The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights Rising on Women’s Bodies

REPORT

Throughout the last century, women’s right to vote has remained impaired during parliamentary elections. Women were denied the right to vote during the revolution era, although they actively participated in the struggle and were among the martyrs. Furthermore, women’s participation was barely acknowledged during the codification of political rights during the revolution. In other words, women’s political participation was rare and for the most part they were absent from the political arena.

Women didn’t obtain their right to vote until after the Revolution through the constitutional amendments of 1956. However, this change remained minimal since the amendments did not include concerted efforts to increase women’s participation in the electoral process at all levels.

During the decolonization and civic movements, women’s participation was always necessary and considered as an important factor. Women were asked to participate in the struggle for independence and they showed a strong spirit of self-sacrifice. Many were among the victims in the struggle for liberation, but once the goal was achieved, they had to face an extremely harsh situation in their fight to secure the political rights of their people and family, due to the unemployment that followed. So the victory did not translate into anything for women and they became overshadowed by other issues. Today’s political marginalization of women comes from the original institutions which failed to include them in the decision making processes and severely restricted their representation.

Women’s representation in the legislature has ranged from 0.5% to 2.4% since women were first granted their political rights in the 1956 constitution which allowed them seats in the parliament until the last legislative elections in the year 2000. The only exception was during the first half of the 1980s, when female representation rose to the unprecedented level of 9% in the 1979 council election, due to Law 21 (1979) that reserved a minimum of 30 seats for women.

Although Law 21 was later abolished by Law 188 (1986), female representation remained high because of the use of a party list system. When resolution 201 (1990) was passed, the party lists were abolished and replaced by individual elections, restricting women’s access to the parliament by forcing them to directly compete with their male counterparts.

The parliamentary elections of 2005 seemed very different; they happened in the midst of national political reforms that gave hope for a revitalization of Egyptian political life and fair elections. One feature was the participation of 21 political parties. And for the first time the religious factions revealed their true colors through representative of Brotherhood Muslim Party.

Another feature of these elections is that the civil and human rights organizations insisted on monitoring of the elections. This had been granted ten years earlier during the struggles that stemmed from the 1995 elections

Another familiar aspect that was recorded during these elections was the use of transparent ballot boxes, finger ink, judicial supervision, use of identity cards for voting and neglecting statements made by witnesses. This widespread optimism that the elections generated was short-lived and many insist upon calling the next parliamentary elections the ‘future elections.’

Nonetheless, this fostered optimistic reactions among women, particularly when the media repeatedly approached the issue of their involvement in the process. In turn, it led to a law proposal, guarantying an additional 26 seats for women (one per governorate) in the parliament. This bill was submitted to the Ministry of Justice for review. Although this proposal does not tally women’s votes, which reached 40%, it fails to representatively express what this number stands for on the population percentage. This number may, at least, correspond to the minimal level of women’s participation without the endorsement of the law.

Furthermore, the National Democratic Party pledged to nominate 26 women and support their political participation, emphasized their role during the presidential elections and promoted the women’s movement and the National Council for Women.

The political parties committed themselves, during a meeting held last year by the ECWR along with the Arab Alliance for Women, to promote women’s participation by appointing a representative proportional to the number of women on the lists. They also vowed to work with the women representatives that represent 25% of the El Tagamoa’a party list Master Hussein AbdEl Razek to ensure safe electoral processes shortly before the election, at a conference held by the National Council for Women.

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