Successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in the last year have sparked movements against dictatorships across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region. These movements call for democratization, new constitutions that protect equality, free speech and assembly, and fair elections. Women have been an integral part of these revolutions, organizing and marching alongside men. Now, as countries in the region are in the process of building new governments, women's activists know they must fight to play a substantial role.
Today, just as before the Arab Spring, women's rights groups in the Arab world are fighting for rights set forth in the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the most comprehensive women's rights treaty, and are using it to demand government action. Written in 1979 and entered into force in 1981, CEDAW has been ratified by 187 nation-states, including every Arab country except Somalia and Sudan.1 However, each Arab state has ratified the treaty with substantial reservations that undermine the treaty's spirit.