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A tenacious women’s movement across the region has won victories in recent years, but still faces numerous challenges.

Overview

Women and girls across the Middle East and North Africa, as elsewhere, face discrimination in the law and across society, including widespread violence.

Huge inequalities in the law leave women and girls treated as second-class citizens, with little to no protection from violence.  Conflict, the resurgence of extremist religious groups, and political turmoil in the region are significantly reducing space for constructive civil society engagement with governments. 

Existing inequalities across the region have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and in many cases, attempts at passing long-term legal change are stalled as people focus on survival. 

Equality Now in the Middle East and North Africa at a glance

Ending impunity for rapists. We supported movements across the region successfully campaigning for the repeal of ‘marry your rapist’ laws in Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.

Reforming discriminatory family laws. Unafraid of difficult issues, we’re working with activists committed to tackling inequalities in family law, including distribution of marital wealth, child marriage, divorce, and custody. 

In it for the long haul. Despite the lack of political will, we continue to campaign for equality in nationality laws across the MENA region.

Achieving Legal Equality

Countries across the region have laws that treat people differently on the basis of sex, including in family and nationality laws

Ending Sexual Exploitation

Online sexual exploitation and abuse is a growing issue for women and girls across the region

Ending Sexual Violence

Despite victories in countries like Morocco and Jordan, ‘marry your rapist’ clauses remain in others, including Iraq and Kuwait, providing impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence

Ending Harmful Practices

Girls remain at risk of child marriage across the region, including in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon

Equality Now works with partners in the region to address inequalities in the law, particularly in family laws, supports activists working to end harmful practices including child marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as campaigning for stronger laws and practices around sexual violence to ensure that women and girls are fully protected from violence and have access to justice when their rights are violated.

Our work

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Key resources

United Arab Emirates – Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 80th Session 2021

This submission details our concerns with prevailing gender discrimination against Emirati women, who are denied the …

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Honor over Justice: How Kuwait’s Penal Code is failing to protect the human rights of women & girls

This document, produced in partnership with Abolish Article 153, is an analysis of the domestic provisions with regard to international human rights …

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Lebanon – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 37th Session November 2020

The submission details our concerns regarding Lebanon’s failure to uphold women’s right to equality under the nationality law, to protect adolescent girls from sexual violence, …

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     Explore the Full Resource Library     

Countries

Equality Now works with partners across the region to hold governments accountable for protecting the rights of women and girls. Explore progress towards gender equality across the region.

Algeria

There has been progress towards gender equality in Algeria, women’s rights activists in Algeria continue to pressure the government to reform laws that treat women as minors in various aspects of family and public life.

Algeria’s Family Code restricts women’s rights in marriage, including by permitting polygamy and requiring a male marriage guardian.

Article 66 of Algeria’s Family Code restricts the rights of divorced mothers to have custody of their children if they remarry

A ‘marry your rapist’ clause remains in Algeria’s Penal Code, providing impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence

Egypt

Egypt ranks low in gender equality indices, with gender stereotypes rife across society. Women’s rights activists continue in difficult conditions and crackdowns from the government.

Despite child marriage being outlawed in 2001, implementation of the law is inconsistent and the practice continues

Key Resources for Egypt

Egypt UPR Submission 2019

This submission details our concerns regarding Egypt’s treatment of Women Human Rights Defenders, discriminatory provisions of the nationality law, and the need for a law on violence against women. We make key recommendations for action by the government of Egypt…

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Iraq

Iraq is failing to protect women and girls from violence, with some provisions in the Penal code, based in honor and morality, actively perpetuating violence against women and girls and creating a cycle of impunity.

Article 41 of the Iraqi Penal Code gives a husband a legal right to punish his wife within certain limits prescribed by law or custom

Iraqi women are unable to pass on their nationality to children born outside Iraq on an equal basis with Iraqi men

Article 398 of the Iraqi Penal Code forces women to marry the men who raped them, thus escaping punishment

Key Resources for Iraq

Iraq – submission to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 74th Session October 2019

This submission expresses concerns about the continued sex-based discrimination against Iraqi women married to foreigners who are…

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Iraq – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 2019

The submission deals with our concern in regard to the need for the repeal of Article 398 of the Iraqi’s Penal Code No. 111 of 1969 entirely, the need for the proposed amendments to Personal Status Law No. 188 of…

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Jordan

The law in Jordan continues to dicriminate against women and girls, and where there are strong laws, for example against child marriage, they aren’t implemented consistently.

