About 200 activists attended recently the second One Voice – New Horizons Women’s Conference in Tripoli, Libya, to discuss how to uphold and promote women’s rights in the new Libyan Constitution. The advancements, challenges and the security situation for women after Gaddafi were other discussed issues. The conference was co-organized by five women’s organizations, the attendants came from all over Libya and some international guests were also present.
Libya is deciding on the process how to draft its first democratic constitution after more than 40 years of Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
Women activists are afraid that Libya’s government might follow neighboring Egypt’s example, where women’s rights were ignored in the new constitution. Women’s advocacy groups are lobbying for equal-protection clauses, the right for women to pass citizenship to their children and equal inheritance possibilities, rights women were long denied in Libya.
Dr. Huda Gashut, Head of Department at the Pediatric and Maternal Child Development Center in Tripoli, who attended the conference, said: “The goal of the conference is to create a body that sets guidelines on women’s rights in the country to be included in the Constitution. We will not lower our guard until our demands are written in our Constitution. We will not allow any paragraph that in the least way revises the system of rights we defined.”
Female parliamentarians have formed a cross-party bloc with the aim to ensure fair female representation on the constitutional drafting committee. In the parliamentary election in 2012, 33 out of 200 seats went to women, 16, 5 percent of all seats. Even though this isn’t very much, by comparison to the USA for example, the number is not so bad: women there hold 17, 8 percent of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, these number show that still most of the powerful positions are held by men. Not only in Libya.
The ballots of the Kenyan general elections on March 4 are still being counted, but the election’s outcome for women is less unsure, as Kenya is a deeply patriarchal society. Until now, women had almost no say in politics.
The elections were the first ones held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. The constitution contains a provision that states that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This should change political representation for women radically – as women must now form at least one-third of any elective public body. But in December 2012, the Kenyan High Court decided that this provision should first be effective after the elections.
Only one of eight presidential runners was female. And, according to opinion polls before the election, only about one percent of Kenyans would have voted for her. Politics is still regarded as the preserve of men – women in authority are still mainly regarded as a curse to the community and as violating the tradition. “Society sees our place being the kitchen and the bedroom. Nothing beyond there,” parliamentary candidate Sophia Abdi Noor told Reuters.
Threat and smear campaigns
Female candidates were threatened with rape and violence and found themselves subjected to smear campaigns aimed to destroy their reputation. The parliamentary candidate Alice Wahome, for example, found her hometown littered with condoms with her name on them in an attempt, blamed on her main male rival, to portray her as promiscuous and thus not trustworthy.
Many women look with envy to Rwanda, where more than half of legislators are women, more than anywhere in the world.
But there is also a ray of hope: Before the March 4 elections, the two-thirds gender equilibrium had already been implemented in some offices: one-third of the members of the Supreme Court, the commission on revenue allocation, the commission for the implementation of the constitution and the salaries and remuneration commission were female.
Women continue to protest on Tahrir Square despite increased violence. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Saba Nowzari
At least 25 women were sexually assaulted or harassed during the Egyptian’s protests against the continuing injustice on the second anniversary of the revolution on January 25. The assaults are believed to be organized to prevent women from participating in the democratization process. ”Ironically enough, the revolution has led to a sharp cut-back of women’s rights in the country”, says Saba Nowzari, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in Egypt.
Violent protests flared up in several Egyptian cities at the revolution’s two-year anniversary that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. About 50 people have died and at least 1300 people were injured. President Muhammad Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three cities, a ban which has mostly been ignored.
Women’s rights organizations in Egypt have reported sexual assaults and harassment of about 25 women in Tahrir Square and its vicinity only during the anniversary.
According to Saba Nowzari, many claim that the attacks against women are organized, even though it is yet unclear who lies behind the assaults. The opposition party National Salvation Front (NSF) blames President Morsi according to the newspaper Ahram Online.
Several civil society groups tried to help the victims by patrolling on Tahrir Square. The volunteers encountered though different kinds of harassment themselves. A woman from Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment told the Guardian how she was surrounded by men who were touching and groping her while she was a part of a rescue team trying to help another woman.
Tahrir Bodyguard has now started to teach self-defense classes for women and on February 12 there will be a demonstration against women’s sexual harassment in front of Egyptian Embassies around the world. Women living outside the capital are in an even more difficult situation, as the organized women’s movement mainly works in Cairo. Their exposure to sexual violence remains thus undocumented.
