G & C: The Initiative

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Gender & Citizenship Initiative in the Arab Region - Phase I
Progress Report II


The Arab Human Development Report, launched by UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), identifies 'women empowerment' as one of the three main 'deficits' in the Arab region. To address this deficit, the Gender and Citizenship Initiative, was launched by UNDP / RBAS (through its programme on Governance in the Arab region- POGAR www.undp-pogar.org). The initiative, which is a financial and substantive partnership between IDRC (www.idrc.ca) and UNDP-RBAS, entered its second phase in October 2002. The initial phase (December 2001 to September 2002) consisted primarily of identifying strategic entry points to the issue of women's citizenship in the region, through a number of studies and concept papers discussed in an expert group meeting in Casablanca in July 2002, and shared later on and with a larger audience during the Mediterranean Development Forum (MDF) in October. Two publications were produced as a result of this phase and distributed widely to NGOs, governmental institutions and the media.

Based on these extensive consultations, the Gender and Citizenship Initiative identified two strategic entry points to the issue of women's citizenship in the region: nationality legislation and identity (citizenship) cards. In a majority of Arab countries, both nationality legislations and access to identity cards are discriminatory and can be seen as the direct cause of many socio-economic problems. The choice of these two aspects was motivated by the lack of knowledge about their gendered nature, and the urgent need to raise awareness about their effect on women in particular and development at a more general level. (Several NGOs were already actively addressing the two areas).

The Gender and Citizenship Initiative is guided by a broad strategy and a number of tools to achieve four objectives
(a) to support research-informed policy debate and dialogue on women's citizenship in selected countries in the Arab region,
(b) to raise public and media awareness about the scale and implications of gender inequalities inherent in key legislation,
(c) to build the capacity of Arab women's NGOs in networking and advocacy to lobby for policy changes and
(d) to build partnerships between women's NGOs and parliamentarians.

Within this set of objectives, and through a number of activities and projects, the Gender and Citizenship Initiative has achieved several important results:
1. Policy Dialogue and Advocacy: several workshops were organized and offered a platform for exchange of information and opinions among experts, activists and scholars. These meetings attracted the attention of the media and got important coverage in the regional and local press
2. Production of New Knowledge: In addition to field studies conducted in the region, two eminent researchers on gender and nationality, from the religious/islamic perspective, prepared an important research study.
3. Building New Partnerships: The various activities of the Gender and Citizenship Initiative have resulted in several partnerships with NGOs, research centers, members of parliaments, and the Arab League, the media and donor institutions such as GTZ for example.

In parallel with the activities and projects of the Gender and Citizenship Initiative, some interesting changes regarding family and nationality laws have or are about to take place in some Arab countries. Tunisia has recently modified its nationality legislation, allowing Tunisian women married to non-nationals to pass on their nationality to their children provided that they are born in Tunisia. In Morocco, several women groups have been working with some political parties on the issue of nationality, with the objective of a significant change in the legislation, giving women the right to transfer nationality to their children systematically (the bill will be debated in parliament next October. Jordan is another example of slight positive changes towards equal rights regarding nationality. In fact, the Council of Ministers has been granted the right to grant Jordanian nationality to the children of Jordanian mothers married to non-Jordanian foreign nationals.

II- Progress to date:

Despite major political and social turbulence in the Arab Region Over the past year and a half, several activities were launched during the past 9 months:

1. "Arab Women and the Denial of Citizenship: A Regional Study on Gender and Nationality":
This research explores the issue of Arab women's right to transfer nationality as a case in point in the denial of citizenship and citizenship rights. It was launched in October 2002, in partnership with the Centre for Research and Training on Development, through its Machreq/Maghreb Gender Linking and Information Project. The research covers Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan and Yemen, and aims at providing an in depth understanding, based on empirical research and desk reviews of the following:
- The legal and constitutional framework governing the right to transmit nationality in selected Arab countries
- The socio-economic implications of the denial of this right on women and their families
- Examples of existing and potential good practices in addressing this issue (if and when available)

So far several steps have been achieved successfully, including:
- Recruiting local research teams
- Developing detailed methodology guidelines
- Organizing a methodology workshop to train the local research teams in October 2002, Rabat
- Collecting data
- Organizing a regional meeting of local research teams in February 2003, Beirut

Much effort has also been put in communicating about this research using the media and various specialized international gender e-discussion groups.

