“The inclusion of women and gender equality must be an integral part of any political solution and transitional arrangements for Syria” – Executive Director

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on security and women’s experiences in Egypt, Yemen and Syria, at a General Assembly side event on “Inclusive transition: The role of women in political transition in the MENA region,” New York, 24 September 2013.

Date: 24 Sep 2013

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Excellencies, 

Distinguished delegates, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Thank you for inviting me to this important meeting. All our speakers highlighted the significant contributions that women made and are making in the wave of transformation in the region.

We cannot but be concerned by the immense challenges that women face in fulfilling their aspirations and shaping the future of their countries.

Arab women have for years sought greater citizenship rights. 

I understand that in the past two years there has been an unprecedented upwelling of civic engagement by young people - this generation that represents our future is pushing the boundaries for rights, institutional reforms, and social and economic justice, including gender equality and women’s empowerment.

My colleagues working in the region tell me that these emerging youth movements are novel - this is not the breaking away of past times, which was dominated by the elite, older generation. 

UN Women is reaching out to these young people, to our future to advance women’s empowerment and participation.

We also continue to support women’s movements that have registered hard-earned progress – in educational achievement, cornerstone legislative gains and political strides. This progress has been pushed by the women’s movements in various countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, over the past several decades. 

The new Constitution in Morocco is a great example of Government leadership and civil society participation. The Constitution grants equal rights to women and men. Another positive step forward In Morocco, a step that will ripple outward to benefit society, is the establishment of the centre of excellence in gender-responsive budgeting. This came after years of joint work – by UN Women with the Ministry of Finance – to deliver on the Government's agenda to advance gender equality.

Nonetheless, the region has the lowest political participation of women worldwide and very low economic empowerment. Immense barriers remain for Arab women to reach their full potential. Their striving is all the more difficult with the political volatility and insecurity that the unrest across the region has brought about.

Many women’s groups have expressed to UN Women that they feel that they have been excluded from decision-making processes in the transitional processes or are yet to fully benefit from it. They have asked for increased support to play their full roles in their countries.

I am optimistic. Today the MENA region continues to face a period of great promise and opportunity. 

In Egypt, the strong women’s movement presses for rights and participation of all Egyptians in public life, and the inclusion of their needs and priorities in any political solution. We need to listen to them! UN Women is working alongside Egyptian women to strengthen their advocacy and collective voice in political dialogue and processes, without fear of violence.  

Now let me turn to Syria. 

Of the more than 2 million Syrian refugees, approximately 75 per cent are women and children. Women and girl refugees face a myriad of challenges to their safety and security, gender-based violence and lack of access to basic services including reproductive health. These needs are particularly acute among the many Syrian women who have lost a husband and must provide for themselves and their families.  

UN Women has been supporting the UN’s overall planning and assessments on the situation in Syria and within the refugee communities of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

We have been supporting Syrian women refugees’ access to economic opportunities in Zaatari camp in Jordan through income generating projects and access to social services.  

In Syria, we must protect women’s rights, including the rights of women from minority communities. The inclusion of women and gender equality must be an integral part of any political solution and transitional arrangements for Syria. 

We know that women are the cornerstone of the family units, the communities and of rebuilding – they are contributors and citizens – don't let us limit them to being victims of the crisis. Let us give them their rightful place at the negotiation table and the mediation process.