Regional workshop in Lebanon to advance Women’s ESCR in the Middle East and North Africa

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Women and ESCR Working Group, in partnership with ESCR-Net member ANND (Arab NGO Network for Development) held a workshop on advancing women’s economic, social and cultural rights, in Beirut, Lebanon between August 29th and 31st, followed by a half-day digital security training on September 1st, 2016. The workshop, which focused on the impact of economic policies and the implications of such policies for women’s economic, social and cultural rights, brought together approximately 30 participants from countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

The workshop opened with an interactive introductory session aimed at discussing the current political, social, economic and cultural context in which human rights advocates are working and to identify both commonalities and particular challenges across the region. The workshop continued with a session examining the impact of neoliberal economic policies and related development models on women’s enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, with a focus on employment as well as housing and land. Recurring themes that emerged from these discussions include: the severe impact of conflict, insecurity and migration; issues related to land ownership and inheritance as well as pressures that small farmers face, particularly as a result of agribusiness and trade agreements; and the care and informal economies. Participants highlighted that women are disproportionally impacted by each of these issues and related policies, as well as the resulting economic, social and cultural rights violations.

The first day concluded with a discussion of regional human rights frameworks, with a presentation and discussion about the Arab and African regional systems. Participants were deeply engaged in conversations about the challenges faced in engaging with the Arab regional system, particularly the League of Arab States and the Arab Human Rights Committee. Participants also learned about the collaborative work that ESCR-Net’s Strategic Litigation and Women and ESCR Working Groups have done on implementation of the landmark Endorois case that was decided by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

The second day of the workshop focused on the international women and ESC rights framework, with presentations, including by participants, about their engagement with the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), including by creating coalitions to draft parallel reports, participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and the use of international human rights law in national level litigation and advocacy on issues related to women and economic, social and cultural rights.  During this discussion, the Arabic section of the ESCR-Net website and specifically ESCR-Net materials that were recently translated into Arabic were shared with participants; these include a series of three briefing papers focused on the intersection between women and specific economic, social and cultural rights issues, namely land, health and work that were drafted by members of the Women and ESCR Working Group as well as key sections of a guide on “Claiming Women's ESC Rights Using OP-CEDAW and OP-ICESCR.”

Following this, participants divided into groups to respond to questions about the mechanisms with which they have engaged (whether at the national, regional or international level), the strategies they have used in their advocacy work, and the challenges they have confronted. The second day concluded with a session about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the advancement of women’s economic, social and cultural rights through the Sustainable Development Goals. 

On the third day, a consensus-building workshop was held in which participants were asked to respond to the question of the change they would like to achieve with respect to advancing women’s economic, social and cultural rights. After responding to this question individually, participants discussed their responses in pairs, small groups and with the entire group via a facilitated process. By the conclusion of the exercise, several overlapping and repeated themes emerged; these responses were then used in the final session when participants conducted initial brainstorming about potential strategies at the local, regional and international level that they can undertake to advance these goals. Participants were encouraged to think about strategies that they have not previously utilized, including engaging in this work through new collaborative relationships formed or cemented during the workshop.  

On the fourth day of the workshop, a Lebanese feminist advocate focused on technology and digital security conducted a digital security training which incorporated mutual learning about feminist perspectives on “the political economy of the internet” and how we might understand the control of information online as reflecting power relations in society, as well as best practices about strengthening digital security.