In an effort to guarantee the right of Egyptian women to equal citizenship, a joint UN-government campaign was launched this week that aims to provide women with national ID cards. According to rights activists, the lack of ID cards can often keep women in a state of bureaucratic limbo, unable to vote in national elections or apply for vital public services.
“Without a national ID card, a woman has no rights,” UN Women Country Coordinator for Egypt Maya Morsy told Ahram Online. “It’s as if she didn’t exist.”
Sunday saw the official launch of the campaign, entitled “Your ID, your rights.” The initiative is being carried out in cooperation with several UN agencies – including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women – along with a handful of Egyptian government ministries.
The overall goal of the three-year campaign is to bolster women's basic citizenship rights, mainly through providing them with national ID cards, without which their options remain sorely limited. This, say campaign organisers, will serve to empower women, both by enhancing their economic prospects and by encouraging their participation in national politics.
Limited participation by Egyptian women, both in the political domain and the national labour force, is often directly linked to their lack of official documentation – including national ID cards, say experts.
“Having national IDs will guarantee women their civil and political rights and allow them to be incorporated into national demographic and statistical surveys,” Qalioubiya Governor Adly Zayed, who attended the launch, told Ahram Online.
According to recent interior ministry figures, as many as four million women in Egypt currently lack national ID cards (known as betayiq in Arabic). “Some 2.5 million women in Cairo alone don’t have IDs,” said Claudia Ruta, a governance specialist for UN Women who also attended the campaign’s launch on Sunday.
The initiative’s three-month pilot phase will focus on three densely-populated Egyptian governorates – Qalyubia, Minya and Assiut – where it will target an estimated 50,000 currently ID-less women.
According to Ashraf Abdel Wahab, deputy minister of state for administrative development, the benefits of attaining a national ID are manifold. “For one, national ID cards will allow them to access a variety of public services – including education and healthcare – along with a number of other basic social rights,” Abdel Wahab said.
UNDP Country Coordinator for Egypt Mounir Sabet, who also attended Sunday’s event, noted that possession of ID cards would also provide women with “a voice in the political arena in terms of the decision-making process and the shaping of policy.”
National IDs are required to cast ballots in all Egyptian national elections, including municipal, parliamentary and presidential polls. Notably, Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election will be held on 23 and 24 May.
Campaign organisers point out that the primary obstacles currently preventing many women from attaining ID cards include financial constraints and the unnecessarily complicated bureaucratic procedures at many civil-status registries.
General Mohamed Naguib Maatouk, head of the interior ministry’s Civil Affairs Authority, for his part, said the campaign would allow women to obtain ID cards – a service that normally costs about LE100 – for free.
Organisers intend to employ several means of communication – including television, radio and internet – to promote the campaign and raise public awareness about the issue. “Social media will be our main tool for informing underprivileged women about the initiative,” said Morsy.
Campaign organisers plan to employ mobile registrar units to reach Egypt’s more marginalised areas.