New WISERD Research on Civil Society and Equality in Seven Middle Eastern States

A new study by Professor Paul Chaney provides new insight into why Middle Eastern states continue to languish at the bottom of world rankings on gender equality.

The core finding relates to the policy process, and poor communication and dialogue between governments and the communities they serve. In short, despite their UN obligations to engage civil society organisations in promoting gender equality, governments are not listening.

The research is forthcoming in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Routledge, T & F) and has been undertaken as part of WISERD’s Civil Society Programme. It presents critical discourse analysis of state and civil society organizations’ implementation of the ‘Participative Democratic Model of gender mainstreaming’. This is an international agreement launched in 1995 by the United Nations (subsequently known as ‘the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’). In short, it requires governments to systematically promote gender equality in all aspects of their work, including policy and law-making and the delivery of services. In this context, “the Participative Democratic Model” alludes to the requirement that governments must involve civil society organisations in the way that they promote gender equality.

The study findings relate to practices in: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. They show how presently, across the Middle East, there are marked contrasts between the issues that governments prioritize and those that civil society organisations feel require pressing action.

The study also underlines how, when governments and civil society organisations are compared, there are different levels of understanding of the discrimination and oppression facing women in the Middle East. At an aggregate level the analysis reveals that for civil society organisations across the region the lead policy topics were as follows:

  • Gender and economic inequality/poverty. For example, one community organisation stated that: ‘women bear the consequences and become economic mainstays, carers and political negotiators. Furthermore, they face homelessness and forced expulsion, widowhood, hunger and poverty and are denied their distinct female identity and psychological needs’.
  • Education. One NGO stressed that: ‘education to eliminate illiteracy is the most effective means of propelling girls out of poverty and helping them to realize their full potential’.
  • Gender equality and peace/conflict resolution. Thus, one organisation complained about: ‘the lack of awareness about women’s education and training, especially in relation to refugee and displaced women and girls in post-conflict areas’).

The significance of the research lies in the fact that it is the first study to take systematic stock of attempts at promoting gender equality in the region by focusing on the challenges and limitations in the way that governments engage civil society. It argues that those in power need to revise their working practices in order to develop stronger and more responsive dialogue with civil society organisations. Unless this happens, the study argues, states in the region will continue to languish at the bottom of world rankings on gender equality.

Chaney, P. (2016 forthcoming) Participatory governance or deliberative disjuncture? Exploring the state-civil society policy nexus in the gender mainstreaming programmes of seven Middle Eastern states 2005-15. British Journal of Middle East Studies, Routledge T&F, 2014 Impact Factor of 1.51