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Empowerment of Women

The year 1975 was proclaimed the International Women's Year by the United Nations General Assembly. The Year was a turning-point in that it put women's issues on the agenda. The United Nations Decade for Women  (1976-85) was a world-wide effort to examine the status and rights of women and to bring women into decision-making at all levels. In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which entered into force in 1981 and set an international standard for what was meant by equality between women and men.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as " … any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex, which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  1. Incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  2. Establishing tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  3. Ensuring elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.


Egypt has signed the Convention on 16 July 1980, the United States of America on 17 July 1980 and the UK on 22 July 1981.


The Fourth World Congress on Women, Platform for Action, held in Beijing in 1995 aimed at accelerating the implementation of Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, and at removing all the obstacles to women's active participation in all areas of public and private life through full and equal share in economic, social, cultural, and political decision-making.

Critical areas of concern include the persistent and increasing burden of poverty  on women, unequal access to education and training, violence against women and the effects of armed conflicts on women. Other issues include inequality in economic structures and the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels, the stereotyping of women in media, and the persistent discrimination against the girl child.

This was then followed by the "Beijing + 5 (200)" meeting held in New York at the UN Headquarters, which adopted a political declaration and document for "Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action." This document consisted of three main sections:

  1. Achievements and obstacles in the implementation of the Platform for Action;
  2. Current challenges affecting the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action; and
  3. Actions and initiatives to overcome those obstacles.

In November 2003, the U.S. Department of State launched the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI), which adopted the empowerment of women as one of its four main pillars.

At the Arab World level, civil society and the private sector are as committed as governments to promoting development goals concerning women. Since the year 2000, the Arab world has seen the establishment of several Arab women organizations. At the national level (National Council for Women, NCW) at the regional level (Arab Women Organization, AWO) and at the international level (The Suzanne Mubarak Women's International Peace Movement, TSMWIPM).

The status of women scientists in different parts of the world was reviewed, analyzed, and debated at length at the World Conference on Science (WSC), held in Budapest, Hungry in June 1999. The Conference stressed that discrimination based on gender prevents half the population from contributing towards sustainable development activities and thus impairs advancement and progress. A pressing need was, therefore, expressed to integrate women in all aspects of the development process. Resolutions adapted to this effect stressed on the need for substantive efforts and strong commitments to make science and technology a shared asset to benefit all people with no discrimination. The resolutions also call for "the establishment of international networks of women scientists".

As a follow up to the WSC and its resolutions to establish women science networks, the UNESCO Cairo Office organized a Regional Preparatory Meeting in Cairo, Egypt, in September 2003 to explore and debate the principle of creating a network of professional Arab women in the field of science and technology in the Arab region. The participants of the Meeting unanimously supported the initiative to the establish an Arab Network for Women in Science and Technology (ANWST) to encompass, acknowledge, and disseminate inventions and achievements undertaken by Arab Women in the fields of Science and Technology and allow them to bring a new perspective to research and development in their own countries. The overall objective of ANWST is advocating a right-to-development approach for empowerment and advancement of Arab women in science, technology, and innovation, as well as mainstreaming a gender perspective into decision making processes, development policies, programs and projects as a tool for achieving gender equality and sustainable development.

The Network activities are expected to contribute towards building an integrated scientific community capable of meeting the challenges of sustainable development in the Arab region in line with the expected scientific advancement of the 21st century by empowering women and strengthening their effective participation and contribution in science, technology, and innovation.