Women Still Scarce in Egypt’s Constitution Process
The five women on the new Constituent Assembly are all considered very strong representatives, but activists say they are simply too few. Morsi loyalists meanwhile are in hiding and say all human rights in the country are compromised.
By Jessica Gray
CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)– Egypt is writing its second constitution in as many years, and the makeup of the 50-person committee has activists worried that gender equality will take a backseat, yet again, with just five female members on board.
There is no guarantee that women will be better protected this time around, Omar Ahmed, general coordinator for the Global Coalition for the Egyptian Women’s Union, based in Cairo, said in a phone interview. “The Constituent Assembly only has five women out of 50. There is no representation of women who have been [demonstrating] in Tahrir Square or the younger generation of women. There is no guarantee that women’s rights can be protected.”
Women’s groups claim that without fair representation, their voices could be drowned out by the din of Egypt’s economic and security woes.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, also based in the capital, posted an open letter on its website in early September calling for women to be one-third of the assembly.
The organization said the lack of female representation on such an important legislative committee was yet another means to exclude women from political participation, a practice it says was also employed by the government of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader driven from power in July by mass protests backed by the military.
Morsi supporters, meanwhile, say all human rights are now in peril.
Since security forces cleared out the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in the capital and killed hundreds of demonstrators across the country, authorities have been cracking down on Brotherhood leadership. They have arrested numerous Brotherhood members and supporters, including around 240 women who are still being held, said journalist Mostafa Al Khateeb, who works at the flagship newspaper of the group’s political wing.
Killings and Rights Violations
“For two months, we have seen thousands of Egyptians killed by the military and police forces,” said Al Khateeb over the phone. “This has never happened before in such numbers.” He added that the right to stage peaceful sit-ins and protests has also been violated. “Now whenever we have these protests police forces attack. I think human rights have deteriorated to a level that is unprecedented.”
This has forced Morsi supporters into hiding.
“Nowadays, I’m not staying in my home,” Al Khateeb said. Saying many are shaving their beards, which might mark them as Morsi supporters, he added: “They are going into hiding to continue their peaceful activities. There are tens and hundreds of people being arrested from their homes.”
In the latest arrest, security forces detained on Sept. 17 a Brotherhood senior communications official, Gehad el-Hadad, whose resume includes a stint at the Clinton Foundation, established by President Bill Clinton, The New York Times reported.
Under the Morsi government, women were less than 2 percent of the country’s lower house of parliament before it was dissolved, versus around 12 percent in 2010 under former President Hosni Mubarak, the military strongman who was driven from power in by a popular uprising in two years ago.
The last Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting the 2012 constitution thrown out by the military in July, had just five women out of 100 members. All five women, and numerous others, eventually quit the committee following sharp criticism over the group’s efforts to rush the drafting process.
The Brotherhood’s strongest show of hostility to women’s rights came in March, when it condemned the United Nation’s latest report on ending violence against women, saying it was “un-Islamic” and put family values at risk.
One female member of the constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly is Hoda Elsadda, co-founder of the Women and Memory Forum and a board director for the Global Fund for Women.
She told The Daily News Egypt that her primary concern is finding ways of putting an end to discrimination, regardless of race, gender or religion, as well as stopping torture at the hands of authorities.
Vivian Thabet, the women’s rights program director for CARE Egypt, says she knows of Elsaada’s work, adding that she is well-equipped to represent Egypt’s women. The other four female assembly members include: the National Council of Motherhood and Childhood’s Azza El Ashmawy, the National Council for Womens Mervat El Talawi, the National Council for Human Rights’ Mona Zu El Fakar and Industrial Chambers committee representative Abla Mohey El Deen.
“I am disappointed with the number [of female members] but I am really proud of the quality,” Thabet said in a phone interview. “Because I believe that most of [those chosen] are very close to women’s issues and concerns.”
Jessica Gray is a Canadian journalist reporting on the Middle East from Cairo