Outputs to date:
- The final report has been drafted and is being translated into Arabic and French, with an English summary.
- A regional legal report (survey of the nationality laws in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria) will also come out of the project as a formal publication.
- A research bulletin synthesizing the research findings
- The local partners Country results will disseminate results at the country level by the local partners.

Future Activities:
Future activities include the dissemination of the results and the launching of a campaign to present the research to the media, members of parliaments, and various stakeholders. A regional workshop is scheduled for early October 2003 (see III - Future Activities)

2. "The Nationality of Children: Between Belonging to the Islamic Umma and Belonging to the International Community."
Two eminent Arab scholars carried out this research, Farida Bennani, professor of Shari'a at the Qadi Ayad University in Marrakech, and Zineb Miadi, professor of sociology and Islamic jurisprudence at Hassan II University in Casablanca. The research was conducted through a) a comparative survey of the reservations in CEDAW related to the nationality legislation by all Islamic countries (Arab and non Arab) identifying the rationale and argumentation used and drawing out patterns between and within countries, showing gaps and inconsistencies between the Islamic countries and b) an analysis of the source of the various arguments relating to nationality legislation (al mergaeya), the various religious interpretations used as a basis for the reservations, and through original, historical and textual research, the extent to which these arguments are indeed supported by Islamic law.

This research study was submitted to a group of experts, activists and scholars from seven Arab countries representing human rights, women groups, and academia who met in Tunis to discuss, exchange opinions and reflect on a strategy to address this critical issue which remains problematic in almost all Arab countries and is often justified in the name of Islamic Shari'a.

This meeting was organized in partnership with the Center for Arab Women Training and Research (Cawtar) on July 3rd and 4th, 2003 (Appendix 3A and 3B).

3. "Arab Women and the Denial of Citizenship in the Arab World: The Case of Identity Cards."
In order to address the issue of identity cards in the Arab region, the Gender and Citizenship Initiative has selected ADEW (Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women) to carry out a study on identity cards and women's legal existence in four Arab countries (Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen). The study, which also involves several active NGOs from the four countries, aims at researching the issue of identity cards, its scope and magnitude and identifying ways of improving women's citizenship status by easing the process of accessing their legal rights. The methodology consists of reviewing available data, collecting first hand information, and investigating possible solutions according to the political, economic and social context.

So far several steps have been achieved successfully, including:
- Identifying and appointing the Principle Investigator, the Researchers and Research Assistant
- Identifying and setting up cooperation with in-country NGOs
- Organizing a start up workshop in partnership with ADEW in May 2003, Cairo

The study is in progress (desk review and field work) in the four countries. Country as well as regional reports will be presented in a regional meeting scheduled in December 2003 in Cairo.

4. "Glossary of Islamic Texts (Qur'an and Hadith) which emphasize Gender Equality."
This manual was initially published by Farida Bennani and Zineb Miadi in the early 90's. It will be updated and published as part of the Gender and Citizenship Initiative. It includes, among many other aspects, texts related to nationality. The main objective is to use all available tools, including sacred texts to argue against gender inequality.

5. "My Child, the Foreigner"
A 30-minute documentary film will be produced as part of the Gender and Citizenship Initiative by OR TV, a British company with strong track record in documentaries on the Arab World. It will tell the stories of several Arab men and women who suffer as a result of discriminatory nationality laws, and question these laws through interviews with legislators and government officials. The shooting will take place in Lebanon and Egypt, with the support of GCI local partners.
This documentary will be aired on regional satellite TV stations around March-April 2004.

III- Future Activities /Outputs

1. Workshops/Policy Dialogue:
* 8-9 October 2003 Beirut Regional NGO-Parliamentarian-Media dialogue on Nationality Legislation
The proposal for the meeting, the draft agenda and the draft list of participants will be discussed in a meeting on July 24, 2003
* December 2003 Cairo Regional Meeting on Identity Cards
Presentation of the study findings to policy makers, the media, and NGO representatives
* February 2004 Khartoum Gender and Citizenship Forum

2. Publications:
All publications coming out of the Gender and Citizenship Initiative will be printed in Beirut, using the same layout and design.

IV- Management Arrangement:
Adel Abdellatif is the coordinator and Heba el Khooli remains the principal advisor.