For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Egyptian women’s organisations fight to influence new agenda

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Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

After the Egyptian military removed president Mohammed Mursi from power in the beginning of July, following the wave of protests started by the popular movement Tamarod, it issued a roadmap for change. Egyptian women’s rights organisations have since then stepped forward, demanding that women and their rights should be part of this new agenda.

The roadmap suspended the Egyptian constitution and stated that a new, diverse, constitutional committee should be formed. It also contained passages on the installation of an interim coalition government and new presidential elections within six months.

But very little has been said or done to ensure that women take an equal part in these processes. As the women’s rights organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies pointed out in a statement in mid July, “current political developments do not seem to be promising with regards to their [women’s] right to being part of the process of policy formulation for the upcoming period”. According to Nazra the new governemnt’s awareness and desire could be questioned, since it has failed to “create spaces to integrate women effectively”.

Earlier this week Nazra followed up its warnings of exclusion of women, by presenting a list of 16 women nominees, all with prominent political records, to the up-coming constitutional committee.

13 articles for the constitution

Other women’s organisations have also been active in this debate. In the end of July, 16 women’s rights groups, forming the Alliance of Women’s Organisations, presented a document with 13 articles, which they demanded should be included in the new constitution.

The document is based on interviews with 10 000 women and was first presented last year, but its articles were never included in the constitution adopted last December. According to Amal Abdel Hady, head of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation – one of the member organisations – these articles would guarantee the future rights of women in Egypt and identify mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities and non-discrimination.

No amendments

Fouada Watch, which is the advocacy mechanism used by the women’s rights organisation ACT in order to influence the government on women’s involvement in the transitional period, has also issued a statement, calling for the drafting of a new constitution, instead of amending the old one. Fouadawatch’s spokesperson Fathi Farid said that civil society already ”has exerted great effort in the past two years in reaching the public and presenting their findings to the previous constitutional committees” and that these findings should be used to create the new constitution.

On the same day three other organisations, among them the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, ECWR, presented seven principles to guarantee women’s rights in the constitution, with using an explicit language, as in ”addressing men and women rather than using broad terminology such as ’citizens’ or ’persons’”, as one example. And in the beginning of August ECWR issued another statement, calling for women to make up at least one third of the upcoming constitutional committee instead of the proposed one fifth.

Change definition of rape

Besides from talking about political participation and the new constitution, earlier mentioned organisation Nazra also has highlighted the importance of integrating gender issues in the process of transitional justice.

In a statement with recommendations to the newly created Ministry of Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation, the organisation states that many human rights and feminist organisations, including themselves, since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution “have documented scores of testimonies of violations committed against women, which have not been officially investigated”. A major thing that needs to be dealt with is changing the definition of the terms “torture” and “rape”.

“One of the key problems of the system of justice is the lack of laws that provide protection for women. Nazra documented testimonies of violations against women that qualify as torture by virtue of the international definition of torture, but not according to Egyptian legislation” says the organisation.

20 percent women

The military interim president Adly Mansour has appointed a 10-member committee that will propose amendments to the constitution. This is scheduled to be finished on 18 August.

A second committee, comprised of 50 public persons including politicians, unionists and religious persons, then will have 60 days to review those amendments, before they will be voted on in a referendum. Yesterday the presidency released a statement confirming earlier sayings that the second committee should include at least ten women.

Malin Ekerstedt

Egypt activists: Mass protests could benefit women’s rights

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Women’s rights activists in Egypt are concerned about the proposed new constitution of Egypt. They fear that it will contribute to a negative development for women in the country. But some find hope in the recent mass protests bring hope.

Azza Kamel, chairperson for ACT, in the Tahrir square in 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Lena Wallquist.

Azza Kamel, chairperson for ACT, in the Tahrir square in 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Lena Wallquist.

29th of November the Egyptian constituent assembly presented a new draft constitution. Now there is talk of a possible referendum on 15 December.

Azza Kamel, president of ACT (Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development) in Egypt describes the current situation as very serious, since there is a dispute between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties. According to Azza Kamel there is a fear that those who have demonstrated in support of the removal of the constitutional declaration will be jailed.

Decree for increased power

22th of  November the Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, issued a decree that gives him almost unlimited power until a new constitution is in place. This lead to renewed protests taking place in the Tahrir Square in Cairo. The decree states that the President’s decision can not be appealed or overruled by any other instance. President Morsi also extended the time limit for the constituent assembly’s work with drawing up the new constitution by two months. He described these measures as temporary and necessary for building a democracy.

There is a suspicion among democracy activists and human rights organizations in Cairo that the decree was an attempt by the President to prevent a dissolution of the constituent assembly. There is also a concern that Mohammed Morsi is trying to push through a new constitution with strong Islamistic elements.

Put terms on equlity

Women’s rights activists are particularly worried. According to parts of the draft constitution, that were leaked in the beginning of October, early marriages and female genital mutilation will be decriminalized and human trafficking will not be criminalized in full. The draft constitution’s Article 36, also states that the State can ensure equality between men and women, as long as it does not conflict with Islamic Shari’a. Putting terms on equality suggests that the constitution won’t promote or protect women’s rights in full, which is seen as a significant setback for Egyptian women.

– If the President does not withdraw this constitution, it will have a negative impact on women’s rights, says Azza Kamel.

Azza Kamel points out that the new draft constitution contains no rights for the Egyptian women and that laws may be enacted to restrict and affect women’s freedom and status. This would also entail restrictions on Egyptian women’s freedom of movement. But Azza Kamel sees hope for Egyptian women in this new wave of protests.

Largest protest against President Morsi

During the past week’s mass protests against President Morsi’s decree opposition groups have re-united against the government. Around 200 000 people took part in demonstrations in the Tahrir Square on Tuesday, making it the largest protest so far against President Morsi.

– The protests show that Egyptians do not accept dictatorship, they are not afraid. They can fill up the squares, without the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation, says Hoda Badran, from the Alliance of Arab Women.

Different groups united

Hoda Badran explains that this is the first time that women’s groups, political parties, trade unions and other groups are uniting against unacceptable declarations from the President. She believes that the protests reflect the women’s movement in a positive way, as participants.

According to Hoda Badran, several male leaders have acknowledge the rights of women, and now consider women as partners in the transition towards democracy.

Leila Rayes