Egypt: The Women's Parliamentary Quota

The Land Centre for Human Rights

A husband can prevent his wife from participating in the political life under Egypt's personal status Laws. This was the concern expressed by one of the contributors to a workshop held by the Land Centre of Human Rights in Cairo entitled "woman and the parliamentary election" attended by more than fifty members from civil organization, local assemblies, lawyers, and journalists. The workshop proceedings started with the first session titled "Reasons and results of women's quota" headed by the coordinator of program of woman in the centre, Ms. Dahlia Omara.

Dahlia affirmed that in spite of woman's success in all life aspects she went through, in a way that proves woman's capacity and efficiency to contribute in developing our country, she couldn't, until now, acquire the trust of society to represent it and achieve voters' interests.  We view how the society trusts men much more than women, where parliamentary elections of 2005 were a clear example of this trust.  In 2005, women won only 8 seats in the parliament out of 454 seats, 5 of them were granted by appointment; which means that voters gave only 3 seats for women.  Therefore, women's quota, that might guarantee equality and safety for women in our society, is a good way to enhance the participation of women, besides, taking many political, economical, and cultural measurements that shall support women's right.

After that, Ms. Nehad Abo- Komsan, manager of Egyptian centre of women's rights, spoke about the issue of women's quota, clarifying that women's representation in parliament is as much important as any other issue of human rights, priority is the only difference, she said.  Ms. Nehad added, also, that the time of the workshop is very suitable, if not little bit late, because there is no much time remaining before the elections.  We must have enough awareness that helps us in promoting thriving samples of women to enter the parliament as representatives, even if those parliamentary seats are the suspicious seats of the National Democratic Party of Egypt (NDP).  We hope that, at least, 13 women, who can be good samples of Egyptian women, can be elected in the next parliamentary elections.

Ms. Nehad then asked, Why the women's quota?  She illustrated that since more than 50 years ago, the idea of women's participation in parliament didn't grow; in 1957, two women were elected, where in 2005, only three women were elected, excluding the time between 1951 till 1986 that witnessed the specialization of 30 seats to women. 

Ms. Nehad mentioned that Egypt is ranked as state no. 174 among 176 states that apply democracy.  She asserted the single member district system is the best system that can help in applying the women's quote, as it guarantees the existence of various classes from all sectors of the society, which promotes the participation of women.

She spoke then about quotas law, and asserted that dividing the state into 32 electoral districts increases burden on women; pecuniary and morally.  In this quote system, each governorate is considered as one electoral district, and in case the governorate is large, it is divided into two electoral districts.  This division causes huge burden, and requires extra-ordinary efforts much higher than the effort needed by candidates without applying quote system. 

Ms. Nahed, also, affirmed that political parties are responsible for nominating women and supporting them.  The future of the experiment of women's quota is on the stake, in year 2010, Ms. Nahed stressed.  She praised the Moroccan experiment, describing it as a thriving example that typically applied the women's quote system.

Afterwards, second session proceedings, headed by Ms. Fatima Ramadan, started, under title "Woman's condition in the market".  Ms. Fatima pointed that government ruins woman's life by changing laws.  We can find the early retirement of woman starts with the age of 45, in addition to the attitude of private sector to reject women's work.  After that, Ms. Mona Ezzat presented a paper that illustrated the women's situation in market.  She explained that women's issues are citizens' issues, because when we speak about women, we speak about a category of the citizens.  Ms. Ezzat added, if we want to highlight on the situation of working women in Egypt, we will find that government dealt with it by, either, legislative decoration or balance and harmonization.  She mentioned that since 1970, Egypt witnesses political shifts, like; the economic openness, enhancing the role of private sector, and the privatization of public sector.  All these transformations were annexed by legislative transformations too, which led to the deterioration of the financial situations of the wage earned workers.  Business men played a great role on this transformation.  Ms. Ezzat added also there is a mount in the percentage of women contribution in market, but it is a slow mount though.  We can find that the big motive which derives women to go out is the economical one.  It referred also that those statistics represent the formal sector, not the informal sector, which represents wide range, especially in countryside.  In spite of all the aforementioned, we can still find that rate of unemployment among women could reach 26% till 2005.  She spoke also about labor legislations related to women and the amendments of those legislations.  She assured that those amendments make women in front of one of two bitter choices; the first is to look after her family, while the second is the continuity of her work.  This contradiction rises because of child care law; this law has limited the permission of child care leave for only the first two children, instead of the first three children, as a mean of birth control.  Ms. Ezzat referred, also, to the sexual harassment phenomenon, especially in the field of work, where she stated that on the market, labor women rights are neither guaranteed nor known my males and females workers.

Third session, headed by Dr. Youssry Mustafa, the coordinator of woman program in GTZ foundation and a human rights expert, then started, under title "The effect of cultural and social rights situation in Egypt on the woman's rights of Equality".

Mustafa started the session with clarifying the concept of culture; it starts with the way of wearing our clothes, eating, drinking, and the daily behavior.  He added also that people commit mistakes in Egypt, nowadays, as if it is something normal, to an extent that we turned to have the behaviors of ugliness and immaturity without noticing.  He asserted that women's issues are part of societal issues as a whole.

