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COVID-19: Reflecting on women’s participation and leadership in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Reflections on upholding women’s rights in the governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic  took centre stage of a virtual roundtable discussion on Thursday 04 May.

Jointly organized by the Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA)and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)  section in Geneva, the virtual discussion saw the participation of over 20 UN Human Rights experts who work on gender-related  issues in 18 countries of the (MENA) region.  Reflecting on experiences from the region, they emphasized that COVID-19 response and post-crisis recovery plans should promote women’s economic empowerment and address gender inequalities in social protection systems.

Reflections mainly focused on women’s rights-related concerns specific to this region, mainly polygamy, social norms affecting quarantine centres, LGBT rights, migrant domestic workers and armed conflicts.

Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants to this roundtable have been restlessly engaged in monitoring and protecting the human rights of women in the MENA region, reminding Member States of their obligations to abide by principles of non-discrimination and gender-equality as well as by the principles of “leave no one behind” of the Sustainable Development Goals in their response to the crisis.

“Because of pre-existing gender inequalities and deep-rooted discrimination in the MENA region, the consequences of the current crisis have affected women in a disproportionate manner, while at the same time placing increased responsibilities on women’s shoulders at home, in the health workforce and in other sectors,” said Roueida El Hage, ROMENA Regional Representative.

“Evidence is mounting that incidents of gender-based violence against women and girls have risen due to domestic tensions resulting from confinement, pressure of home schooling and job losses,” she said.

El Hage praised the invaluable monitoring and assessment work done throughout the pandemic by the event participants in particular, and UN Human Rights in general, as a key element in assisting governments to have targeted strategies to mitigate the devastating impact of this crisis namely on disadvantaged and marginalized groups such as older women, women and girls with disabilities, migrant, refugee and internally displaced women, women belonging to minorities, women in detention, as well as lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.