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'Swift action needed in region to advance gender equality agenda'

By Rana Husseini - Feb 03,2016 - Last updated at Feb 03,2016

AMMAN — New challenges in the region — including the refugee crisis, terrorism and extremism — are affecting the well-being of women and children, and must be urgently addressed, participants at a Euro-Med round-table discussion said on Wednesday.

The recommendation was made during the Regional Roundtable from the Ministerial Conclusions on Strengthening the Role of Women in Society to Gender Equality Policy Making in the Euro-Med Region, organised by the Social Development Ministry and the Euromed Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI), and supported by the EU.

High-level officials — including EU ambassadors and representatives from the ministry, together with civil society partners and legal experts from Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Palestine  — attended the one-day event.

The participants also said governments should be more serious in applying international conventions related to women and to remove discriminatory language and images from school textbooks.

They stressed that governments in the region should “recognise and implement the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and consider it as reference because it is conclusive when it comes to women’s rights and their empowerment on all levels”.

One of the recommendations also stressed the need to encourage “freedom of beliefs and choice and the need to separate religion from the state in order to prevent certain entities or individuals from using religion as a means to impose extremist beliefs and ideologies”.

Speaking at the meeting, EU Ambassador to Jordan Andrea Matteo Fontana said the consecutive political and security crises are “forcing countries to divert their attention from ensuring that women achieve equal rights, that women and girls are safe and secure from violence and exploitation, and that together we manage to change the negative attitudes and behaviours surrounding women empowerment initiatives”.

Here in Jordan and especially after the spillover effects of the refugee crisis, Fontana added, the EU delegation actively works to “persuade the authorities to integrate the fundamental rights of individuals at the centre of the policy making processes and to put an end to all forms of discrimination against women and girls in legislation and in practice”.

“We highlight to the government and to the public at large that women and girls at the moment, especially if they live their lives as refugees or as internally displaced individuals, are vulnerable targets of sexual and economic exploitation, trafficking and violence, among other forms of hideous crimes,” the ambassador said.

He reaffirmed the commitment of the  EU delegation in Jordan to uphold “our promises to women and girls by aligning our programmes to the action plan and sustainable development goals. We also align our programmes with the government of Jordan's sector development strategies".

Social Development Minister Reem Abu Hassan stressed Jordan’s commitment towards Syrian refugees.

Jordan currently hosts around 1.3 million Syrians and “we have suffered as a result. But there are withstanding plans and a national response strategy that focus on social protection of women from violence and empowering them economically and socially”.

“We hope that the international community can support and fund these projects,” Abu Hassan stated.

The government, she added, has also formed a ministerial committee to empower women and support their causes and implement strategies to achieve these goals through the relevant ministries.

Also speaking at the meeting, Union for the Mediterranean Ambassador Delphine Borione said "gender equality is the key factor of empowering women”, noting that it “will surely ensure better female access for leadership positions, which will reflect positively on their rights”.

Wednesday's event, which was held at the ministry, was a follow up meeting on the third Ministerial Conference 2013 in Paris that reaffirmed the importance of gender equality policy making, especially in the context of the ongoing political transformations in the Southern Mediterranean, recognising the important role women play in them.

Government ministers at the Paris meeting committed to ensuring the equal rights of women and men to participate in political, economic, civil and social life, and combating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

The Amman roundtable examined achievements and discussed common challenges in the implementation of the ministerial conclusions in Paris, going beyond them, and elaborating on major common regional priorities before the next ministerial conference.

French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti stressed his government’s commitment to supporting and empowering women in the region and Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other areas.

Also speaking during the meeting's evening session was Swedish Ambassador to Jordan Helena Rietz, who stressed that advancing the rights of women and girls is key to promoting and reinforcing the rule of law in all societies.

Enhanced gender equality in education and the labour market contribute to human development and economic growth, and empowering women is essential in promoting peace and security, Rietz noted.

“This is why the Arab world has to start advancing the gender agenda now, or it risks being left behind,” she warned.

There is a win-win opportunity in gender equality with enormous potential for growth both for individuals and society, Reitz noted, adding that “it is an opportunity the Middle East cannot afford to miss”.

The “Gender Regional Platform” is being applied by the IFE-EFI, which was contracted in December 2015 by the European Commission DG NEAR [Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations] to implement a project “to enhance regional sector cooperation based on EU rules and standards through policy dialogue and exchange of best practices with existing networks of stakeholders in the Southern Neighbourhood”. 

The project's activities include organising two regional dialogues with stakeholders, 13 national roundtables and a civil society Euro-Med women’s rights conference before the fourth Ministerial Conference on women’s rights.

IFE-EFI co-President Lilian Halls-French said during the meeting that “the present policies in numerous countries… and the political systems remain largely influenced by male-dominated structures, and values”.

Women are still considered second class citizens in some countries and “their rights are heavily hampered by the weight of culture and traditions, that  are increasingly threatened by conflicts, war, occupation, political and economical crises,  and the growing influence of political and religious extremists”, Halls-French said.


In this context, she added, the Euro-Med ministerial process on “Strengthening the Role of Women in Society” is a major tool to support the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality in the whole region.

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