Earlier this month female students won the elections of six Egyptian universities’ student unions and snatched their male-dominated presidencies.
Elections of student unions had always witnessed intense political competition in Egyptian state universities and their heads used to be elected because of their political ideologies.
However, in the past couple of years, student unions became way less politicised and turned out to be independent from anti or pro-regime groups.
Dareen Khalil attained the presidency of Cairo University’s student union, Nermine Wael won in Helwan University, Maha Mohamed came in first in Suez Canal University, Zeinab Sayed in Luxor University, Sahar Samir in Damietta University’s, and Modah Mounir won the post in Suez University.
“Winning such number of positions is a unique and unprecedented experience. It is a big step towards achieving the political empowerment of girls in universities,” Maya Morsi, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), said.
In a statement, Morsi extended the NCW’s sincere congratulations to the winning students and expressed her pride in and happiness with the achievements of the female students in the elections of student unions.
“That this big number of female students won reflects their ability to succeed and prove themselves in student elections, and is an indication of the change in the perception of university communities towards women's participation in these elections,” Morsi said.
“Such experience allows for the creation of qualified cadres to later participate in local and parliamentary elections,” added Morsy, wishing them success and hoping their numbers increase by the year.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Higher Education, the total number of students who applied for the elections of student unions in the Egyptian universities and institutes for the current academic year reached 24,864 students, of which 14,222 were male students, accounting for 57 percent of the candidates.
It was announced that the minister of higher education and scientific research will meet soon with the heads and deputies of student unions to discuss activating the role of the unions as a link between the students and the administration of universities and faculties.
Samir, a student in the Media Department of the Faculty of Arts, Damietta University, believes it is not important whether the winner was a man or a woman in light of the change in the attitude of the university community towards women running in such elections.
What really matters, she says, is to truly serve students and solve their problems.
In addition to winning the presidency of student union at Damietta University, Samir also won the chairmanship of her faculty’s student union for the second successive year.
She promises to sincerely represent the students and to voice out their concerns.
“During my term, I intend to launch for the first time the University Youth Forum, which will be similar to the World Youth Forum Egypt holds every year in Sharm El-Sheikh,” Samir said, adding that the platform will include workshops and trainings for students in the fields that interest them.
“Raising awareness among university students will be among my interests through organising seminars on the dangers affecting the country and the students themselves,” she said, “in addition to raising the efficiency and capabilities of the students and preparing them for the labour market.”
Samir wishes to work in the media field. “I believe it is a platform of enlightenment which always revolves around the awareness of the citizen.”
Mounir, who won the presidency of Suez University’s student union, said she was both thrilled about the new post and worried about the responsibility she is shouldering.
“I will do my best to prove that I deserve the post,” Mounir, a student of economics and political science at Suez University, told Ahram Online.
Her plan is to focus on raising awareness on health issues and women's concerns among students in tandem with the ongoing state campaigns, in addition to concentrating on the sports and artistic activities of the students.
“Raising awareness on Egypt Vision 2030 and the role of university youth in it comes as a top priority during my tenure,” Mounir said.
Following her graduation, she aspires to serve the country in her field, and to work in diplomacy.
Mohamed, who studies at the Faculty of Pharmacy, is the first female student to assume the position of the chairman of the student union at Suez Canal University. For her, it was a goal and a challenge at the same time.
“It was great to achieve my goal and prove to myself and many others that girls have the ability to hold a position like this. And, God willing, I will prove that girls are able to take the responsibility, make decisions and take office,” Mohamed told Ahram Online.
“My goal is to represent the students of the Suez Canal University and to establish communication channels with them in order to make their voices heard,” she said.
“I will also work on increasing the participation of students in external activities and the number of students in exchange programmes with foreign universities, given that we are the first student union to reactivate the programme for the university last year,” Mohamed added.
In the future, she wishes to work in scientific research due to the fact that she is currently a scientific researcher at the university.
Khalil, a student at the Faculty of Mass Communication, is the first female student to head the student union of Cairo University.
In an interview with Al-Shorouk newspaper, Khalil said her main goal is to wipe out the tarnished image of unions and to restore the confidence of students in them.
“I will do my best to make sure that the role of the union is not limited to organising concerts and trips or launching a campaign on social media. Rather, I will endeavour to open channels of communication between the students and the deans to solve their problems,” Khalil said.
Khalil added that she will dedicate a large part of her efforts to the female students and to create stimulating activities for them to reduce common perceptions about them.
Wael, a student of commerce, is the first female student to hold the presidency of the student union in Helwan University.
She said every post is suitable for men and women, as long as they shoulder their responsibility.
Wael told Sada Al-Balad news website that she is determined to improve the status of students and to develop and educate them by organising seminars and initiatives, in addition to creating activities targeting all the university students depending on their faculties and talents.
“I will communicate with students to collect their problems and proposals to work on their solutions and implementation,” Wael said, adding that she will also focus on developing the services provided for students in addition to university facilities.
Faculties’ student unions
November also witnessed nine female students winning the chairmanship of student unions in Egyptian faculties.
In Helwan University, Hager Mohamed won the Faculty of Arts’ post, Yara Hany attained the post at the Faculty of Education, Nada Mostafa headed the post in the Faculty of Nursing, Salma Nabil became the head of Faculty of Home Economics’ student union, Passant Adel won the elections at the Faculty of Physical Education, Nesma Mohamed snatched the post at the Faculty of Music Education, and Engy Ayman won the students elections at the Faculty of Art Education.
In Cairo University, Reham Tarek won the post at the Faculty of Archaeology and became the first female student to get the post in the history of the faculty.
In Cairo University, Amira Nasser won the presidency of the Faculty of Dar Al-Uloom’s (the house of sciences) student union and became the second student to get the post since the faculty’s establishment in 1872.
“Of course, I am delighted to accomplish such achievement, especially because it is a position that is rarely won by a female student,” Nasser told Ahram Online.
Dar Al-Uloom is a faculty from which specialists in the Arabic language, Arabic literature, and Islamic studies have graduated throughout its history.
Due to the fact that Dar Al-Uloom is considered a hub for Islamic sciences and Sharia, Nasser received a barrage of criticism after winning the post for being a girl, and unveiled.
In response to the systematic campaign of radical voices criticising her victory, Nasser said: “I see no justification for those who criticise me. It is enough that the law and my colleagues support me.
“This gives me more motivation to work hard and prove to the fellow students and my colleagues in the union in addition to the dean of the college that I’m able to take the responsibility,” Nasser said.
“The union council and I will do our best to serve the students in studying and activities, and we will support the financially struggling students,” she added.
Nasser’s ambition is to prove herself through her work and she aspires to become a minister in the Egyptian government.