A Guide to Egypt's Challenges: Women’s Rights, Street Children

Bassem Sabry , Thursday 16 Aug 2012

Bassem Sabry provides a multi-pronged overview of the political, economic and social challenges facing Egypt's first post-Mubarak president, with an emphasis on the everyday problems facing average Egyptians

Street children
Street children pose for a photograph in Tahrir Square (Photo: Reuters)

Street Children

Estimates on the number of Egyptian street children have ranged from the tens of thousands all the way up to 3 million. A 2005 UNICEF estimate put the number at around 1 million. 

Many such children have no official records of their birth or existence. They are either forced to beg or work, either by their own needs or at the coercion of organised rings. They lack any shelter or safe access to basic needs, and are often driven to a life of crime.
According to a UNODCCP study in Cairo and Alexandria, 82 per cent of polled street children cited abuse (at home or work) as primary direct reason for living on the streets, followed by neglect at 62 per cent. Top indirect reasons were the family's poor economic condition, family breakdown, dropping out of education and family size. 70% of respondents said they had dropped out of school, while the remainder had never been to school. 
Responses to reasons for significant substance abuse by street children (66 per cent  admitted use, primarily consuming glue and tobacco, in addition to over-the-counter drugs and local cannabis "Bungo") included relief from street pressure (70 per cent), peer pressure (60 per cent), to sleep easily (50 per cent) and to endure pain, violence and hunger (30 per cent.) Respondents also mentioned they survived primarily through begging (78 per cent) or washing cars or shop windows (68 per cent.) An overwhelming 86 per cent claimed violence was the number one problem they faced on a daily level, followed by community disapproval (48 per cent.)
UNICEF's 2005 report stated that 20 per cent of children between the ages of 6 and 14 were involved in labour, mostly in agriculture -- described by UNICEF as "one of the worst forms of child labour".
Sexual abuse remains a prevalent threat for Egypt's street children, as well being forced to participate in commercial sex. But perhaps an even more critical threat, a number of street children are abducted and used by human organ traffickers as source for organs, according to various reports.
Women's Rights
Egypt's first anti Female Genital Multilation (FGM) law was enacted in 2008 following the death of a 12 year-old girl; at that point around 74 per cent of girls aged 15-17 had experienced some form of "female circumcision". This was down 3 per cent on the year before.
Elsewhere a 2010 article by the BBC claimed that 9 out of ten women "have had the procedure."
The World Health Organization states that, out of 140 million women to have overgone FGM, 92 million were in Africa, making Egypt's numbers even more troubling.
There is also the rising question of sexual harassment on the street.
A 2008 study by the Egyptian Centre For Women’s Rights said 83 per cent of Egyptian women had experienced one degree or another of sexual harassment. 
The problem of sexual harassment seems to have a strong psychological dimension, statistics shows.
The same study reported that 62 per cent of respondent men said they had engaged in one form of harassment or another, while 53 per cent felt women deserved the blame for "bringing it on." Given that respondents often give more favourable answers in surverys, it is possible the real numbers are much higher.
According to Al-Ahram Weekly, a 2008 survey by the Earth Centre For Human Rights (ECHR) stated that 39 per cent of respondent women claimed they were beaten by their husbands for reasons that included leaving the house without permission, talking back at them or burning the food.
Other reported surveys state that around one third of Egyptian women are victims of one form of domestic abuse or another, while the actual number is thought to be higher due to a perceived high number of women unwilling or incapable of speaking up or seeking help.
And while women have been making progress and even achieving parity in various fields in Egypt, there are there are still other alarming trends and inequalities.
For example, Egypt only saw its first female judge in 2003 when a presidential decree appointed Tahany El-Gebaly to the Supreme Constitutional Court. 
Egypt later instated 30 female judges to family courts, but the presence of women remains very limited in the Egyptian judiciary as well as in the state’s upper posts.
The women's quota of 12 per cent of seats in the parliament's lower house was abolished after the 2011 uprising. The post-Mubarak parliament has less than 2 per cent of its seats held by female members -- 9 women from 500 posts, with the number including two appointees.
This contrasts with Algeria, where women are around 53 per cent of the population but control 45 per cent of magistrate roles and 32 per cent of the national assembly, according to Al-Arabiya's news website. Libya's new assembly has 33 women in its total 200 members. 
Recent national unemployment figures in the second quarter of 2012 suggested that 24.1 per cent of women were unemployed compared to 9.2 per cent of men. 
There has also been limited rhetoric regarding the lowering of the minimum age for marriage to 14 from 18, and abolishing the woman's right to call for divorce, the latter only passed in 2000. Also discussed was the possibility of decriminalising FGM. Opponents of decriminilisation were most alarmed when current President Mohamed Morsy appeared to suggest during a Q&A session while still a candidate that he was in favour of leaving the choice on having the procedure for the family.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded through Twitter, acknowledging the ambiguity of their candidate's response. They stated that, however, they were firmly against FGM, that the current law banning it would not be repealed, and that additional awareness efforts needed to be aid the legal ban. Critics remain cautiously vigilant.

See also:

The Economy

Subsidies & the Budget

Food Security

Fuel & Electricity Shortages


Slums & Random Housing

Religious Freedoms, Minorities

Judiciary & Education

The Interior Ministry

Freedom of Speech, Media & the Arts


The Public Sector & Privatisation



Saving Cairo!

Healthcare & Hepatitis

National Reconciliation
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