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What makes 2014 a powerful year for Arab women

The message 2014 gave to women is clear: change is coming, but like many things changing in the Middle East, nothing is changing fast enough

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

The case of women in the Middle East was once a hot topic. In 2014, it has very much been overshadowed by the uprisings, ISIS, regional conflicts, and the on-going Palestinian-Israeli crisis. Yet these very issues that plagued the Middle Eastern arena in 2014 also showcased the true strength of women in the region. In terms of legislation and a legal shift to better include women in education, society, and the economy, the 2014 tells a different story.

Women at the frontline

Wars have definitely been the highlight, or lowlight, of 2014 for the Middle East, but women have come out shining. Indeed, women in the Kurdish Peshmerga forces made headlines for their determination and strength in the fight against ISIS. Yet they’re not the only women fighting - Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first female pilot to fly an F-16 fighter jet, led the UAE’s air strikes against ISIS this year as well.

Despite the wars and conflicts, the thousands of women who have become widowed, and the hundreds of girls orphaned, women are still strong enough to live and survive on their own, be it at the frontline or behind the trenches.

Domestic abuse loses, and women win

Saudi Arabia and Lebanon pioneered and fought for the case of abused women by outlawing domestic violence – to some extent. Human Rights Watch described Lebanon’s decrees “good, but incomplete” due to its inability to combat marital rape and abuse.

The message 2014 gave to women is clear: change is coming, but like many things changing in the Middle East, nothing is changing fast enough

Yara al-Wazir

In April of 2014, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Social Affairs introduced new fines to penalise men who abuse their wives. This follows a decision in 2013 to outlaw domestic abuse.

Both steps are small but important and are leading in the right direction.

Femen and female activists

Female activists definitely deserve a round of applause for all their efforts throughout the region, from camping out and taking part in protests to creating grassroots movements and activism. Even President Barrack Obama honored some of these activists during a visit in March of 2014.

The Femen movement attempted to grow in 2013, but activists quickly learned that there are various ways of making change without making statements that can be considered ‘insulting’. Tunisian Femen activist Amina was cleared of defamation in July, and after accusations of an anti-Muslim rhetoric in Femen’s ideologies, Femen lost momentum.

2014 proved promising for women in terms of handing them their basic rights, but the efforts put towards social and economic inclusion of women have been poor. It is no surprise that many of the 300 recommendations that came after the United Nations review on Egypt focused on women’s issues.

The message 2014 gave to women is clear: change is coming, but like many things changing in the Middle East, nothing is changing fast enough.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.