furthermore the Shari’a is biased in favor of men’s rights. Legal contradictions allow for judges to institute a number of different interpretations of the same law. The legal system is arranged based upon English common law, Islamic law, Turkish law and tribal customary law.

A Yemeni woman is required to seek written permission from her guardian and from the Ministry of Interior to marry a non-Yemeni. However citizenship may not be passed on to the children of such a union unless the mother becomes insane, divorces her foreign husband or the father of the children passes away. Although women are legally allowed to work in the judiciary many obstacles persist in maintaining it as a male-dominated arena. Women’s illiteracy, lack of awareness, corruption within the judiciary and the common perception that the courts are not a suitable venue for women forces them to resort to informal mechanisms for solving any disputes. A woman is not considered a full individual before the courts and her testimony is not permitted in cases of adultery, libel, theft or sodomy. The crime and penalty law in Yemen considers the value of woman’s life to be half of a man’s; financial compensation for female victims therefore is less than a male victim. Stiffer punishments for women in cases of a sexual nature also are the norm.

Women NGOs are small and not adequately funded to undertake the challenges for removal of discriminatory policies. While gender affairs departments were created within government ministries

Autonomy, Security and Freedom of the Person: 2.3

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Yemen which includes small minority communities of Jews and Christians. A women needs to obtain the approval of her guardian to apply for a passport but may travel freely after receiving one although in practice such rights may be breached. A woman’s guardian is responsible for arranging her marriage contract and within the law system, there is no minimum age of marriage set. Such a phenomenon increases the health and psychological problems girls may face. Furthermore, men may take up to four wives without informing his first wife, nor taking permission from her. In matters of divorce women may nullify the marriage contract only if the husband is found to have a defect or disease and after the court’s approval. Yemen’s personal status code also includes a law stipulating that women must obey their husbands, reside wherever the husband decides and are responsible for household chores.

Prison conditions for both men and women are poor and torture is known to occur. There are cases in which female prisoners have been impregnated or even sold to male inmates or guards. Female prisoners who have completed their terms are in practice only released to a male member of their family, who sometimes neglect to claim them due to social stigmas. There are no laws protecting women from domestic violence and harassment in public is prevalent.

Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.3

Approximately one-third of Yemenis are unemployed

Most women are not aware of their economic rights of inheritance and ownership and allow males to administer such matters

Education is compulsory but Yemen has one of the biggest gaps between net student enrolment of boys and girls; poverty, early marriage and lack of schools. They comprise a quarter of university students. It is illegal to discriminate against women in the workplace but in actuality they face discrimination in hiring practices. Only 8% of women are employed in paid labor. Pregnant women are afforded some measures in the workplace, such as paid leave of absence and reduced working hours.

Political Rights and Civic Voice: 2.6

Women are allowed to vote and run for parliamentary elections. While the number of registered women voters increased from 15% to 42%, the number of women candidates running for election has been on the downtrend.

Women’s exclusion from qat sessions where most discussion of issues and participation in meetings takes place for institutions, syndicates and associations, prevents their contribution to civic life and influencing policy decisions.

Social and Cultural Rights: 2.1

The health sector receives around 3% of the national budget a low figure and women’s health conditions reflect such. Reproductive health services especially for rural women are hard to obtain; moreover women do not enjoy reproductive rights which are generally controlled by the husband. Female genital mutilation officially banned in health centers is still a continued practice by traditional families in private.

Extremist religious groups restrict activities of NGO and women’s rights advocates

13th October 2005


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