The protests, which started on January 25, are mostly about frustration in wide parts of the Egyptian public. Continuing injustice, the dwindling economy and the police’s use of excessive violence against civilians, causing many casualties which nobody is hold accountable for, has led to strong dissatisfaction and massive protests, especially in Port Said, where the death toll was highest.
“There is an enormous frustration in the country about the lack of action against violence”, says Saba Nowzari.
People are also upset about the Muslim Brotherhood’s power-amassment, which has become apparent in different ways. Liberal and secular politicians in the committee drafting the new constitution left the committee in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s overrepresentation and their refusal to take other group’s demands for freedom and more rights into consideration. Even though the people voted for the new constitution, it has rather led to more political instability in the country, according to Saba Nowzari.
The new constitution is not a benefit for Egyptian women. Already when the constitution draft was leaked at the end of 2012, Egyptian women’s organizations warned that an adoption of the new constitution could mean a change for the worse for women’s rights.
The constitution is now approved, in spite of deep disagreement, lowering minimum marriage age for girls to 14 and making it possible to sell girls for sex without getting punished. The constitution contains no article that mentions women’s rights, as the proposed section about gender equality has been omitted, which opens the door for women’s discrimination.
The new constitution makes it also more difficult for women to make a career in the political arena. At the eve of the revolution a female quota bill for parliament was passed. This bill has now been annulled, so there’s no demand for the parties anymore to include women in their lists. Egypt is already one of the countries with the lowest percentage of women in parliament. Women represented 1, 8 percent of the now dissolved parliament.
”There is a deliberate discrimination going on of women in politics and their possibility to participate in decision-making processes,” says Saba Nowzari.
At the same time the women’s movement has never been that visible. Women’s organizations have never before been so good at getting their message out, and the situation of Egyptian women made a lot of headlines. Those groups who are fighting against sexual harassment are focusing now on opinion making and to get the government to act against the assaults.
Their work is aggravated by the lack of resources to coordinate their activities and to take care of all victims. Moreover, female activists encounter huge resistance. Threat and violence, often sexually tinged, is used to silence and scare women and to work against their political participation.
Text: Pavlina Ekdahl | Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
The Egypt constitution vote. Photo: Ahmed Abd El-fatah
The Egyptian National Council for Women has published a report on complaints about violations during the constitution referendum. Especially women were targeted in an attempt to prevent them from voting against the new constitution or from voting at all.
Together and side by side they fought in the Tahrir Square, female and male protesters, to bring down a hated regime. But for many women this fight was not only about getting rid of Mubarak, it was also about fighting for women’s rights.
In the year since Mubarak’s resignation, a lot has changed – but not for the better for women. Instead, they found themselves excluded from the political transition process. A government reshuffle reduced the number of women ministers from 3 to 2, the percentage of women parliamentarians has fallen from 12 to 2 percent, thus reaching the lowest level in the whole Middle East, and a quota for women’s representation in parliament was abolished. There were no women in the constitutional reform committees and only six women were chosen by the Islamist-dominated parliament to join the 100-person assembly formed to draft the new constitution.
Nevertheless, many women were insisting on exercising their right to vote and continuing to be a part of the transformation. So also when the country voted for the new controversial constitution in December 2012. But to take part in the referendum was difficult for many, especially for women, and there has been allegations of widespread irregularities in the voting process.
Voting report of the Ombudsman Office
The Ombudsman Office at the National Council for Women received a large number of complaints. The ombudsman reports that many polling stations for women were consolidated, causing a capacity overload, so women had to queue for many hours to vote. The problem was aggravated by the fact that some of the polling stations opened late, were closed repeatedly during the day and closed early, so far from all women got a chance to vote. Women were intimidated, harassed and insulted by the monitoring judges or employees and complaints were ignored. Islamists illegally campaigned at some polling stations, trying to persuade or bribe the waiting women to vote yes. Some judges, who were supposed to monitor the referendum, ordered women to vote yes or ticked yes themselves for illiterate women. Other complaints concerned the absence of monitoring judges inside the polling stations, the ban of unveiled women from voting, group voting and outdated electoral rolls with names of dead people registered. The Ombudsman Office interpreted the incidents as “attempts to exclude women from participating to vote in the referendum”.
In the end, Egypt voted yes on the new controversial constitution, which is seen as a backlash against women’s rights as the constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender. In the post-Mubarak Egypt women are still only given limited basic rights, and Article 2 of the constitution establishes Shari’a law as the primary source of legislation. Amnesty International is concerned that this “may impact on the rights of women, and may be used as a justification to uphold legislation which currently discriminates against women in respect of marriage, divorce and family life.”
