During the summer of 2002, Women’s eNews learned that, while most of our readers were based in North America and Western Europe, a surprisingly high number were based in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arabic-speaking countries. In fact, the visitors from the Middle East ranked fourth–after North America, Western Europe and unknown–in frequency of visits.
At about the same time, the United Nation’s Development Program issued its ground-breaking First Arab Human Development Report. The report painted a disturbing portrait of a region under-utilizing and under-investing in its human capital, with dire consequences for the region’s people as well as the rest of the globe.
“Despite the differences across the region,” the report said, “three critical deficits face all Arab countries: freedom; women’s empowerment; human capabilities and knowledge relative to income.” It went on to say that Arab countries scored lowest on the freedom index out of all regions in the world, as well as in large scale illiteracy and deficiencies in the education system.
In addition, the report said: “Utilization of Arab women’s capabilities through political and economic participation remain the lowest in the world in qualitative terms. In many countries of the region, women suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. In some countries with elected national assemblies, women are still denied the right to vote or hold office. And one in every two Arab women can neither read nor write . . . These deficits must be addressed in every field: economic, political and social.”
Women in the Middle East: Increased Participation Is a Must
Several months later, at a United Nations conference in Beirut in November 2002 on women’s role in the media, the U.N.’s executive secretary for the region, Mervat Tallawy, said that the media, with all the technological advancement within their reach, could help in transforming the traditions and customs which had greatly hampered the advancement of Arab women. She said she hoped the media would promote positive changes, including alternatives to the negative and stereotypical image of women.
Reflecting Tallawy’s concern, a 143-page report, Women’s Rights and the Arab Media (Centre for Media Freedom–Middle East and North America, CMF MENA, 2000, London) found that the Arab media ignored women’s concerns by and large, reinforced stereotypes and were without women in management positions. Three of the report’s five recommendations are relevant to the development of Arabic Women’s eNews.
The report called for the following:
- Media freedom advocates should intensify their contacts with relevant Arab institutions;
- Journalists in Arab media should network in such a way as to put new female journalists in touch with female mentors and role models and to ensure that significant news items about women’s rights gain the highest possible profile through circulation across borders, on television and radio, as well as the press.
- Arab media establishments should revise their editorial policies with a view to ending the ghettoisation of women’s issues and ensuring that women’s voices are heard across the full range of public debates.
(The first recommendation called on human rights advocates to familiarize the Arab media with the provisions of the relevant international conventions and action programs in favor of women’s rights and the fifth called on donors to support these efforts called for in the other four recommendations.)
The report makes clear that none of this could occur without a free press and called on Arab states “to provide and reinforce constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of expression and abolish those laws and measures that limit the freedom of the press.”
Arabic Women’s eNews
As unbiased source of underreported news about women throughout the world, Women’s eNews responded to these challenges.
Women’s eNews developed an Arabic-language version–one that would translate Women’s eNews articles into Arabic as well as produce original content for Arabic Women’s eNews in Arabic. (This original content could then be translated for the benefit of our English-speaking audience on the Women’s eNews site.)
With support from a private donor committed to supporting freedom of the press, Women’s eNews contracted with a firm specializing in Arabic language Web sites to construct a site replicating the Women’s eNews site as closely as possible for the Arabic reader. Women’s eNews also engaged an experienced U.S.-based Arabic-speaking journalist to act as editor of the site and contracted with a professional translator with extensive experience in dealing with American news stories being reproduced in Arabic.
We think it is important to fulfill the classic role of journalism especially for women throughout this region and provide reporting on the facts and views about their lives.
The site was launched on April 28, 2003 and we invite you to view it at: http://www.awomensenews.org/
For more information:
United Nations Development Programme–
Arab Human Development Report: