6.28.2005

Survey Finds Freedom Gap for Women Throughout Middle East

First-ever comprehensive study of women's rights in region

A study by the independent, nongovernmental organization Freedom House has found that, despite progress in some countries, women in the Middle East continue to suffer discrimination and lack full legal and civil rights, according to a June 24 State Department press release.

The Freedom House study -- the first comprehensive, comparative study of women's civil and legal status throughout the Middle East -- was funded by the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a presidential initiative that supports economic, political and educational reform in the region. (See related article.)

The report, “Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice,” is the culmination of an intensive 20-month-long research process by a team of 40 leading scholars, analysts and women's rights experts primarily from the region, according to the State Department.

The full text of the study is available on the Freedom House Web site.

Following is the text of the State Department Media Note:

(begin text)

Department of State Media Note Office of the Spokesman Washington, DC June 24, 2005
New Survey Assesses the Status of Women's Freedom in the Middle East
An award from the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative has enabled Freedom House to complete a comprehensive survey of the barriers to women's full participation in society.

The survey, which can be accessed through the MEPI website (www.mepi.state.gov), is the first-ever comparative assessment on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Notwithstanding important country differences and some key breakthroughs in gender equality in legal rights and increased access to education, the survey reveals a substantial deficit in women's rights throughout the 16 countries and Palestinian territories where the survey was conducted.

The report, "Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice," is the culmination of an intensive 20-month-long research process by a team of 40 leading scholars, analysts, and women's rights experts primarily from the region. The survey features country reports and country numerical ratings and focus group research.

The research team discovered that in most countries women are at a profound disadvantage in practically every institution of society: the criminal justice system, the economy, education, health care, and the media. Discriminatory laws and inadequate enforcement of existing laws intended to guarantee equality and fair treatment exacerbate the systematic gender gap.
The study reveals gender inequality in the region is compounded by apathetic governments and patriarchal traditions, all of which undermine women's empowerment, leaving many of them unaware of their rights and ill-equipped to advocate for them.

The survey's major recommendations include equal legal status for women and revised family laws, increased spending for and access to education, and removal of social and legal obstacles to women's political and economic participation. It is hoped that this survey will serve as a catalyst for both regional and international efforts to empower women in the Middle East and North Africa.

Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom. Freedom House functions as a catalyst for freedom through its analysis, advocacy, and action.

The Middle East Partnership Initiative is a Presidential initiative that supports economic, political, and educational reform efforts in the Middle East and expanded opportunity for all people of the region, especially women and youth.

More information can be found online at: www.mepi.state.gov.

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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