One of the highlights of the second phase of the MENA Agenda 1325 project was attending the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 4-9 March.

After several months of broad national consultations, where opportunities and priorities to advance women’s participation in peace and security issues were identified, representatives from all our eight partner organisations joined for a one-week intensive programme in New York.

The impressive delegations were once again able to present their findings, and to lobby, advise and challenge donors and UN Member States. On International Women’s Day, March 8th, during an interesting panel discussion at the UN Headquarters entitled “Powerful Voices: women in the MENA region talking militarism, security and peace”, our delegation issued a strong statement calling for the CSW to reflect reality for women facing increased militarisation in the region.

There is urgent need for realising that the biggest threats in the region are poverty, unregulated weapons trade and a lack of democratic oversight of the armed forces. Therefore, achieving full accountability and transparency in military spending and decision-making are essential steps to safeguard women from gender-based violence and to promote peace and security in the region.

One of the most alarming aspects of the negotiations at CSW was a continued conservative backlash with impacts both at the UN and at home in UN Member States. The Libyan Grand Mufti issued a fatwa against the agreement at CSW even before it was finalised, as undermining the family’s structure and integrity. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a declaration stating that the CSW agreement would lead to “the complete disintegration of society”. Similarly, Libya made reservations on the final outcome document, although it did not block consensus on it. These statements are particularly worrying because they confirm the growing concern that women’s human rights defenders and any progress for women’s rights in the MENA region may be increasingly at risk.

It is clear that women in the region are ready to challenge these security threats and the escalation of violence. They clearly make a link between gender-based violence, participation of women, access to justice, and socio-economic development.

Access their powerful statement and recommendations for actions.