Democracy can help us end gender violence in the Arab world

By Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women

Our girls and women who fall victim of violence, including domestic and sexual violence must deal not only with the life-changing consequences of abuse but also with legal systems, which, instead of providing prevention and protection to victims, help perpetrators.

For over three years, I have been working with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of their support to the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women. The Coalition brings together legislators from thirteen countries and aims at ending the discrimination women in the region face in law with a focus on violence.

“When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.”

As committed women lawmakers, we are determined to change legislation at both national and regional level. At national level, we have seen great success in Jordan, with the progress on the repeal of Article 308 of the Penal Code which meant perpetrators of rape within marriage escaped prosecution. Similar efforts were made through members of the coalition in Iraq and Lebanon. At regional level, where we can make the biggest difference, we achieved an important milestone in February, with the formal submission of the draft Convention to Combat Violence Against Women to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

The landmark initiative, which benefitted from the support of WFD from the beginning, is unique in its kind and as we await approval, it is worth sharing with you its key features and the lessons we learnt to date:

International and regional treaties can advance standards.

During our preparatory phase, when WFD helped us study international charters and principles, it emerged how standards are particularly important when it comes to the protection of women and girls from violence. Existing efforts in other regions, like the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, are prime examples of how regional efforts can help consolidate women’s rights.

The Convention was initiated by parliamentarians and is gaining support from Arab Parliaments.

At international level, this represents a new approach to the process of developing treaties or conventions, which usually originate at the executive level. Parliaments are often absent from the basic stages of treaty development, which can lead to difficulties in getting legislation ratified. It is important to involve MPs from the beginning of the process of drafting and debating to avoid such difficulties. I am particularly proud that our work on the Convention is part of this new generation of bottom-up cross-national parliamentary work.

Alliances were built with male MPs.

The Coalition adopted an inclusive approach for getting the Convention considered, by working with male colleagues and leaders as well as with the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union (AIPU) to gain the broadest possible support for the initiative, by demonstrating how without progress on equality it is harder if not impossible to achieve wider progress for all. The AIPU gave the Coalition permanent observer status at the AIPU, which was a testimony to our efforts and signalled commitment to support our cause.

The Convention meets international best practice.

The Convention has been written with the intention of becoming a source of international law for combating gender-based violence. There is an important pioneering role the League of Arab States can play in this field, especially in light of international interest to develop an international convention on gender based violence.

Gender Based Violence requires a comprehensive approach.

The Convention addresses all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence. Importantly, the draft includes a commitment to ensure the articles are in force during times of peace, war or insecurity.

When the Convention is adopted, it will be a very important step that will contribute greatly in laying the foundations for further development in the Arab region and achieving security and peace by guaranteeing fundamental and humanitarian rights to all women.

We are thankful for the support WFD has afforded to our efforts to bring change for women and girls in the region. Democracy can help us end violence against women.

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