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Have Arab women broken any barriers in 2015?

Women’s rights are still lacking – the region cannot expect society to change and be more open until legislative changes are made

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

For women in the Middle East, 2015 was eventful in terms of achievements, advancements, and efforts of inclusion. Topping the list was Saudi Arabia permitting women to run and vote in the municipal elections for the first time. Saudi divorcees will also now be issued with ID cards, allowing them to act independently of men. Also this year, Egypt convicted a doctor for carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) – a gruesome procedure that killed 13-year old Sohair al-Bataa.

2015 has proven to be a year where the path for the advancement of women in the region was paved, but the path continues to have a lot of cracks – there is plenty more work to be done in 2016.

A conviction means nothing until it is enforced

The case of Sohair al-Bataa was monumental as it lead to the conviction of an individual who regularly practiced FGM. The Egypt Health Issues Survey, published in 2015, found that 90 percent of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had suffered from female genital mutilation – this means that while this conviction is necessary, it is merely the first in a string of convictions that are necessary to eradicate this dangerous practice. However, even though FGM was outlawed in Egypt in 2008, and despite the doctor being convicted, he is still at large, running his clinic, and performing more procedures, Vice News reported.

Women’s rights are still lacking – the region cannot expect society to change and be more open until legislative changes are made

Yara al-Wazir

It is absolutely vital that the judicial system gives Egypt’s society the respect that it deserves. In this particular case, it felt as if the judicial system was giving the international community and parts of society what they wanted to hear: a conviction. Yet the system failed to carry through the incarceration of the doctor, and worse yet, it has failed to pursue other practitioners of FGM.

Laws and regulations mean nothing until they are implemented effectively.

The paved path needs to be planted and watered

Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections were truly heart-warming to watch. In the first election, a total of 978 women ran in the elections, yet voter turnout left much to be desired. Although 14 percent of the candidates running in the election were women, female voter registration made up a mere 8 percent of the 1.48 million registered voters – out of a country with approximately 20 million registered to vote.

The region is desperately in need of female participation in politics and economics. In order for them to participate in politics, however, there needs to be a greater level of trust. This comes with women being granted their basic fundamental rights, and this isn’t limited to voting.

In order for women to trust governments and agree to participate in politics, they need to feel that they have a hold of their basic fundamental rights. This includes the ability to pass their citizenship on to their children. Right now, only Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Libyan governments allow women to pass citizenship on to their children.

Women also need to be given the basic right to work without the consent of their husband, which is an issue in 10 countries in the region. There is no justified reasoning that says that a husband has the right to decide whether or not his wife can freely contribute to the economy and society – it’s a personal decision.

Women’s rights are still lacking – the region cannot expect society to change and be more open until legislative changes are made. The year 2015 saw some milestones, but there is plenty more work to do in 2016. The good news is that many, including me, still have faith in Arab governments to do right by women.

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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.