Earlier session for raising awareness of women's rights among women, organised by ACCDL and held by a male preacher. Photo: ACCDL
In Egypt, Muslim women preachers often have a lot of influence over ordinary religious women. Therefore, the Arabian Company for Consultancy, Development and Law (ACCDL) decided to target this group with a project on women’s rights as part of a moderate Sharia view.
With the rising discussion about the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament in the wake of the 25 Jan. Revolution, 2011, another discussion rises on the political Islam and its implications on the Egyptian people, which faces key social and economical challenges.
Women face even greater obstacles like a high rate of illiteracy, domestic violence, sexual harassment and lack of economical empowerment. At the same time the legal system doesn’t fully support women’s rights as women have a limited influence over it, say women’s rights groups. Hence, ACCDL decided to act upon and tackle women’s issues through a religious perspective.
Religious perspective on women’s issues
With a project titled Muslims Sisters – Issues between the Conservative Thought and Shari’a, ACCDL addresses women’s issues from a religious perspective. It targets female religious preachers at mosques and in religious circles, important places where women gather. This is also were women turn for advice on religious issues.
The idea of this project was born in the wake of the 25 Jan Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the raise of the Muslim Brotherhood political party in the parliament. Its members have generally focused on excluding women in their statements and decisions and have also attempted to ban laws related to women’s rights, claiming that they were the product of the corrupt previous regime.
As a reaction to this, ACCDL had several meetings with Sharia experts to investigate Sharia’s take on women’s issues. “In those meetings, ACCDL found out that the claims the Muslim brotherhood are making are just an absolute patriarchal point of view that doesn’t belong to Sharia laws or Islam. In fact, the Islam religion is one of the most women friendly religions and supports women’s rights” says ACCDL’s Executive Manager, Hala Abdelqader.
“However, especially among poor and illiterate women, there is a lack of awareness of women’s rights based on a gender perspective and their rights mentioned in the international agreements that Egypt has signed”.
Biggest influence on women
So, in order to support women’s rights ACCDL last year held several training courses for religious preachers and imams about women’s issues from a moderate Sharia point of view. During these courses, the organisation realized that female religious preachers are the ones who have the most contact with women at mosques, and thereby also have the biggest influence on women.
“Those female preachers provide a sanctuary for many women, but they also lack in understanding of women’s issues. So, we decided to target them directly with trainings and meetings to raise their awareness with regards to human rights and women’s rights and to show that Sharia laws don’t contradict with women’s rights” says Hala Abdelqader.
Hala Abdelqader believes that it is important to work with women’s issues through the religious female preachers as a way to influence larger audiences.
“In Egypt, especially in areas where illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness prevail, like the Imbaba area where ACCDL is located, female preachers have a huge influence on women. We have heard from many women that the female religious preachers are their main reference for advice. For example, a woman would turn to a preacher regarding personal affairs between her and her husband, and she takes her advice as the constitution between her and her husband. Accordingly, if problems occur the wife would insist on sticking to the religious preacher’s words and the marriage might end in a divorce. To that extent, the preachers have an influence over the women. Usually the preachers are illiterate and their competence is only that of reciting the Quran after memorizing it through listening. Still, they give religious advice, which usually is very backward, on social, financial and political matters.”
According to Hala Abdelqader religion is a sensitive area for many Egyptians, and prevailing attitudes that suppress women and reject gender equality are further fuelled by illiteracy and a lack of awareness. ACCDL hopes that it will be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding women’s rights and Islam.
And their Muslim sister’s project has been successful. About 175 Muslim women preachers participated in the training and a large number of them showed changes in attitude and behavior towards women’s rights. ACCDL mentions some concrete examples in its evaluation of the project:
”Many of the preachers were also keen to volunteer work with us or transfer to us cases of family violence of women in need to listen or adopt their issues; others asked for advice on how to deal with issues of women who are frequent visitors to mosques from legal and social perspectives, and many of preachers asked us about the list of activities we offer to attend with us and actively participate therein.”
