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US Increasing Role of Women in The Arab World

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Highlighting that women are the keys to prosperous economies and robust democracies, the United States of America today underlined its commitment to making sure women and girls are central to policies in promoting free, fair, and transparent economies, enhanced security, human rights in the Arab world and globally.

In her remarks in Washington DC, Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs the US works with civil society and the private sector to promote women's social and economic development, integrate women into peace and security building, address and prevent gender-based violence, and ensure women's full participation in civic and political life.

"I am focused on making sure we do a better job of stitching together the work of the U.S. Government into a comprehensive tapestry." - Ms. Sonenshine

She says the US government must continue to work to support democratic, peaceful and prosperous outcomes for women everywhere.

How US increases role of women in Arabl world?

According to Ms. Sonenshine, in regional level particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the US joined with G8 Ministers and representatives from the region at the Forum for the Future in Tunisia, where all governments committed to supporting progress in gender equality.

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Syrian Bedouin woman, 1893. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
And through its Middle East Partnership Initiative's Arab Women's Leadership Institute, US trains women elected officials and civil society leaders in order to strengthen women's political and economic participation across the region.

"We work locally: Our embassy officers are our first points of contact for many women in the region." - Ms. Sonenshine

US embassy officers work to identify and reach out to critical audiences and key actors, whether it's supporting internally displaced persons in Iraq; mentoring Libyans about the democratic process; or training emerging political leaders from Rabat to Riyadh.

In the global context, Ms. Sonenshine says the US government says through the Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, it creates networks of young change makers like Generation Change; or US Office of Global Women's Issues, which is particularly active through agencies like the Community of Democracies, or the Women in Public Service Project.

In addition, the Women in Public Service Project, which mentors emerging leaders in public policy and politics, has seen powerful results in personal ways: A young woman from Morocco now spearheads human rights for a Swiss civil society organization in her country; another has been appointed as a political adviser in the Iraqi Government; a Libyan woman has joined the Education Ministry and is working to build support for higher female representation in parliament.

In the public diplomacy realm, Ms. Sonenshine says the US promotes women's empowerment and participation in conflict resolution and decision-making.

The US conducts leadership seminars for foreign women Fulbright students in the U.S.

In addition, the US encourages women's leadership and confidence through a number of exchange programs, such as the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership and our Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative.

cong
By the 111th Congress (2009-2011), the number of women senators had increased to 17, including five Republicans and 12 Democrats. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Through the US TechWomen and TechGirls programs, the US also fosters connections between women in the region and their counterparts working in technology and social media‚Ä"two sectors traditionally closed to women.

She indicates that graduates of those programs pass along their experience to other women in their countries.

including two women to whom I'll refer as Fatma and Nadia, who are now teaching technology to poor students in Yemen.

"Stories like these give us the confidence and the evidence that our work matters and underscores our commitment to supporting civil society, media, political parties, and academic institutions that understand and work to empower women." - Ms. Sonenshine

Hard realities women face in the Arab world

According to Ms. Sonenshine, 50 percent of the region's population that were on the frontlines of democratic change in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are denied equal or even remotely equal roles after the revolution.

"And there are demographic realities in the Arab world." - Ms. Sonenshine

She indicates that young people including girls are a disproportionate majority, with youth unemployment being among the highest numbers globally.

This youth bulge will continue at least until 2030, she pointed out.

"These facts put empowering young people of both genders at the top of any agenda." - Ms. Sonenshine

Another fact: Young women are the largest cohort in higher education in many countries in the region and represent the next generation of human capital, she noted.

She explains if countries limit that pool of emerging problem solvers, they will limit their unique perspectives and experiences, skills, and solutions.

According to a World Bank study, women in the Arab world have the lowest rates of employment of any region.

Ms. Sonenshine underscores that the economies of the Middle East will never reach their potential without women playing a significantly more active role in the work force.

Women in the Arab World - Do They Matter?

Ms. Sonenshine says the US cares about increasing the role of women in the Arab world.

"On the first issue why care? Let me start by saying, fairness and human dignity are universal values." - Ms. Sonenshine

She says humans tend to embrace those values, easily when it comes to talking about the global economy level playing fields, fairness and transparency.

"As First Lady, former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton put it so simply yet so memorably: "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all." - Ms. Sonenshine

And when it comes to human rights, there is a common set of liberties to which all human beings are entitled, she added.

