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Arab women are the region’s only hope…

No country in the world has achieved full gender equality, but the Arab region ranks lowest in the world. Empowering women is not just a human rights principle. It is a precondition to sustainable development and the strongest vehicle for peace, prosperity, and progress.

The Arab region’s diverse collection of 22 countries have one thing in common: they will need another 140 years to close the gender gap. The region has long been plagued by protracted crises, waves of conservative movements, and socio-economic challenges. This, built on a foundation of patriarchy and political strife, has proven to be the perfect storm for women. Despite their advocacy, women continue to experience a backlash against their own long-overdue rights and fundamental freedoms.

Most Arab countries have signed and ratified universal conventions supporting human rights (with reservations), but these have not brought meaningful change for women, and gender inequality remains the greatest impediment to regional progress.

Women in Arab countries are an underutilized economic force, with only 24% working outside the home – the lowest female employment rate in the world. When employed, women are more often relegated to traditionally feminized work, in addition to their disproportionate share of unpaid care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only resulted in massive job losses for women, it has pushed them even further into the informal economy and toward riskier sources of income – such as trafficking and transactional sex – for survival.

Arab women still lag significantly behind in terms of women’s participation and representation in politics. Even when women are present in politics, they are still kept from exerting power to influence change. This lack of political participation is largely due to cultural barriers, little access to economic and financial resources, and the absence of female role models in political and public life.

Rights, freedoms, and opportunities cannot be named and claimed as long as women are unsafe in public and private space. Globally, one in three women worldwide has experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. The Arab region is no different. Intimate partner violence is the most common and the least reported. Sexual violence and harmful practices – like honor killing, female genital mutilation, and child marriage – also continue to be prevalent and show no signs of abating. As the region continues to face insecurities, these forms of violence will only increase.

For many Arab countries, instability and insecurity are the norm. The region’s multiple protracted humanitarian crises – Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Iraq – have destroyed systems of social protection, reduced access to safe services and support, displaced communities, and increased vulnerabilities.

In these settings, women’s rights are the first to be stripped and the hardest to revive. Conflicts and insecurities magnify pre-existing vulnerabilities, and women are the first to suffer, the last to recover, and the hardest hit by these insecurities. From the revolution in Beirut to more violent conflicts in Gaza, Sanaa, and Baghdad, women continue to demand rights, equality, and justice. Women are the face – and the force – of revolutions across the Arab world. They deserve our support.

These challenges are overlapping, meaning progress – or regress – in any of these areas has an impact on all aspects of women’s lives. Insecurities don’t stay neatly confined within their borders. The underlying message is this: unless we’re addressing inequalities everywhere, we will achieve equality nowhere.

Lack of funding due to the pandemic has compromised the survival of women’s rights organizations. If women are once again left out of leadership and activism, the patriarchal consolidation of power will have devastating effects on women’s rights, equality and autonomy. This requires a robust feminist response, ensuring that women’s organizations and feminist activists have the tools and resources they need to advocate and act on behalf of women and girls.

The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University is the first of its kind in the region – and a center of power for Arab women. Founded in 1973, the AiW operates at the intersection of academia and activism to amplify women’s voices in the region and around the world. The Institute is a bridge connecting women in the region to global platforms – because representation matters.

The AiW is a fueling station and a hub for support, resources, and inspiration for women changemakers. The AiW has a long history of support for women’s rights activists and continues to provide opportunities to enhance their leadership and give them the skills they need to strengthen their force on the frontlines.

Academic institutes have a huge role to play in galvanizing and supporting women’s movements. Across the Arab region, women, particularly young women, are leading calls for change. The AiW brings 47 years of data, community engagement, and lived experience at the frontlines of Arab feminist movements.

These revolutions will be viewed as a turning point, a time-marker, resulting in a major shift towards social change. An Arab region built on a foundation of human rights and social justice is within our reach – and long overdue.

In light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the AiW in 2023, the Institute seeks partners, supporters, and sponsors ready to scale this Institute as a strong regional voice for Arab women. The Institute is a legend, a pioneer, and the force for our feminist future.

The Institute seeks a visionary champion interested in offering an endowment and leaving a lasting legacy for Arab women for generations to come. We seek prime movers who believe in the impact of their gifts and who are committed to building a philanthropic legacy for themselves, their families, and for ALL women and girls in the region.

An endowment of $7 million will entitle this champion to naming rights of the Institute – a legacy in your own name, or to honor a loved one who believed in this cause. $7 million will, over time, generate sufficient interest to enable the Arab Institute for Women to establish a stronger regional presence in order to continue its critical work for Arab women’s rights through scholarship, training, and advocacy.

Fostering gender equality in the Arab region is a non-negotiable imperative. And this is an historic moment to provide full support for Arab women to organize, train, inspire, and ignite to bring equality, rights, and justice to the region. Centering women will enable the region to better withstand future shocks. In short, when women lead, we all benefit.

The best thing we can do for the Arab region – and the world – is to let women lead.

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