“The dialogue was about the referendum, they completely refused to talk about the referendum or the President as they largely support him, but with the end of the training three of them started, with the assistance of their husbands, to invite the villagers to work on claiming women’s rights in the new constitution. They admitted that before the training they were lacking the awareness and it led them to maintain and defend the Constitution as it is, but after the dialogues they admitted that their opinions have been changed and they would lead a campaign within mosques to discuss women’s rights in the Constitution.”
“There was a preacher who attended at the first meeting on participation of women in public life and she was refusing everything we were saying to the extent that she attacked the project coordinator and accused her of being bias to anti Islam movements. But with continuous dialogues and communication, she adopted an idea of forming a complete group of mosque preachers that she knows personally. She composed a group of 23 preachers and supervised their training and participation with them. She invited as well the project coordinator to deliver lectures at the mosque where she works and they agreed thereon.”
With this good result in mind, ACCDL is now planning a new series of trainings.
Edited by: Malin Ekerstedt
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 14 requesting the European Union to stop financial support to Egypt if the country doesn’t make considerable progress in the fields of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Members of European Parliament (MEP) asked the EU to set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt, applying the ‘more for more’ principle. High representative Catherine Ashton had been vague about the EU’s policy towards Egypt at a debate on March 13.
”While we have to show ‘strategic patience’ with the political developments in the country, we will not remain silent on issues like fundamental freedoms and human rights. At the same time we have to help meet the socio-economic expectations,” Ashton said.
With both subsidies and loans from European financial institutions taken into account, EU aid to Egypt totals 5 billion euros in 2012-2013. The European Parliament reminded the EU that part of this package is conditional on respect of human rights, democracy and economic governance, thus the EU should “set clear conditions for its aid to Egypt.” The MEPs wanted to see a focus on civil society, women and child protection.
Saba Nowzari, working with Egypt for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna til Kvinna Foundation, stated, that “Egypt’s institutional channels do not work, the government itself is facing lots of challenges, so the allocation directly towards women’s rights could be difficult. But nevertheless the EU should always make demands regarding human rights and specifically allocate money for women, not only for their human rights, but also for their economic growth, job opportunities and access to public space.”
The European Parliament also expressed ”deep concern” about the rise of violence directed towards women in Egypt, especially towards activists and female protesters, and urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. Another demand was the abolition of all laws allowing police and security forces to make unlimited use of violence and to pass a moratorium on the death penalty.
Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
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
Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, made this blog post available for Equal Power – Lasting Peace.
Last weekend, Egypt saw again violent demonstrations against the new regime. Instead of celebrating the revolution’s second anniversary, the Egyptians took the streets in mass protests against president Morsi’s administration.
Preparing for the demonstrations, local women’s rights organizations like Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard, searched via Twitter for male volunteers to help to protect demonstrating women. A little over the top? Hardly, considering what happens to female activists who raise their voices.
During the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, which led to Mubarak’s fall, the square was for a short while a sexual harassment-free zone for women. This free zone doesn’t exist anymore. On the contrary, assault and sexual harassment of women and young girls have instead been systematized, as many reports showed during the weekend.
Our partner organization Nazra for feminist studiespublished an account from a very courageous woman who was harassed by the mob on Tahrir Square last November. She wanted to tell what had happened to her and felt sorrow and grief when she heard that the assaults unabatedly continued. It is a harrowing read.
She described how she was surrounded by a thick wall of men, ”There was no way out.” She felt how hundreds of hands stripped her naked and then the same hands started sexual attacks: “They said that they wanted to help me, but all I felt was the finger-rape, from the front and from the back; someone was even trying to kiss me… Every time I cried for help, they increased their violence and assaults.” Finally, one of the men she beseeched for help had pity on her. He suddenly took his belt and started to beat everybody around him while screaming: “I will protect her.” “I don’t know how I managed to appeal to his conscience, but then I could crawl to the field hospital and get help.”
Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard tweeted about their opinion that violence against women in the demonstrations aims to restrict women’s access to public space. Men forming physical circles of violence around women, which are impossible to escape from, have found a method they think will be effective to keep women from participating in politics and from being visible in public spaces.
But this must not happen! And it seems as if our partner organizations are not intimidated. In this question, they even have many men on their side.
