For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

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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

Important fight for women’s participation in Consitutional Assembly in Libya

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”Reject the recently-issued draft electoral law, since it does not ensure equal gender representation in the Constitutional Assembly that will draft Libya’s new constitution”. This was the message from The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, LWPP, to all Libyans after the proposed law was presented in the end of May. A recently published report by Human Rights Watch also underlines the close connection between future women’s rights in Libya and women’s equal participation in the constitution writing process.

The draft electoral law is the work of a committee assigned by the Libyan General National Congress (GNC). It sets the rules for the popular elections that will be held to fill the 60 seats of the Constitutional Assembly that will be responsible for drafting the new constitutaion. LWPP has identified several areas of concern regarding the electoral law, among them the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure representation of both men and women, and the simple majority vote system, which affects both female candidates and candidates from all kinds of minorities negatively.

“The electoral law of the Constitutional Assembly reminds us of the National Transitional Councils’ first draft of the electoral law of the GNC. Both mindset is basically exclusionist. Again this runs against the spirit of the 17th Feb revolution in which women and men fought together to foster equality, justice and democracy. Democracy entitles that all voices are represented, those of the majority as well as those of the minority especially if we are addressing the process of drafting the constitution which is basically the establishment of the social contract.” said Zahra’ Langhi, Cofounder of LWPP in a statement.

“Women’s voices critical”

Human Rights Watch’s report A Revolution For All – Women’s Rights in the New Libya is also adamant in its warnings about the consequences for gender equality in Libya if women aren’t equally represented in the constitution drafting process.

”Failure to deal with these issues (one of which is equal representation, editor’s comment) properly will set back the progress women have made over the past two years, and hinder respect for women’s rights in the future. (…) Women’s voices are critical to prepare a constitution that meets international standards for women’s rights” the report states.

Egypt warning example

Another recent report, Women and Equal Citizenship: Analysis of the New Constitution of Egypt by the Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition, FACT, also focuses on the clear connection between the writing of constitutions and future equality. It examines the final draft of the Egyptian constitution that was signed into law last December. The report states that important rights regarding the status of women were muddled in vague text in the constitution and written with a conservative vision for the society. Subsequently Egypt’s constitution lacks proper mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights and has no mechanisms to address discrimination based on sex or mentions any creation of agencies to oversee such cases.

The report also states that these gaps in ensuring full equality among Egypts citizens, were the possible results of the clear lack of female voices in the constitution’s formation (there were only 6 percent women in the Constitutent Assembly).

More about consitution writing and women’s rights.

Malin Ekerstedt

Footnote:

The Arab Forum for Citizenship in Transition has also releasead a report examining several draft constitutions in Tunisia: Equal Citizenship in Tunisia: Constitutional Guarantees for Equality between Citizens.

Egyptian project targets female preachers

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Earlier session for raising awareness of women's rights among women, organised by ACCDL and held by a male preacher. Photo: ACCDL

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.”

Sensitive area

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.

Afrah Nasser/
Edited by: Malin Ekerstedt 

No aid to Egypt without democracy and human rights, says EU Parliament

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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.

 

 

 

CSW57 achieved last minute agreement

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Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57  agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC

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.

Katharina Andersen

Violent attacks against Egyptian women

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Women continue to protest on Tahrir Square despite increased violence

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.

Widespread frustration

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.

Deliberate 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

 

 

 

 

Sexual assault is used as a tactic to stop Egypt women from expressing their opinion

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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

 

Egypt reports gender-specific violence at referendum

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The Egypt constitution vote. Photo: Ahmed Abd El-fatah

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.”

Katharina Andersen

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

“EU should lead by example”

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The unique mapping was presented at the conference. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Ida Udovic.

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.

Gender-blind agreement

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

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  “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.