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Ten reasons why Comoros may be best Arab state for women

by Ahmed Ali Amir | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 12 November 2013 00:01 GMT

In this 2005 file photo Comoran women with faces smeared yellow by the herbal lotion attend a welcoming ceremony for Said Larifou in Foumboni village, Comoros Islands. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

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Comoros is the best country in the Arab world for women followed by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts

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Visit poll2013.trust.org for full coverage of our expert poll on women’s rights in the Arab world

By Ahmed Ali Amir

MORONI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Comoros is the best country in the Arab world for women followed by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts released on Tuesday.

The survey examined perceptions of gender violence, reproductive rights, the treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman's role in politics and the economy in 22 Arab states.

Comoros, a spice and perfume-producing Indian Ocean archipelago lying between Mozambique and Madagascar, scored overall best in the poll based on experts' views. It came top for reproductive rights, women in the economy and women in the family.

So how did a tiny state of 720,000 people - more famous for its history of assassinations, mercenary invasions and 20 or so coups and attempted rebellions since independence from France in 1975 - become the best Arab country for women?

Here are 10 reasons why, as highlighted by the poll and through speaking with experts on the ground.

1)   Comoros' constitution, which states that citizens will draw governing principles and rules from Islamic tenets, also refers to citizens' equal rights and duties regardless of sex.

However, it is clear that men are at an advantage when it comes to family law, which allows them the right to polygamy and to unilaterally divorce their wives among other privileges.

Comoros' legal system is a mix of Islamic religious law, the 1975 French civil code and customary law. The different jurisdictions particularly concerning family life do not always help women, said Saminya Bounou, editor-in-chief of the Al-Watwan daily.

2)   Comoros has ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, sometimes called the world’s “bill of rights” for women. It is one of only three Arab League states to do so without any reservations. It has also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

3)   Lands and homes are usually awarded to women in case of divorce or separation in Comoros, according to the U.S. State Department.

 4) Family law states that women may marry and stay in the homes built for them by their parents, over which the husband may not have any right. The furniture remains attached to this home, even if purchased by the husband.

 5) Half the inmates in Moroni's prisons are being held for sex crimes, a proportion that suggests Comoros has enforced laws against sexual violence.

"We have had several complaints made by women whose children are the victims of violence and of rape," a senior official working for a service helping child victims of violence told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Unfortunately in many cases justice has not been served ... and so, the trauma suffered by the children remains and the women are frustrated by the behaviour of the men."

 6) More than a third of adult women are in the labour force, U.N. data shows.

"We have rights and I feel equal to my husband. He's in teaching and I work in administration," said Halima Said, 25, who works in the accounting unit of the interior ministry. 

"We both bring home salaries, but in reality, it's me who's in charge, who settles the bills, buys food and pays school fees for our children. I know what our spending priorities are. If it was up to him, he would fritter it away with his friends."

Masséande Chami-Allawi, literature professor and director of International Relations at the University of Comoros, said women in Comoros had a strong presence in society and the economy, compared to women in other Muslim countries.

"The role of women in Comoran society outside politics is well-known. Strong matrilineal traditions coexist with a patrilineal system inherited from Islam," she said.

7) In the last government, women were installed as minister of telecommunications and labour minister. This represented 20 percent of Comoros' total ministerial positions, a higher proportion than in any of the other 21 polled Arab states.

8) Women are beginning to make their entrance in high, decision-making positions. The state prosecution, the Great Mutal Funds of Comoros, the Postal Bank and the General Planning Commission are all headed by women.

9) Women are under no pressure to have boys over girls in Comoros, according to our gender experts. "In Comoros, the birth of a child is a happy event for the family, whether it is a boy or a girl," one respondent said.    

10) Comoros' previous president was Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, a moderate Islamist. While in power he was quoted by press as saying he was not ready to make Comoros an Islamic state and that women would not be forced to wear the veil. He supported his deputy, Ikililou Dhoinine, in the last presidential elections, which Dhoinine won in 2010. 


Visit poll2013.trust.org for complete poll coverage


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