Room for Improvement: Looking back at the 2011 Egyptian Protests
Recently women have been heavily involved in protests in Egypt. This was true as well in 2011, but when the 2012 Constitution came out it had as little gender equality as the laws it was replacing.
At what point in the process did it become okay to silence the voices of women?
“[President] Morsi had promised an increasing role for women and Copts. The Constitution came after that with nothing! … Women’s rights have been linked to religion and not to the needs of Egyptian women,” – Azza Suleiman, an Egyptian lawyer working to stop violence against women, said in an Amnesty International Report when interviewed.
She also condemned the opposition’s reaction: “They say it’s because there are more important issues to deal with at the moment. As if women’s problems are not as important!”
In 2012, the new government failed to deliver on its promises of democracy. Women were not equally represented (only two female members in the 36-member Cabinet). No tangible action was taken on gender issues. Authorities announced a stricter sexual harassment law in October 2012 and again in February 2013, but failed to pass it both times. Without women equally represented in the government, there was little motivation to act on gender equality issues – though women protested the unfairness from the outside. An Alliance of Women’s Groups called for gender equality in the new constitution in July, but thus far there has been little sign of movement on this issue.
The Global Justice Center knows that, where there is a constitution that excludes women and ignores the processes of justice, unrest is bound to follow. Our Burma Law Project seeks to challenge the same constitutional suppression of women’s voices in Burma. Gender parity in power is key to long-term stabilization in both of these transitioning democracies.
Amina Agami, an Egyptian woman who works with NGOs protecting human rights, said in the same Amnesty International Report that the 2012 Constitution “…does not care about women, as if they do not exist.” She also said that the Constitution could potentially provide for child marriage, and “The Constitution does not give women any chance to be at the parliament, ministry of justice or any other positions like that.”
GJC knows that to have a functioning democratic state the laws holding it together must be just. It is not possible to have such laws while women’s rights are ignored.
In the recent 2013 protests, women have been repeatedly silenced with sexual harassment while trying to exercise their right to peaceful protest. On the single day of June 30th, 46 sexual assaults were reported from Tahrir Square. The attacks on protesters have reached such levels that Amnesty International recently began a petition calling on Egypt to end sexual violence against women protesters. Consider also that 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes.
This wide-scale suppression of Egyptian women’s voices is unacceptable. Egypt cannot move in any positive direction if Egyptian women are unable to exercise their political voice freely and unmolested.
In the next few weeks, Egypt needs to keep in mind gender equality and equal participation in government because without it a just and democratic system will never be reached. GJC aims to increase women’s roles in governments internationally. As our logo demonstrates, women make up 51% of the world’s population, but the global average for women in government is only 19.7%. We are working to close this gap, because only then will we have true representative democracy. Women must be allowed to have an equal and respected role in government changes in Egypt. While we wait to see when and if Egypt will hold democratic elections again, one thing is clear: The party that ultimately gains power in Egypt must make women’s rights a priority.