Arab Spring in soft voices: Winds of freedom not for men only
RABAT - UN women leaders on Thursday called for greater equality between the sexes on the occasion of International Women's Day amid demonstrations and marches for female rights.
Speaking in Rabat, Michele Bachelet, a former president of Chile who now heads UN Women, called for greater equality, especially in the countryside where inequality between men and women is "most marked".
In Tunis, several thousand women demonstrated outside parliament to warn against any attempt by the new Islamist-dominated government to curtail their rights.
"I've come to tell our elected leaders that the rights of Tunisian women must be written into the Constitution," said Jelila Bellalouna, a religious teacher.
"I'm doing that for my five-year-old niece so that she won't be forced later to wear a veil. I want her to be as free as I have been," she said.
Parliament has started to discuss the new Constitution amid calls by some Islamist parties for it to be based on religious Sharia law.
Several thousand women also demonstrated across Gaza and the West Bank to call for the release of a female prisoner -- Hanaa al-Shalabi -- on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.
In Iraq, women sharply criticised societal restrictions placed upon them in events marking International Women's Day on Thursday, arguing they were second-class citizens in male-dominated Iraq.
Activists and attendees at separate events organised by the government and a coalition of civil society groups said women in Iraq faced massive challenges.
"Iraqi women suffer marginalisation and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life," said Hanaa Edwar, head of the charity Al-Amal ('Hope' in Arabic).
Edwar was one of the organisers of a conference on violence against women in central Baghdad's Karrada district.
"Our society is heading towards a deterioration when it comes to women's rights, and it will take many years to improve the situation," Ines Abdulsattar, a 31-year-old employee at the Iraqi foreign ministry, said at the conference.
In Egypt, Hundreds of women marched through Cairo on Thursday on International Women's Day, demanding the right to co-draft the country's new constitution.
Women off all ages and background marched from the journalist's syndicate to the cabinet headquarters, saying they do not want to be elbowed out of the process.
"Women's rights are human rights!," read some banners at the march.
Many wore stickers demanding 50 percent representation in the 100-member panel that will be picked on March 24 by both houses of parliament to write the constitution.
"Women are half of society. 50 percent of women in the constituent assembly," read some banners.
"We don't want to be marginalised," said Shaimaa al-Kholy, 28, a chemistry teacher.
Others addressed Mohammed Badie, the head of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which controls almost half of parliament through its Freedom and Justice Party and believes a woman cannot become president of the country.
"Badie, Badie, women's rights will not be lost," the women chanted.