Dr. Mustafa referred also to the role of the culture in selecting the quality of life.  Culture is what makes us accept the idea of legal guardians on women, and force woman to marry the brother of her dead husband to protect children from being raised by a stranger, who can take the inheritance of the deceased husband.   It is the same culture that prohibits women from being granted their inheritance, so that inherited lands don't go to strangers.  He affirmed that society teaches woman the culture of waiver.

After that, Ms. Azza Suleiman, the manager of the centre of Egyptian woman's issue, spoke.  She said that woman suffers internal and external subjugation, making her unable to participate and take proper decisions in her public and private life.

Ms. Suleiman asked a question about the way they can change the law to a mechanism that empowers women to be granted their rights.  The Islamic law is clear, Ms. Suleiman added.  However, society excludes woman from acquiring her inheritance, so that land doesn't be possessed by strangers.  She added also that, traditions, customs, restricting liberties, and the inability to manage crises allow the society to violate women's rights.

Ms. Suleiman mentioned that international agreements are considered as a part of the Egyptian legislative pyramid; it has the same priority of the law.  The country shall aware citizens of those laws, and takes the suitable measurements that eliminate negative discrimination against women.

Session four, headed by Ms. Hala Abdul Kader, the manager of the Egyptian institution for developing the society, was entitled "Programs needed for woman in the next parliamentary elections to guarantee her rights".  This session showed that achieving and ensuring women's right on the same level with men is more important than women's quote or the number of women to be granted seats in People's assembly.  Ms. Fareda El-Nakkash, chairperson of woman department forum, spoke for the audience.  She affirmed that we can't analyze the case of women's participation in politics and the scope of that participation, unless we get briefed with their economic and social situations.  We can find that poverty increases, and women form the majority of the poor class.  She referred to some statistics that illustrate low wages, deteriorating health care, and the illiteracy outbreaks among women in particular.  She asserted also that the Egyptian economic system is designed to assure the dominance of the governing party, not to guarantee the humanitarian rights and the advance of our societies.           

Ms. Nakkash added that Egyptian society is witnessing intellectual and cultural decline, a long with the growth of reactionary thoughts, where there are a lot of foreclosures that hinder women from being appointed in decision making positions.  She added also that society still imposes male guardianship on women; the husband who doesn't participate in political life can prevent his wife from participating in political affairs as stated by law of personal status.

Ms. Nakkash added, also, that our society has wrong thoughts about women, and what women suffered from, took place in a long time, and need a longer time to be eliminated.

Then, proceedings of last session, number five, started taking place.  The session was headed by Ms. Mozen Hassan, chairperson of the board of director of Nazra "view" foundation for the women studies.  The session was entitled "the role of non-governmental organizations in promoting and supporting the rights of women in next election.  This session stressed on the importance of the role of organizations to aware women of their rights, to organize campaigns, and to offer support for women in order to enable them to participate in the next parliamentary sessions.  After that, it was the speech of Ms. Jihan Farouk, director of the office of care department in Qena.  Ms. Farouk said we seek change for better, by increasing the number of women seats in parliament.  She added the role of civil society is to be the bridge between the citizen and the government; civil society is entitled to transfer the ideas and policies discussed by the government to the citizen, to make him aware of different policies, that's from one side.  From other side, civil society organizations transfer the visions and ideas of citizen to the governmental institutions, so government puts those ideas on its consideration, while amending legislations and policies.

She mentioned also that the main role of the civil society is to monitor successes.  In addition, she pointed to the efficient role of the mosque and the church as civil society organs; they play a big role in enhancing the position of woman.  Civil society has to, beside awareness of citizens, help and support citizens to enable them to improve their situations.

Discussions, took place in the workshop, concluded that it is important for the centre to establish a document that guarantees women rights; including their rights of work, personal status, and equality.  It also urged organizations, that were members in the workshop, to hold another meeting to crystallize the ideas of the document, in order to aware candidates and voters in next elections, so we can stop political abuse of discrimination against women, and guarantee women's right of equality in parliamentary elections 2010 – 2015.

Also, participants stressed that document shall include mechanisms, laws, and clear and obligatory procedures that could enable woman, on economic, social, political, and cultural levels, to confront discrimination against their rights in governmental, and other, institutions, especially in the field of work, heritage, marriage.  These mechanisms shall also help on passing legislations that prevent violence against woman, and, also, help in revising legislations and statutes, in order to make it active in eliminating all sorts of discrimination against women's rights, which hinders woman from reaching institutions of decision making.

Participants added that, women, especially villagers, need an economic, cultural, and social quote, which enables them to have a safe and decent life, by facilitating granting loans to women from the Bank of development and agricultural credit, and ensure their rights of land, housing, and water.

Participants agreed also to put work plan that includes the way of implementing those activities and procedures.  They agreed also that Land centre shall coordinate a prospective meeting for the participants, and to send preliminary copies of the women's rights documents and the joint work plan of the participants' foundations.  So, we can ensure the women's right of better life, more decent living, equality, and insuring safer future for our country.

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