That’s why it feels so encouraging to read the conclusion of the testimony: “I decided to write my testimony, so that everyone who bury his head in the sand will know that what is happening is a terrible crime that may happen to your mother, sister, daughter, friend or girlfriend. […] We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes!”
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 unique mapping was presented at the conference. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Ida Udovic.
On October, 11th the Equal Power – Lasting Peace report made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation on women’s participation in peacebuilding was presented at a conference in the European parliament. Based on the interviews with women-activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia, the report is a unique mapping of obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating in peace processes on equal terms with men.
The Equal power – Lasting Peace conference gathered more than 100 participants, EU and NATO officials and politicians, as well as civil society representatives – in the audience and among the panelists.
The opinions and discussions at the conference were many, all of them though sharing a common stand: something has to be done to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations. The question is how and by whom.
– Women’s political participation and decision-making are the key issues, underlined Ms. Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs at European External Action Service (EEAS).
At her opening speech she mentioned Egypt, where the draft of the Constitution does not make any provisions for gender equality and where there are only six female MPs.
– We focus our assistance in the EU neighborhood to civil society and women’s issues, in particularly legal rights and equal access to decision making and to the power structures. Gender cannot be an excluding factor in the political processes from an early stage of mediation in the process and onwards, said Ms. Helga Schmid.
Ensuring that gender equality is guaranteed from the very beginning when designing a peace agreement has proven to be a crucial factor for the sustainability of the peace. How bad a gender-blind peace agreement can turn out Alexandra Petric, Programme Director of United Women Banja Luka, BiH, testified on.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina has gone eight years without any women ministers, 17 years without any women members of the BiH Joint Presidency, and 17 years without any women in negotiations about crucial political issues that affect lives of women and men citizens of BiH, such as security sector and constitutional reforms, says Alexandra Petric
“EU should lead by example”,
The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation’s Secretary-General Lena Ag highlighted in her introduction. While the EU has adopted a comprehensive approach
on UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security, the reality reflected by statistics
leaves much to be desired
. EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy) are all led exclusively by men, and only two of EU:s ten special representatives are women, just to name a few examples.
This statistics, says Mr. Olof Skoog, Chair of the Political and Security Committee at EEAS, was a lesson from the day:
– Not a single woman leads our missions. We are choosing the best of the best, but the problem is that member-states are not nominating any women. What we can do is to explicitly ask them to nominate more female candidates, says Mr. Skoog.
NGOs not GONGOs
The topic of giving room to the voices of women from conflict-affected regions was discussed by many of the panelists and raised in questions from the audience. Finding the authentic grass-root organizations can be a challenge when a lot of GONGOs (governmentally organized NGOs) are entering the scene. Still it is crucial in getting a comprehensive understanding of the situation in a region:
– When EU officials are visiting a region, they really need to seek contact with, and talk to, real civil society organizations, including women organizations, not those who will tell the convenient things that the officials want to hear, says one of the panelists Gulnara Shahinian from the Armenian organization Democracy today.
Slander, violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes, the report shows. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Sara Lüdtke.
Women has important role
The role of women’s organizations and women activists in peace processes was stressed by many panelists throughout the conference. Monica McWilliams, one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland dwelled on it at her presentation at the conference, as well as Teresita Quintos-Deles, advisor to the President of the Phillipines on the peace process, who sent her greetings on video, as she herself was occupied with the upcoming peace agreement. Both women provided striking evidence of the importance of women’s empowerment.
Long-term support neeeded
A long-term strategic approach and continuity are what women activists Alexandra Petric and Gulnara Shahinian would like to see from the EU:
– The EU needs to develop strong and coherent strategies to address women’s human rights and gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina to address both direct and indirect support of perpetuating ignorance toward these issues by BiH authorities. This requires the EU’s commitment to a long-term support of women and gender equality – specific programs that focuses on the prevention of and fighting against gender-based violence and that underlines women NGOs positions as watch-dogs and partners to BiH government institutions. This would both strengthen women’s human rights in practice and the NGO’s work on empowering women, says Alexandra Petric.