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.
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.
The draft proposal of a new constitution for Egypt, has caused fiery protests from civil society and women’s organizations in the country. Last week several hundred people demonstrated in Cairo against the absence of women in the process and against the new Article 36, stating that women’s equal rights should be ensured ”without violation of the rules of Islamic jurisprudence”.
Political and human rights activists in Egypt worry that the proposed wordings in the constitution will curtail women’s rights, since they open for different interpretations by Islamic scholars, reports the Egypt Independent.
The proposed Article 36 reads:
”The state is committed to taking all constitutional and executive measures to ensure equality of women with men in all walks of political, cultural, economic and social life, without violation of the rules of Islamic jurisprudence. The state will provide all necessary services for mothers and children for free, and will ensure the protection of women, along with social, economic and medical care and the right to inheritance, and will ensure a balance between the woman’s family responsibilities and work in society.”
Besides the connection to islamic Sharia law, activists also protest against the recent exclusion of former proposed writings, like setting a minimum age for a woman to be able to marry and banning trafficking.
Several demonstrations were held in the capital last week. On Wednesday representatives from civil society organizations, activists and politicians announced at a press conference that they will be drafting an alternative constitution.
- A constitution containing the phrase ‘not to be contrary to Sharia’ and a constitution that limits the rights of certain groups, such as Copts and women, will not be allowed, said Hussein Abdel Ghani from Popular Current, one of the organizations in the group, writes the Egypt Independent.
Women’s movement demanding equal rights
On Thursday women’s organizations organized a demonstration outside the Presidential Palace and handed over a statement in which they called for an equal dividing of seats between women and men in the Constituent Assembly, and for the new constitution to ensure women’s equal rights as citizens of Egypt.
Currently only seven of the Constituent Committée’s 100 members are women. The comittée’s constitutionality has been questioned and is currently being examined by a court.
The statement made by the Egyptian women’s movement
On women’s rights in the Constitution:
- First, women’s rights are part of the citizenship’s rights.
- Women gained their rights through historical struggling and they contributed to the 25 Jan revolution where they were scarred and died, just like the men.
- The constitution identifies the rights and the duties of all Egyptians (male and female ) so all should share in formulating it.
- Women have been marginalized in the mechanisms for achieving the objectives of the revolution, starting with the poor representation in the parliament and the Consultative Council, and ending with the founding of the constitution committee.
- There are many women who are in leading positions and teaching law and constitution at the universities.
Taking all of the above into consideration, and for a Constitution for all Egyptians, the Egyptian women’s movement, which is formed by people from all of Egyptian society and represented by the signatories (she/he) to this document, is demanding:
Considering the current Constituent Committée lost its legitimacy, since it is under consideration of the judiciary:
Restruction of the committee to represent all of the Egyptian people with membership divided equally between women and men. Adoption of objective and transparent criteria for membership, taking into account the names nominated by different spectra of society.
The articles of the constitution should:
- Reflect the equality between all Egyptians
- Confirm the international treaties, like the Elimination on all Forms of discrimination against Women
- Guarantee the full equality of women and men within each of the following rights: education, employment, health care, health and social insurance, housing, unemployment benefit, and the right of a healthy environment
- Make sure that the State and the political institutions empower of women in their political representation, in order to achieve a fair representation of women reflect their percentage in society
- Put proper control on the election law and process
- Confirm the equality between men and women regarding responsibilities within the framework of the family .
- Include articles to protect children’s rights, the environment, the rights of persons with special needs, and the rights of the elderly.
Both men and women joined in the demonstrations for gender equality. This woman is holding a sign saying "Man without woman = 0 Man=Woman". Photo: Felix Husa.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Tunis yesterday, to celebrate the National Day of Tunisian Women by protesting a proposed change in the country’s constitution. According to the new draft, women’s rights of citizenship should no longer be based on equality. Instead it would be seen as “complementarity to man within the family and as an associate of man in the development of the country”.
Tunisia’s Minister of Interior, Ali Larayedh, had a few days earlier told the Tunisian radio program Mosaique FM that no marches or demonstrations would be allowed on August 13th. Later though this was changed to only apply to Tunis’s central avenue, Habib Bourguiba.
Fear first step to diminish women’s rights
The National Day of Tunisian Woman is celebrated on the anniversary of the Tunisian Personal Status Code that came into force in 1956. It was the first of its kind in the Arab world, abolished polygami and instituted both judicial divorce and civil marriage.
