Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the poorest performer in the 2014 edition of the SIGI. The majority of its countries are positioned in the highest discrimination level, and no country is in the low level. Moreover, MENA has the country with the worst overall performance: Yemen. The region shows serious weaknesses in all SIGI sub-indices, particularly pronounced in restricted civil liberties and discriminatory family code.

Gender-specific laws limit women’s access to public space and political voice. Although the number of women in parliament has increased recently in North Africa (e.g. Morocco and Tunisia) due to electoral quotas, the regional average is only 13% and masks even lower percentages in certain countries (e.g. less than 10% in Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon). Reports of violence targeted at women who participated in the Arab Spring also mirror women’s ongoing struggle for civil liberties (OECD, forthcoming). A husband’s permission is required in Yemen to seek employment and in Oman to obtain a passport. Nine countries still have discriminatory laws limiting women’s freedom of movement.

Family codes are based on customary and religious laws, which assign unequal inheritance rights to girls, identify the man as the head of the household, do not recognise female parental authority and do not allow women to initiate divorce. Early marriage affects 9% of girls in the region, with significant variations: 0% in Qatar but up to 32% in Algeria. The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 12 in the Islamic Republic of Iran; in Yemen, there is no legal age of marriage. Women spend seven times more time on unpaid care work than men, reflecting social norms on their domestic responsibilities within the family.

Son bias, restricted resources and assets, and restricted physical integrity are also issues that certain countries in the region need to address. Fertility preferences indicate that boys are more highly valued in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Tunisia. Unequal inheritance rights are linked to women’s poor access to land and property: only 4% of women have land titles. Almost two-thirds of countries lack legislation on sexual harassment, rape or domestic violence. In certain countries, a rapist can escape punishment if he marries the victim, and marital rape is not recognised. Although regional prevalence of female genital mutilation is low on average (7.2%), up to 91% of women in Yemen have undergone the practice.