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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