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Regional Dialogue on Gender-Justice and the Law
10 December 2018 | Beirut, Lebanon
Opening Statement
Mourad Wahba,
Director, Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Programme
Regional Chair, United Nations Development Group Middle East, North Africa, Arab States

Excellencies, colleagues and partners,

I would like to begin by thanking ESCWA for welcoming us here in Beirut for this important dialogue on gender-justice and the law, and, since this is the first time I am seeing him in his new capacity, let me also extend my congratulations and warm wishes to Mounir Tabet on his new post of ESCWA, while thanking him for the opening words.

I also salute our partner agencies ESCWA, UNWOMEN and UNFPA for coming together with UNDP to advance the cause of gender justice. This is an issue that is pivotal for the advance of women and girls, and therefore also essential for the progress of our entire societies, for our region.

Dear colleagues, it is worth noting that we are meeting on International Human Rights Day. And this year we are also commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We know well in this room that the mandates of each agency align with human rights principles; and together we have committed to promote these principles through our joint support to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

I am of the opinion that the most effective way to enter into the rights discussion in the region, and indeed to advance on rights in the region, is through the lens of the advance of women and girls. We also know that the advance of women is pivotal if we are to achieve the promise of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs – not only goal 5 of course, but all the goals and the principles of the Agenda itself.

The good news, is that women around the world, and women around the region are showing clearly that they are a transformative force.

Around the world and around the region, women are standing up, saying that “the time is now” for equality, for opportunity, for respect and for equal representation. The time is also now, to end violence, and to end harassment, at home, in public life, on the streets, and indeed in the workplace – ours included.

We all join women, starting from the UN Secretary-General and through our respective agencies, in saying the time is now. We cannot wait, to advance in our support of women and girls, in our programming, in our internal operations, and indeed, in our culture – the way we think, the way we interact and the way we support national stakeholders in taking their development priorities forward.

As the Secretary-General said in his remarks on International Women’s Day earlier this year, “Gender equality is the unfinished business of our time. And so, the time is now to change it.”

We are here today and tomorrow to “do just that” through a participatory, joint and multi-stakeholder participatory/ multi - engagement in dialogue on a specific area of the gender equality agenda – Gender Justice and the Law.

By this we mean, to recognize the potential of the law to help guarantee the rights of women and girls, and support equitable development for all, or indeed to highlight the opposite – to hold women and girls back, to enable and embolden those who hurt them, and ultimately to deprive more than half of our region from achieving their potential and rights.

The analysis we are referring to help kickstart this dialogue helps ground our awareness in current national legal frameworks. It acknowledges that in recent years there has in many cases been unprecedented attention to women’s rights among legislators, policy makers and civil society. It also underscores that at present, there is willingness in many parts of the region to openly debate gender topics which were rarely discussed by lawmakers just ten years ago. There have been important advances in legal frameworks in recent years, and I am proud and pleased that with us in the room are advocates, experts and lawmakers who have helped these materialize.

The analysis also highlights that major challenges remain in the realm of gender and justice, including in protection from violence, in family law, and in labour laws. We know that now is when the strongest frameworks are needed, as women face growing challenges especially – but not only – in the midst of crisis. The Gender Justice and the Law set of documents makes the important contribution of documenting the specific laws in each country that require strengthening.

These issues will be discussed in sessions today and tomorrow, by experts based across the region, by practitioners, by judges, by lawmakers, by women and men who are leading the charge for justice; together we are not only allies, but we are fellow advocates –joining together to support the advancement of the agenda of our times, the agenda of our region- without significant progress on gender equality in the coming years the development potential of the region will not materialize.

I am pleased that this work has been a joint work of several UN agencies. There is no better path to peace and prosperity than through the empowerment of women and girls. We are all bound together in this cause. And we are most effective when we provide our support in a coordinated manner as this work is a clear example of.

However, I am also deeply humbled. As UN Agencies, practitioners, and development partners we have a compact to uphold the principles of the UN Charter, of the UDHR, and of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. We are also bound, and committed, to support our many government and non-governmental partners who are working towards this cause.

Yet it is you, the ones in this room, the ones who we will hear from in coming days. Advocates, experts, lawmakers, civil society, media – it is you who are carrying this agenda forward, with focus, with dedication, with local expertise, with all the strategies and tactics and coalition building that are needed to effect change.

And let us be clear: you are also taking risks. For some reason, gender equality is still something that provokes backlash, pushback, indeed that seems to provoke ire in the hearts-and-minds of many.

We also pay tribute to the countless hours of research and information gathering on which this resource builds. Be it the advocacy of UNDP’s flagship Arab Human Development Reports, or the many resources developed by ESCWA, by UNWOMEN, by UNFPA and by partners like CAWTAR, the resource we are jointly presenting today is but one more step to further unpack development issues in the region that we have worked on together, over years, to analyse and take forward through joint advocacy and programme activities in support of national priorities.

In closing, to you I say, we are here for you. We are with you. We believe you. We join you in advocating for a world that is fairer for women and girls, and fairer for all; a region that is just, and not just for the few. And communities that in pursuing the right thing to do, promote the rights of women and girls, and in so doing, promote our shared advance towards the promise of a just future, a future of equity, and of sustainable development for all, leaving no gender behind, and leaving no person behind.

On behalf of the Regional UNDG I wish you successful deliberations and I trust these days are a start of a process that will lead to further progress/change in our region.

Check out Gender Justice & the Law in the Arab Region study

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