The importance of equality
The active participation of women is by no means established across all countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Moreover, the recent rise of Islamist parties in some MENA countries creates new concerns about the fate of gender equality.
The MENA region has substantially reduced gender inequality in education and health outcomes in recent years, but the role of women in the policymaking process in these countries remains limited. Even when women are in parliament they do not have the 'critical mass' necessary to facilitate change.
The question of critical mass is an extremely important one, as when women have significant political participation, there is a stronger push for gender equality more broadly, especially in health and education. Only with much higher levels of parliamentary participation than currently exist in most MENA countries will women be able to play a role in designing and implementing major policies and laws. Foreign aid to women's equality organizations and institutions can play a crucial role in enhancing women's ability to shape policies and laws in their countries.
Women's political empowerment in the MENA region
The MENA region has some of the highest restrictions on women's civil liberties in the world, and progress on promoting women's political empowerment over the last several years has been uneven. Only about one parliamentarian in ten is a woman in the region, although, as Figure 1 demonstrates there are wide disparities across the MENA countries. Moreover, in spite of the increasingly widespread gender equality in voting in elections, MENA women are sometimes unable to practice their right to vote in order to gain political empowerment.
between aid and empowerment
Given the lack of women's political participation in the MENA region it is important to consider the role aid could play in helping to improve this situation. Evidence from 13 countries over the period 2002-10 indicates a number of interesting trends.
Women's equality organizations and institutions
Official development aid (ODA) to women's equality organizations and institutions is in general effective at increasing the proportion of national parliamentary seats held by women. The more aid that is given to these groups, the more parliamentary seats are gained by women.
Reproductive health and family planning
In contrast, there is no evidence that countries which received higher amounts of aid targeting...