A Year in Review: Turning Points for Arab Women in 2020

Women's March

2020 has been a long and tough year in every way possible. Amidst all the darkness, though, there were some instances of light. While women all over the world were subjected to more hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve also managed to make gains for themselves despite all the difficulties. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is impossible, the world turned on its axis in the blink of an eye. Here are the major turning point moments for Arab women in 2020.


#MeToo Movement Sign
#MeToo Movement Sign

In July, hundreds of women started telling their experiences with sexual assault, inspiring hundreds of others to tell theirs too. Nadeen Ashraf through @assaultpolice, Sabah Khodir, Shady Noor, and many others, took to all social media platforms to encourage women to report their harassers so that not only the perpetrators are brought to justice, but anyone who thinks of harassing a woman will think twice. To this day, women are still telling their stories and exposing their harassers everywhere. More and more of them are standing up to harassers in the street and harassment apologists at home. Additionally, sexual predators are receiving harsher sentences than ever before.

Due to their bravery, laws were amended to ensure anonymity to survivors of sexual assault and prominent icons of Egyptian society like Al-Azhar and some media moguls spoke out against the ongoing narrative that survivors are to blame (whether by attire or behavior) for their sexual harassment. Furthermore, on the 29th of December, Ahmed Bassam Zaki, the sexual predator who assaulted so many women, received a 3-year sentence for misuse of social media and will face more charges in the coming weeks.

The voices that spoke against sexual harassment also spoke against the enduring problem of Burkini and Hijab bans. After a video of a woman wearing a burkini being asked to leave a pool went viral, hundreds took to Social Media to protest. As a result, The Ministry of Tourism issued a statement stipulating that women in Hijab/Burkinis could not be banned and that any woman who is discriminated against should issue an official complaint. Also, an Instagram Page, @LetHerIn, was started calling for boycotting bars and restaurants in Cairo that discriminate against Hijabi women.


In the protests of October 2019 women’s voices loudly resonated that the revolution is feminist as beautifully showcased by Lujain Jo’s short film”بنات الشارع“. After months of battling, the Lebanese parliament finally endorsed a law criminalizing sexual harassment in December 2020.

Still from "Banat El Share3" by Lebanese director Lujain Jo
Still from “بنات الشارع” by Lebanese filmmaker Lujain Jo.

It stated that the penalty for harassment would be up to 4 years in prison and perpetrators would be fined up to 50 times the minimum wage. This is the first law issued against sexual harassment in Lebanon.

The parliament also amended its 2014 Domestic Violence Law to include divorced women. It also gave domestic violence survivors automatic custody of their children if they’re under the age of 13.

Furthermore, on the 4th of September 2020, the Labor ministry adopted a standard unified contract for migrant domestic workers. It allows workers to quit without the consent of the employer and specifies a 48-hour work week. It also entitles sick and overtime pay as well as annual leave. Additionally, it ensures domestic workers are paid nothing less than the national minimum wage. This came after the Kafala System came under fire by the public. That is because how abusive it is to migrant domestic workers who are mostly women.

Still from Banat El Share3" by Lebanese filmmaker Lujain Jo
Still from “بنات الشارع” by Lebanese filmmaker Lujain Jo.


When Alaa Salah stood chanting on a car in December 2018, things changed for Sudanese women. Alaa was one of many women who took to the streets calling for the end of Omar El Bashir’s regime. In the months following his ouster, Sudanese women were determined not to be excluded from politics anymore. As they created new spaces for themselves in the last 2 years, their efforts brought about the long overdue ban of Female Genital Mutilation in July 2020. The Sudanese council of ministers also vowed to end child marriage and following the African Charter on Child Rights.


In September 2020, a law was issued that established a national committee specialized in overcoming domestic violence. It also created a hotline and shelters. They provide fast assistance, receive complaints, and provide legal and psychological help to victims.

The United Arab Emirates

In November 2020, the government criminalized honor killings. It also introduced tougher punishment for sexual harassment and rape, especially those committed against a minor.

Wrapping Up…

Naturally, we’re all hesitating to be hopeful about 2021 given how 2020 was. However, such wins indicate that even in the bleakest and darkest of times, the inevitability of change naturally brings about some good along with the bad. The world is evolving, and, hopefully, it’ll become a friendlier place for Arab women. Keep following us to witness these changes and be a part of them, women of the Arab world!

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