South Asia Center Nonresident Senior Fellow Barbara Slavin writes for the Wilson Center’s publication “Expansion or Contraction? Women’s Rights in the MENA Region in 2015” in celebration of International Women’s Day 2015:
It is hard to be optimistic about the status of women in a region blighted by authoritarianism, male chauvinism, poor governance, and violence. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya are being torn apart by civil war, and women and children are among the least able to defend themselves. The atrocities of the group that calls itself the Islamic State—most notably the abduction and sexual enslavement of Yazidis—are only the most notorious of the abuses women face in Iraq and Syria. Refugees—predominantly women—fleeing conflict are particularly vulnerable. Many Syrian refugee families are marrying off underage daughters in an effort to afford them some protection. Education for girls has been disrupted, jeopardizing women’s advancement throughout the Levant.