Enhancing women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
At the heart of the programme is our strong partnership with the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, which was established in January 2014 with the support of WFD. The Coalition unites women MPs from thirteen countries: Libya, Jordan, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, Iraq, Djibouti, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Calling for change at the national and regional level, the Coalition is a network that helps MPs share experience on what works and unite for greater impact.
Working with the Coalition, the programme has been designed to support women parliamentarians in the region to become more effective advocates for the rights of women and girls through increased public debate, development of legislation offering better protection, improved parliamentary oversight, and stronger political leadership of women on a regional and national level.
One in three women globally have experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region it is estimated that 37% of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. This number does not include the masses of women who do not come forward to report incidents of violence out of fear of reprisal.
Social stigma plays a fundamental role when it comes to how violence against women and girls is perceived. Contributing factors that allow this norm to prevail include a lack of legislation that criminalises domestic violence, limited protection for women inside their homes, as well as a justice and a court system that are ill prepared to prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.
Legislatures can play a crucial role in establishing a legal environment that protects women. With improved laws that are more rigorously enforced, potential perpetrators will be discouraged from committing violence while survivors will have wider access to the necessary services and support. Increased public debate, new legislation, improved oversight, political leadership and enhanced regional cooperation are needed to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld and impunity for perpetrators becomes a thing of the past.
From 2012, WFD’s support to women MPs across the Middle East and North Africa has focused on effective leadership and encouraging women MPs to use their political influence for legislative change that eradicates discrimination against women and girls in the region.
Arab Declaration to Combat Violence against Women and Girls
At the regional level, WFD has supported the Coalition to advocate for an Arab Declaration to Combat Violence Against Women and Girls with the League of Arab States (LAS), the first of its kind in the region.
The Declaration is the fruit of efforts of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women (the Coalition), among others. The Coalition first conceived the idea of a regional Arab convention and lobbied for its introduction in national parliaments and at the level of the LAS. The Coalition then formed a regional committee consisting of several of its members and experts, with the support of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), to draft the convention. These consultations, lobbying efforts, and advocacy with LAS member states contributed to the decision to proceed with a regional declaration to combat violence against women and girls (VAWG). The Declaration was approved by the LAS at a ministerial level on March 9, 2022, and officially launched in December 2022.
Enhancing national legislation to protect women from violence and discrimination
The Coalition – in collaboration with dynamic national advocates in parliament, government, local campaign organisations, the business community, and the media – put violence against women and girls on the political agenda in national parliaments in the region. Namely, in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, and Palestine there was a concerted effort to address, at the parliamentary level, legislation harmful to women and girls.
By collectively targeting the ‘rape-marriage’ provision in the penal code – that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims – and legislation to tackle domestic violence, significant progress was made in the region in 2017. In Lebanon (penal code article 522), Jordan and Palestine (both penal code article 308) these penal code previsions were all repealed.
WFD equipped members of the Coalition with the research capacity and the support they needed to influence colleagues in national parliaments. For example, in Palestine, WFD commissioned an expert study on the impact of discriminatory legislation on women to increase awareness about such legislation in parliament. Coalition meetings organised with WFD support allowed members to share their experiences and coordinate political action at the national and regional level.
From 2012, WFD has been partnering with women MPs from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The last cycle of this programme ran from between April 2019 and March 2022; the current cycle started in April 2022 and runs to March 2025.
MENA Women Inclusive and Accountable Politics (IAP) – April 2019 to March 2022
The programme supported MENA parliaments, women leaders, regional institutions, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) to become more effective advocates for the rights of women and girls. This was through increased public debate, development of legislation offering better protection, improved parliamentary oversight, and stronger political representation and leadership on a regional and national level. Key initiatives included,
- Training a cadre of women election observers in the region in collaboration with the Arab Women’s Organisation
- Peer-to-peer exchanges on recommendations for women’s electoral success in the Arab region
- Developing research on the Economic Cost of Violence Against Women
MENA Women Grant-in-Aid (GIA) – April 2022 to March 2025
Together with our key programme partner, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, this programme is continuing to support female MPs and other regional actors to promote women's political leadership, protect women through legislation and tackle gender discrimination.
Developed a model national law on Domestic Violence to act as an example piece of legislation in the region.
Established the Arab Day to Combat Violence against Women to raise awareness about the treatment of women in the region. It now takes place every year on 12 January.
Assembled and capacitated a group of female election observers from Arab countries to be deployed to monitor elections in the region, in partnership with the Arab Women’s Organisation
Supported the process of introducing a regional declaration on combatting violence against women and girls (VAWG)
Priya Bahia, Programme Manager