In the MENA region and other Muslim majority contexts, women are struggling to have their voices heard and their rights ensured.  They work at multiple levels to create awareness, build alliances and coalitions, and push for change. In fighting for a better future for their countries, they pay a heavy price. Even when objectives are achieved, goals remain difficult to realize.  The relationship between women’s movements and the political establishment in this region in transition has always been fraught with tensions.  Nevertheless, there remain examples of cooperation and collaboration that can be replicated and scaled up.

In Tunisia, women political and civil society activists have worked collaboratively together to ensure that women are elected to political office and represented equally and fairly on the election ballets, and that women’s agendas are adhered to and prioritized by policymakers.  In fact, the cooperation of civil society and political activists in pushing for women’s rights and representation in Tunisia can serve as a model for other countries in the region.

To this end, I am proud and hopeful that Arabya Kousri Labidi and Omezzine Khalife, two brilliant young women from Tunisia, are running for Parliament (October 26, 2014). It would be nice to have them in the Tunisian parliament as a voice for equality, peace, human rights and democracy, and in support of civil society. Whether they win or not, it is victory for women in Tunisia and the region.

Arabya Kousri

Arabya Kousri

Omezzine Khalife

Omezzine Khalife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But these victories remain bittersweet in a region plagued by crisis.  There are so many other young women, as brilliant as Arabya and Omezzine, committed to building a brighter, equal and democratic future. Instead of being afforded the opportunity to make positive change in their societies, they are arrested and targeted for their defense of human rights and democracy.  Women like Bahareh Hedayat (Iran), Yara Sallam (Egypt), and Maryam Alkhawaja (Bahrain) are only a few examples of women who are currently imprisoned in their countries because they chose to speak up and demand a better future.

As if being targeted by state actors across this violent region was not enough, now in places like Libya, Syria Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, women are being targeted by non-state actors who claim to hold rigid truths about religion and rights and who enforce them through violence.  Women are regularly threatened for defending women’s rights and for promoting human rights and freedoms. For some, the price paid is high — at times, it is with their lives.

But seeing that Arabya and Omezzine have opportunities like this gives me hope that a better future is possible for this region and for all of us. Congratulations. You make us all proud.

Sussan Tahmasebi
September 19, 2014

Bahareh Hedayat

Bahareh Hedayat

Maryam Alkhawaja

Maryam Alkhawaja

Yara Sallam

Yara Sallam

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