UN rights chief voices fears for Arab women's rights

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:34 PM
UN rights chief voices fears for Arab women's rights

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay appealed on Monday to new governments in Egypt and Tunisia to ensure that full women's rights were enshrined in new constitutions in both countries.

She also voiced concern that constitutional reforms in Egypt were being discussed with little participation from women and could entrench discrimination against them.

And she called on men and women who took part in protests that led to the ousting of long-ruling presidents in both Egypt and Tunisia to ensure that women played a full role in shaping their countries' future.

"In these moments of historic transition in Egypt and Tunisia, it is important to ensure that women's rights are not set aside as something to be dealt with after the crucial reforms are won," a statement from Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

"Women's rights should be at the top of the new list of priorities," declared the former judge of the South African high court and international criminal court.

Egypt's ruling military council, which has been governing the country since mass protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak on February11, has suspended the constitution and asked a committee of legal experts to propose changes to ensure fair elections and pave a road toward a democratic civil state.

The government has said Egypt will hold a referendum on the reforms on March 19.

In Tunisia, the interim president last week called a July 24 election to choose a national constituent assembly tasked with rewriting a constitution following the overthrow of veteran leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Pillay said there were worrying signs that some proposed reforms in Egypt were discriminatory.

"Women and men in the Middle East and North Africa must ensure that this is not the case," she said.

Societies in which women were excluded from public life could not be described as truly democratic, Pillay said.

"Women must be able to shape the future of their countries by being involved in institutional reforms from the beginning," she added.

(Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Sami Aboudi)