03/08/2011, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Greatest challenge facing Arab world is women’s empowerment

Present in their tens of thousands during the popular revolts, women in the Middle East seek equality that this society fails to recognise. On Women’s day, Saudi Arabia debates the need for their participation. A study emphasizes their lack of in put in economic life of entire region

Beirut (AsiaNews) - In jeans and T-shirts or chadors, tens of thousands of women took an active part in the revolts that have engulfed most of the Arab world in recent weeks. To the claims of freedom from authoritarian, if not dictatorial, regimes, the presence of women adds a request for equality in a society that fails to recognise it. "Empowering women, the biggest challenge," says a statement today published by Arab News, the Saudi newspaper close to King Abdullah’s “reformist” positions, with the headline "Do not try to control our lives," they present an interview with a female University student .

“We need to draw up serious reform - the newspaper said – and put in place serious policies, so that Saudi women can finally contribute to the development of the nation. Women constitute half the population - just 57%. Without their participation, Saudi Arabia will continue to move slowly behind the rest of the world”.

No easy thing in a country where every woman must have a "guardian": father, husband, brother or another male family member on whom she depends. He is the one who decides on their education, work and husband, her "escort" when leaving home and if she has to go abroad, he accompanies her to the airport, where he has to sign his permission for her to travel abroad.

But even in other countries where the status of women is less dramatic, such as in Jordan, inequalities exist. The Jordan Times speaks of "formidable challenges" to the status of women and writes that women's participation in economic activity is "significantly" lower, representing last year, 14.3%, compared with 63.2% of men, despite 51% of graduates being women.

The same paper cites a study of the Phoenix Centre for Economic Studies and Informatics (PCEIS), whereby the participation of women, representing 48.5% of the population in the Arab world and in the Third World, only contributes to 20 % of economic activities, while in developed countries the percentage is 50%. As more specifically in the case of Jordan, a study by the Social Security Corporation prepared for International Women's Day, shows that female workers represent only 37% of public sector employees and only 14% of the private sector.

Some initiatives have met the voices of protest. Thus, in Qatar, RasGas has announced the at Tamkeen-Mar'at program to promote the professional development of women in the communities of the northern part of the country.

But above all, "women are stronger when they are able to hold their head high and believe in themselves, in their own abilities and education," says Hessa Lootah in Dubai, a United Arab Emirates University professor, interviewed by Gulfnews. (PD)
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