In 2017, Jordan repealed Article 308 of the Penal Code that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims

Following Jordan’s Personal Status Law provides that a wife who works outside the home is entitled to alimony only if her husband has given explicit consent to the work

Jordanian women married to foreigners are not able to pass on their nationality to their children

Key Resources for Jordan

Jordan – Equality Now submission to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) 121st Session October 2017

This submission details our concern about the sex-based discrimination against Jordanian women married to foreigners who are not able to pass on their nationality to…

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Jordan – Equality Now submission to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) 119th Session March 2017

The submission deals with our concern about the exemption from punishment under the Jordanian Penal Code of offenders, including rapists, who marry their victims. The…

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Kuwait

Kuwait’s laws are failing to protect women and girls from sexual violence, seeing them as vessels of their family’s honor rather than human beings with rights.

Article 153 provides a lenient sentence for a man who kills his female relatives

Article 182 allows perpetrators to escape punishment by marrying the woman or girl they abducted and raped

Kuwaiti women are unable to transmit their nationality to non-Kuwaiti spouses and children on equal terms with Kuwaiti men

Key Resources for Kuwait

Honor over Justice: How Kuwait’s Penal Code is failing to protect the human rights of women & girls

This document, produced in partnership with Abolish Article 153, is an analysis of the domestic provisions with regard to international human rights…

READ MORE

Kuwait – joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 35th Session January 2020

This submission deals with our concerns with regard to discrimination in Nationality Law No. 15 / 1959 and impunity for rapists and so-called honor crimes.  Submitted by:…

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Lebanon

A growing movement in Lebanon is speaking out against inequality in law and discrimination in family law, that leave women and girls at increased risk of violence.

Lebanese women are unable to pass on their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis with men

In 2017, Lebanon repealed Article 522, a ‘marry your rapist’ law, though loopholes remain

Articles in Lebanon’s Personal Status Law of the Catholic Sects provide that a mother loses custody of her child upon re-marriage

Key Resources for Lebanon

Lebanon – Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 37th Session November 2020

The submission details our concerns regarding Lebanon’s failure to uphold women’s right to equality under the nationality law, to protect adolescent girls from sexual violence,…

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Moroccan Women’s Legislative Gains and Opportunities for Reform in Lebanon

Moroccan Women’s Legislative Gains and Opportunities for Reform in Lebanon is the latest publication from Equality Now MENA on women’s rights and legal reform in the region. The book focuses…

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Lebanon – Equality Now joint submission to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) 122nd Session March 2018

The submission focuses on Lebanon’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as a result of…

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Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to make equality reality across the Middle East and North Africa, and around the world.

Habiba – Oman

Habiba al Hinai is an Omani women’s rights activist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR). She is based in Germany. I was approached by some people in Germany from Stop FGM Middle East who wanted …

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Rayehe – Iran

Rayehe Mozafarian set up Stop FGM Iran, after writing her thesis on FGM in Iran in 2014, which was published as a book titled ‘Razor and Tradition’.  I did my thesis on FGM, which I wrote up in 2014, and since then I have continued to focus on this and have started a …

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Darya – Iran

Whilst there is no nationally representative data on FGM/C prevalence in Iran, various studies surveying women and girls from  Western and Southern regions in Iran have found FGM/C prevalence ranging from 16 – 83% within the study samples. Girls are cut at different …

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Asseel – Lebanon

At the age of nine, Asseel* left her native Syria with her family, leaving behind friends and loved ones as the war ravaged her country. Her family began a new life as refugees in Lebanon. I was nine when the war erupted and our home was occupied by the Syrian Army. I …

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Join

None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Get involved

Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.


Take action across the Middle East and North Africa

Justice over honor: Kuwait should amend its Penal Code to protect women and girls from sexual violence

Kuwait’s Penal Code defines rape as a crime against honor, positioning women and girls as ‘vessels of honor’ rather than recognizing their human right to bodily …

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Lebanon: Give women equal citizenship rights to men under the nationality law

Lebanese nationality laws discriminate against women, preventing them from passing on their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis with men. This law has caused Lebanese women …

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Jordan: Give women equal citizenship rights to men

“(My mother is) Jordanian & her nationality is my right.” 28 MARCH 2018 UPDATE:  “My children are in deep depression, despair and stress all the time. My 23 –year- old son is planning to immigrate to Canada after he …

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