Wafaa Bani Mustafa is one of just 20 women in Jordan’s House of Representatives – luckily, she is a fighter.
She was the first MP to propose an end to a controversial rape law in Jordan, which was later repealed, and she continues to champion women’s rights across the Arab region.
Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in the World, Wafaa Bani Mustafa shared inspiring lessons from her work to end gender-based violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Women’s solidarity – inspiring change in the Arab world
Wafaa is the chair of a coalition which unites women MPs from across the Arab region to call for greater equality at the national and regional level.
Known as the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence Against Women, the coalition was founded in 2014 with support from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).
Wafaa explained to the Parliamentary group how she and other members of the coalition campaigned to repeal legislation that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. In 2017 their hard work was rewarded as Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine repealed their respective laws.
Wafaa Bani Mustafa:
“If we want to be remembered by Arab women, we need to protect Arab women’s rights.”
“We have responsibilities in parliament towards women in our society. We need to create a fairer, more just environment in Arab countries and around the world.”
More than one in three women in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives – and this does not include the women who do not come forward to report incidents out of fear of reprisal.
(Photo: WFD’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Dr Dina Melhem works closely with Jordanian MP Wafa Bani Mustafa and the Coalition of Women MPs.)
Role of Parliament
Appropriate legislation is only half the story. Stressing the important role of MPs in working together to end gender discrimination, Wafaa Bani Mustafa said “as MPs, we have two aims. First, to put forward new laws. Second, to make sure the tools are in place to implement them.”
Legislation that criminalises gender-based violence is important but so are practical mechanisms that protect women inside their homes or allow perpetrators to be prosecuted and victims protected.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Democracy in the World was established in June with support from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to bring together legislators interested in democracy and international development who can make real change. The first event, which took place on 5 December, was titled Equality in the Arab Region – how women shape politics and social trends, and was co-chaired by Lyn Brown MP and Andrew Bowie MP.
The APPG will host regular events in Westminster, open to MPs and other interested parties on WFD initiatives. These include helping protect women from violence in the Middle East, making politics more inclusive in Africa, consolidating democratic institutions in Asia and building trust in democracy across the Western Balkans.
A regional approach to ending gender-based violence and WFD support
Wafaa Bani Mustafa MP is supported by WFD in her work and WFD’s Regional Director for the MENA region, Dr Dina Melhem, has worked closely with the coalition since it was formed. At the event, Dr Melhem outlined progress made in developing a regional convention to combat violence against women and girls in the region.
The Arab Convention is designed to respond to the cultural challenges women face, in peace time as well as during conflict, and was developed with the support of MPs. It is similar to the Council of Europe’s ‘Istanbul Convention’ and is currently being considered by the Arab League Women’s Committee.
WFD believes legislatures can play a crucial role in establishing a legal environment that protects women from violence. Wafaa Bani Mustafa MP echoed this, highlighting the important role UK MPs can play supporting their colleagues in the Middle East and North Africa as they campaign to improve national laws and strive for better women’s rights across the region.
- Watch a video on the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries work now
(Main photo: Lyn Brown MP and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in the World welcomes Jordanian MP Wafa Bani Mustafa to UK Parliament.)