By: Roba Mazroua
President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi declared 2017 as the “Year of the Woman” in response to a proposal submitted by the National Council of Women (NCW) earlier this year.
“Our culture in the Arab countries is an obstacle to the role of women. Therefore, this culture must be re-nurtured through education, the media, and religious institutions,” he said during his speech at the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh this November.
He stressed that the disregard for the role of women is a waste for the future.
In recent years, a number of women have gained prominent positions within the Egyptian public sphere, but reports indicate that sexual harassment has intensified following the 2011 January Uprisings, draft legislation in favor of women’s rights are being stalled in parliament, and women continue to bear the brunt of worsening socieconomic conditions.
And with these mounting challenges, the question remains: how much have women actually gained?
The youngest female president of the Communications and Technology Committee in parliament May Bataran told The Caravan that Egyptian women have already been able to actualize their role more in 2017.
There are now 90 women in parliament out of a total of 596.
President El-Sisi directly appointed 14 women out of the 28 he is given the power to choose.
Twenty others were elected, which means they managed to beat their male contestants.
And women taking up leadership positions continue to increase across other fields in the country.
Bataran added that Egypt has strong qualified female role models such as Minister Sahar Nasr, who took over the Ministry of Investment and the Ministry of International Cooperation in early 2017.
Earlier this year, Nadia Abdu was appointed governor of Beheira, the first woman to hold such a position.
This was shortly followed by the appointment of two women to consectuively head the Administraitve Prosecutor’s Office, an unprecedent event in Egyptian history.
“Egypt is one of the most important countries that value the role of women in the political arena in-that Egypt has recognized the right of women to vote before the United States and Europe,” Batran said.
Women in the Public Sphere
Last year, the National Council of Women (NCW) launched a campaign titled Taa Marbouta (the Arabic letter denominating a word of a feminine gender) on its official Facebook page, its YouTube channel and most local TV channels.
The slogan says “Taa Marbouta is not your restriction, it is a the secret of your power,”
The campaign in 2017 called on all women in Egypt to work free from the constraints of a patriarchal society by highlighting the contribution of women in industry.
The campaign claimed that this contribution will increase Egypt’s GDP by 34 percent.
Sexual harassment and violence still remian the greatest threat to women’s progress.
The NCW has targeted sexual harassment, which threatens Egyptian women and shakes their psychological and moral stability.
The Thompson Reuters Foundation recently published a poll presenting Cairo as the most dangerous city in the world for women.
The results of the study were compiled by consulting international experts on women’s issues in 19 cities around the world on how women deal with sexual violence, harassment, harmful cultural practices, beside their ability to access health care, and economic and education opportunities.
Head of the NCW Maya Morsi criticized the methodology of the Reuters study, saying that itis only a generalized conceptual survey and depends on a limited number of respondents.
But, in 2010, UN statistics showed that 99.3 percent of Egyptian girls were subjected to any form of sexual harassment.
Morsi claims the number is much lower.
“The rate of harassment in Egypt is only 9.6 percent based on reports submitted in 2016,” she said in an official statement.
Women at work
The proportion of women who have reached decision-making positions has increased over the year, Morsi said.
He told state media that the 2016-2017 budget allocated about EGP 250 million for the development of 16,000 Egyptian nurseries to help put women to work last September.
This came in tandem with financial aid initiatives, including the Takaful and Karama cash-transfer program that serve Egyptian families, 94 percent of which are headed by women.
In addition, the campaign in cooperation with the United Nations launched a song titled “Noor”, which challenges the prevailing male pattern of work.
The song urged women to complete their education and find a suitable job to provide income to the family as breadwinners.
Taa Marbuta won the Golden Prize at Mena Cristal Festival, a global festival for the selection of the most effective advertising and media campaigns held in El Gouna earlier this year.
Yet women’s freedom of expression in Egypt has faced recent restrictions.
In November, Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahab was banned from singing by the Musciains Syndicate for jokingly claiming that drinking from the Nile would cause ‘bilharzia’ (schistosomiasis) during the performance of her song ‘Mashrebtesh Min Nilha’ (I Didn’t Drink From Her Nile) at a concert in Beirut.
The Syndicate referred her to an official investigation for allegedly damaging Egypt’s reputation.
Similar complaints were raised against Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe from singing at Egypt because of her ‘lack of respect for Egyptian traditions and customs’, for wearing shorts at a concert in AUC last October.
The singer is banned from performing in Egypt in a decision taken by the Egyptian Chamber of Cinema Industry, the Theatrical Professions Syndicate and the Cinema Syndicate.
The Popular View
A number of women who spoke to The Caravan said they were skeptical of the ‘Year of the Woman’ slogan.
Mena al-Najjar, 27, owner of the Rise and Shine Children’s Nursery in Tagamo’, rejected the ‘Year of the Woman’ slogan, saying that Arab countries such as Tunisia have taken much more significant steps toward gender equality.
Tunisia recently passed a law to ensure equal rights of inheritance are guaranteed to both sexes.
Loaloah Qatamesh, a 20-year-old student at the Department of Applied Arts, said that Egypt does not shed light on successful examples of young people, referring to Ghada Wali, the young Egyptian who was ranked by the State of Chicago as one of the top 100 graphic designers in the world.
Egyptian media did not recognize her achievement up until the Youth Conference.
“There are important steps forward, but I think it’s because women are now much more aware of their rights and what they can achieve,” says Fatma Ahmed, a florist in downtown Cairo.