Ms. Sonenshine believes that governments must enshrine, protect and enforce those liberties, so everyone is represented and all citizens are treated equally under law, regardless of creed, color or gender.

She notes it is essential in today's Arab world that women actually govern.

In Yemen, you could say that 28 percent of the delegates at the National Dialogue are women.

"But the truth is: Women hold very few seats in decision making circles." - Ms. Sonenshine

She adds that women only have three out of 72 seats in the new Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Ms. Sonenshine says women are needed in decision making circles to bring about political change.

"But, until there is change, women will have difficulty in attaining influential political positions." - Ms. Sonenshine

Women are the bellwether, the barometer and the building bricks of greater economies, democracies and countries

Ms. Sonenshine says the world should care because when it stops talking about women in the Arab World, governments and economies backslide.

"Women are sidelined. And there is a retreat." - Ms. Sonenshine

She adds that with retreat come failed expectations, violence, and suppression of rights, everyone's rights.

The cost of this systemic discrimination and failure to harness women's contributions has consequences for prosperity, stability and even violent extremism, she highlighted.

Beyond economics, women are frequently the ones most intimately connected in their communities and with their families and thus uniquely positioned to prevent extremist ideology creeping in, Ms. Sonenshine emphasized.

"They are the community's most frequent teachers of respect and tolerance." - Ms. Sonenshine

In addition, women can also bring their attributes to more than so-called "women's issues," including conflict resolution, economic policy, and political leadership.

Arab women making progress in asserting their rights

According to Ms. Sonenshine, there is an incremental progress all over the region.

She says thanks to the efforts of women in civil society, Tunisia removed its objections to CEDAW also known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

"And we're encouraged by language we've seen in Tunisia's draft constitution that affirms women as equal rather than complementary citizens." - Ms. Sonenshine

In Syria, where challenges are enormous, Ms. Sonenshine says women are making their presence felt.

Despite being underrepresented in resistance leadership, they have organized the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs) to mobilize nonviolent opposition to the regime.

The US is providing programs, training and tools to civil service organizations to help them further, as they advance a democratic, pluralistic free Syria, and organize responses to community needs.

"These aren't gains so much as footholds." - Ms. Sonenshine

And it helps the world to remember that this kind of progress was unimaginable as recently as three years ago; and that history teaches that the struggle for women's rights is not easy, she said.

Ms. Sonenshine says while it is inevitable that building a democracy takes time, US can never stop talking, never stop pushing, and never stop working for women in the region.

She says women's rights aren't just right, they're necessary because countries are stronger when everyone has a stake in the system.

"It's about success and that is something we need to plant deep into the soil, if we want this Arab Spring to really bloom." - Ms. Sonenshine

New Presidential Memorandum Advances Rights of Women and Girls Globally

President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum that promotes gender equality and empowering women and girls globally.

Reports say the new Presidential Memorandum will also help ensure that advancing the rights of women and girls remains central to U.S. diplomacy and development around the world.

The Obama Administration has made it clear that advancing the rights of women and girls is critical to the foreign policy of the United States.

President Obama's National Security Strategy explicitly recognizes that "countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind."

US asserts that protecting and advancing the rights of women are critical to solving virtually every challenge they face as individual nations and as a community of nations.

It is the unfinished business of the 21st Century of empowering women and girls, and it is essential that it remains central to US foreign policy for years to come.

In May 2012, with the USAID launching a women's leadership fund, Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to empower women and girls around the world.

The Obama administration is taking steps to do more to increase women's participation.

The State Department has recently created an initiative for women in public service as well.

In 2011, Secretary Clinton also signed a new Declaration on Women's Participation.

In his address to the 2011 UN General Assembly, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to increasing women's participation. He called upon member states to formulate steps to break down economic and political barriers for women and girls.

The United States has introduced the UNGA Third Committee resolution on "Women and Political Participation," which calls on all states to end discriminatory laws and actively promote and protect human rights for women to take a part in public life.

The resolution was adopted with over 130 co-sponsors.

The President intends to lead by example in the United States, by harnessing the extraordinary talents of women and girls, as we create an America that's built to last, according to Ms. Jarrett.

To reaffirm the Obama's administration commitment to empowering women in the 21st century, President Obama signed the very first bill when he came to office which was was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The Bill helps protect women and their right to equal pay for equal work so that people like Lori have a remedy to discrimination.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain english. Read more stories by Mina Fabulous. Contact Mina through NewsBlaze.

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