– We would really appreciate sustainable and strategic involvement from the EU. What we see now is that the EU finances short projects, where partnership with civil society has a formal character, says Gulnara Shahinian.
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.
Annika Flensburg, Marwa Sharafeldin, Hana Al-Khamri, Gunilla Carlsson & Fredrik Uggla – Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Sara Lüdtke
Even though women have played a central role during the Arab spring, but right after the uprisings, they were unable to claim their deserved place in society. Therefore, it is now especially important that the international community supports civil society and women’s rights activists. This was the message that all the speakers at the seminar entitled “The Arab Spring – backlash for women?” agreed upon.
- But such support does not make sense while, at the same time, arms are being sold to Saudi Arabia, said the Egyptian activist and researcher Marwa Sharafeldin.
The seminar was hosted by The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, The Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida) and Amnesty International during Almedalen week in Sweden last Tuesday, the 4th of July 2012. Speaking at the seminar were Hana Al-Khamri, a journalist from Yemen, Marwa Sharafeldin, an Egyptian activist and researcher, Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Fredrik Uggla from the Swedish Embassy in Cairo. Annika Flensburg, Press Secretary at the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, moderated the session.
Marwa Sharafeldin criticized the Swedish government for, on one hand selling arms to the Saudi government, while at the same time providing support for democracy activists and implementing projects to support women’s rights. It makes no sense, said Marwa Sharafeldin, given that support for the Saudi government provides aid to movements and groups – including the Salafists – who obviously oppose democracy and women’s rights.
- Saudi oil money is behind many sufferings endured in the name of Islam, said Marwa Sharafeldin.
Marwa Sharafeldin – Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Sara Lüdtke
The seminar discussed, among others, the role of civil society during and after the revolutions, the type of support needed in the current building phase, the place of women’s rights and the relationship between Islam and feminism. The latter was an issue Marwa dwelled on further.
- First, we must agree that patriarchy exists in both the North and the South. We also have to agree that patriarchy is alive and that it thrives in both secular and religious contexts. The dividing lines are not between secular and religious, she said, but between social and gender equality on one hand – and oppression, patriarchy and ferocious capitalism, that is ruining whole communities, on the other hand.
She also pointed out that Islamic groups are present in many forms – progressive, fanatical, violent and peaceful – and that we must keep this in mind when we talk about Islam and feminism, as well as when we talk about the current situation in Egypt.
- It is important to understand that religion is part of the social fabric of our society. It must be remembered that during the revolutio’s first 18 days, no one called for the implementation of sharia law, we demanded bread, dignity, freedom and social justice.
Marwa further explains that the reason why Muhammad Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, was newly elected as president was that the Muslim Brotherhood helped provide people with their basic needs, such as food and water when the state was totally absent.
- For the feminist movement in Egypt, the challenge is to work within the religious discourse. When religious conservatives start attacking women’s rights, we have to be able to respond to them in the same language they use.
She also directed an appeal to feminists in Sweden, who want to support the struggle of feminists in the Arab world.
- You must put pressure on your government to stop selling weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia!
Hana Al-Khamri from Yemen concurred. Yemen is located next to Saudi Arabia and ends ups in a vulnerable position when Saudi Arabia feels threatened by the Yemeni people’s struggle for democracy. A militarily strong Saudi Arabia is paralyzing to the democratic process, she pointed out.
As regards the situation in Yemen, Hana Al-Khamri explained that attitudes to women’s participation in the political process vary widely, both among women themselves, as well as among religious leaders. And while some began to question women’s participation in street protests and calling for them to go home and take care of their children,others stated that it was actually women’s duty to take part in the uprising. Although there are many signs of a backlash for women, women have been – and remain – highly involved during the protests. They have protested against an increased separation between men and women and demonstrated under the slogan “No spring without women”.
Marwa Sharafeldin also said that it is important to support those working for women’s participation in revolutions, and to be aware of how religion is used for political purposes. Conservatives manipulate the fact that people value religion to achieve their own political goals.
- There are other alternatives, and other religious discourses that are more pluralistic, democratic and equal.