Tuesday marked the first day of the 55th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting.  In addition to conversation about the annual and review themes, the question of women’s rights and roles following revolutions in the Middle East has been a key topic of conversation.  UN Women hosts a panel today (February 25th) titled, “Breaking New Ground: Arab Women and the Path to Democracy.”  Find out how to attend or watch the webcast online here

The role women played in the revolution in Egypt has been documented by Al Jazeera, which recently published a piece titled “Women in the Revolution.”  As protester and researcher Mona Seif recalls of her participation:

I have never felt as at peace and as safe as I did during those days in Tahrir. There was a sense of coexistence that overcame all of the problems that usually happen – whether religious or gender based.

Pre-January 25 whenever we would attend protests I would always be told by the men to go to the back to avoid getting injured and that used to anger me. But since January 25 people have begun to treat me as an equal. There was this unspoken admiration for one another in the square.

Read the entire piece here.

In addition to the roles women played in revolution, Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, argues that we must be attentive to women’s rights and roles in the transition periods in Egypt and Tunisia.  How are women participating in the constitutional process?  What role will women play in new government structures and regimes?  She argues that role of religious institutions in the creation and adoption of new constitutions in Egypt and Tunisia will affect women’s rights and opportunities:

In Tunisia, several hundred women have already taken to the streets to voice their concern about what an Islamic revival, should it come, could mean for them. In Egypt, women’s rights activists immediately mounted a petition drive when the committee named to draft a new constitution included not a single woman (although many noted female Egyptian lawyers could easily serve on that committee).

In both countries, there is popular support for a broader establishment of sharia, or Islamic law, developed from the Koran and religious writings. Of course, there is no single sharia; interpretations vary throughout the Middle East and are subject to change. Morocco, for example, sets the legal age of female marriage at 18, based on its more progressive version of sharia, whereas in Saudi Arabia girls as young as 8 are married to much older men, based on its version. As new leaders in the region grapple with how to blend some version of sharia with some version of democracy, women’s rights will become a central element of the debate.

Read the entire piece here.