Situational Analysis of Women and Girls in the Middle East and North Africa

A decade review 2010 - 2020

Girls photo
UNICEF/Sudan/2019/Sari Omer


The Situation of Women and Girls in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Arab States region remains unresolved. Incremental progress has been documented, yet the pace is slow and does not reflect the commitments made to the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, nor to address the challenges of the region. As will be discussed, some progress related to gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment in several domains over the past decade has been witnessed. Within the region, laws, policies, and programming focused on gender equality are growing, women’s representation in government and in national programming has increased, and many countries have established national women’s machineries and other institutions that promote the rights and welfare of women and girls. Areas such as education and health have seen significant improvement in gender-related indices, and specialized programming aimed at supporting women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment have accelerated in many countries in the region.

While governments have significantly stepped up efforts to ensure that they meet their gender-based human rights obligations, it is also necessary to highlight the increasing engagement of civil society, particularly women’s and youth feminist civil society, in advocating for and securing gains. Women’s civil society in the region has actively engaged with the Women Peace and Security agenda at the international level, for example, activists have testified in front of the Security Council to highlight the gender impact of conflict and occupation on the lives of women and girls in the region.

Yet, in the midst of these gains, gender gaps in the region persist and part of recent progress is at risk of regress. These gaps are augmented by the unanswered intersectional concerns of women and girls, and are further compounded by global and regional events, including political and economic upheaval, conflict, occupation, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasing backlash from governments towards civil society since the Arab uprisings over a decade ago, especially towards women’s rights and youth feminist groups, has also impeded progress. Conflict is another factor that perpetuates gender inequalities and human right violations in the some countries of the region. Furthermore, the staunch patriarchal character of governments continues to impact the movement towards gender equality which, in turn, reinforces the structural inequities present in negative socio-cultural norms and practices through laws, justice mechanisms and socio-political institutions. Many States in the region still allow such norms and practices to restrict the rights of females relative to males, and limit access for women and girls to targeted education regarding their rights and other substantive empowerment initiatives. Taken as a whole and despite the gains made, the evidence detailed throughout this report illustrates that the MENA and the Arab States region has made the slowest progress on gender equality across multiple indicators and indices.

Throughout the report, the lack of data in many of the areas of concern is highlighted and the need to enhance data collection and evidence generation in these areas is stressed. Drawing from evidence gathered, the following highlights some of the common gaps that governments in the MENA and Arab States region need to explicitly address in order to ensure gender equality, the empowerment of women and meet their human rights obligations towards women and girls:

*Now available (Report " Arabic and English", Executive summary, Pilar 1, 2, 3, and 4).

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English, Arabic