Although the proposed new article in the constitution wouldn’t change any of these principles, many women and activists fear that it’s a first step on the road to diminishing women’s rights in Tunisia, reports The Muslim News.
Protests on the streets
An Internet petition stressing that women, who “are citizens just like men, should not be defined in terms of men” has so far been signed by over 8 000 people. And in two big demonstrations in the capital Tunis yesterday evening (one of them defying the ban on gathering at Habib Bourguiba), thousands of Tunisians requested a withdrawal of the proposed article. The new writing has already been adopted by the parliamentary committee of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA), but it still needs to be ratified at a plenary session of the interim parliament.
The National Constituent Assembly was elected last year after the downfall of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and it’s currently working on a new constitution for Tunisia.
Following the protests against the composition of the Constitution Committee in Egypt, an Egyptian court last week suspended the panel. The day after tomorrow lawmakers, politicians and the ruling military council will meet to discuss how to move forward, reports Bloomberg News.
Late March the Egyptian People’s Assembly announced the participants of the committee responsible for drafting the countrie’s new constitution. The appointments immediately caused strong reactions among independents and liberals, who claimed that the selection had been made in favour of islamists and that both women, young Egyptians and Christians were being marginalized. Only 6 of the 100 committee members were women.
About 20 committee members resigned and on April 15th an administrative court suspended the committee, questioning if the selection process hade been in accordance with Egyptian law. The court’s ruling thereby temporarily halted the process of Egypt transitioning from a military to a civilian rule that is scheduled to take place July 1st.
According to Bloomberg News, the upcoming meeting is a way to get the process back on track. Emad Abdel-Ghafour, head of the Egyptian Salafist Al-Nour party have been cited by the Middle East News Agency saying that the members of the committee now will be entirely from outside of parliament, instead of the 50/50 selection of the suspended panel.
Find out more in:
Egyptian women barred from new constitution
Egypt court suspends constitutional panel (Al-Jazeera)
Egypt Parties to Meet Tantawi on Constitution Committee April 22 (Bloomberg News)
When the Egyptian People’s Assembly this week announced who would hold the seats in the committée responsible for developing the country’s new constitution, their decision caused many strong reactions. Only six of 100 committée members were women.
Protesters in the Tahrir square, Cairo, Nov 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
After the Constitution Committée’s participants were known, 14 of its members, all liberals, immediately resigned. They said that the group just isn’t representative since it marginalizes both women, young people and Christians.
On the International Women’s Day, 8th of March, women activists in Egypt presented a list to the parliament with over 100 names of women experts, more than qualified to be a part of the writing of the constitiution. Non of these women were appointed.
Saba Nowsari from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation is working with women activists in Egypt:
- The activists here have decided to form their own committée, with 100 women and men representing the groups that were excluded in the official process, and write a shadow constitution. To show a real representation of the Egyptian people, she says.
- The women’s movement is actually hopeful. They just say that they need solidarity, people who help spreading their issues internationally to make their voices stronger. And they are also trying to find ways to get men involved in the struggle for women’s rights.
Yesterday the People’s Assembly held an emergency meeting. Appointing the Constitution Committée was the newly elected Assembly’s first important mission.
Of the 100 seats in the Constitution Committée 50 went to parliamentarians and 50 to lawyers, religious leaders etc. Half of the parliamentarian seats went to the Freedom and Justice Party, an Islamist party led by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafi Al Nour Party got 11 seats.
The People’s Assembly has also had problems with its representation of women. In the last election women recieved only 2 percent of the seats.
More on women and politics in Egypt can be found on Women and the Arab Spring.
After a month long campaign Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, managed to change the proposed new electoral law for Libya to secure women’s participation, writes the Euro-Mediterranian Human Rights Network, EMHRN. The new law, that was passed on February 8th, guarantees women at least 40 out of 200 seats in the Constituent Assembly that will draft the country’s new constitution. It also binds requiring parties to alternate male and female candidates on their lists for the New Libyan Assembly. Because 80 seats of the 200-member assembly are allocated to party lists, 40 women will be guaranteed seats in the assembly.
The original proposition contained a quota of 10 percent representation for women. When it was announced LWPP organized protests and set up the draft of an alternative law with the help of legal experts. And the now approved law contains many passages with the language of the LWPP draft.
-It hasn’t been an easy battle, but we thank all the members of our legal team and all the civil society members and youth groups who joined protests in public squares all around Libya in favor of a more equitable and inclusive electoral law, said Zahra’ Langhi of the LWPP to EMHRN.
Read more on EMHRN and LWPP.