Egyptian veiled woman 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
GIZA, Egypt - It is an exciting time for Egypt as the country headed to
the polls again this week for another round of parliamentary elections
in what is being widely hailed as the first free and fair vote in
decades. But for Egypt’s women, who make up 52% the country’s eligible
voters, the polling is less fair than they had hoped.
have guaranteed places on the parties’ voting lists, but that doesn’t
ensure them a seat in the new parliament because female candidates are
typically placed so low on the lists that they fail to make the cutoff.
Islamist parties are discouraging women from taking public roles
altogether. The Salafist Al-Noor Party, forced by the law to run women
candidates, declines to publish pictures of its female candidates in its
campaign material, putting flowers or the group’s electoral symbols in
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don’t get it. This election will be praised and yet we will sit and
wait to be told what to do, just like under the Mubarak government,
maybe worse,” Omnia Radwan, a 24-year-old graduate student told The
The step backward for women in politics come amid a
broader pushback from early days of the revolution when women protested
side by side with men at Tahrir Square demanding the ouster of President
Husni Mubarak. Since then, Islamists have emerged as the overwhelming
victors in the elections and are increasingly setting the tone for
social and political discourse. The new parliament will oversee the
writing of Egypt’s constitution, ensuring that its influence will be
felt for years to come.
That portends a setback for Egyptian
women, who have long faced an uphill struggle for equality. In 2010,
when the more secular Mubarak regime was still in power, Egypt ranked
120 out of 128 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum.
Indeed, the US is concerned enough about what is happening that
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in a week ago with a reminder
that US expects Egyptian parties to uphold human rights, including
post-Mubarak elections have been judged democratic by observers both in
Egypt and from abroad, for women they offer fewer opportunities than
they had in the last years of the Mubarak era. An amendment to the
electoral law approved last October did away with a quota of 64 seats
for women in parliament with a looser requirement that each party list
include at least one woman.
Although 376 women ran for parliament
in the first round of elections, only three won a seat – and those
races were in relatively liberal, urban parts of the country. This
week’s second round and the third round in January include rural and
more conservative districts.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s
Rights has condemned how women have been portrayed in the campaigns, and
has been extremely critical of the female role in political parties.
The organization called it “weak nominations leading to weak
representation,” adding that parties nominated women out of “obligation
and according to the parliamentary law that site at least one female
candidate must be present on each list.”
“Sure, it is exciting,
and I voted, but the fact remains, women are not being elected and we
are going to see a difficult path forward if it is men, mainly
conservative men, running the country,” said Radwan.
Saadawi, arguably the leading feminist thinker in the Arab world, said
that without women there would have been no revolution, and now, without
their being fully engaged in electoral politics, those gains risk being
reversed. “Women are half the society and they must be given a voice
and be part of the change that is happening in the country,” she said.
there are many women in the country who feel that women should take a
back seat, almost subservient role in politics, to men. At one polling
station in Giza on Wednesday, a group of elderly women marched their way
into the polling station shouting that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom
and Justice Party is the party of choice and urging fellow female
voters to cast a vote for the Islamist group.
“We believe that a
woman’s duty is to take care of children and this should not be
forgotten,” said one of the women as they left the station. “If women
are in politics and power it corrupts them and it hurts the family and
we believe that Islam tells us to be mothers first.”
week in Aswan, Al-Noor – which took more than 20% of the first-round
voting – said that if it were to come to power, women would be barred
from wearing bikinis on beaches and it would impose public segregation
of the sexes.
However, not all women in Egypt share this view.
In Alexandria, a group of female activists called for a parallel
parliament to be established that would promote women’s rights.
by the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women in
Alexandria outside the Alexandria Library, the participants called for
rescinding discriminatory laws, greater access to literacy classes and
social insurance for female agricultural workers and domestics.
The protest followed a roundtable discussion in collaboration with the
law school at Alexandria University under the banner “women rights are
Radwan, who was assaulted by passersby last summer during a women’s
rights rally in Cairo, said “the revolution will not be complete” until
all Egyptians, including women, have a say in the future of this
country. “If they want to ignore half the country, we will not stand by
and be silent. I have been disappointed that activists have let women’s
rights slide, but now we are seeing how this has hurt the country and it
is time to move forward.”