A year ago, Egyptian politician and women’s rights activist Mervat Tallawy defied the Muslim Brotherhood to spearhead the adoption of a U.N. blueprint to combat violence against women. Now she’s back campaigning against conservatives to ensure that equality for women remains at the top of the U.N. agenda.
As head of the Egyptian delegation to the two-week meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, which ends Friday, Tallawy said she has been working hard to prevent any rollback on hard-fought gains including international recognition of women’s reproductive and sexual health and rights.
“We are saying the gains that we have reached during the 1990s, we should not lose it now, or take a step backwards,” Tallawy said in an interview on Wednesday between negotiating sessions. “Why are we saying so? Because there is a conservative mood in the world, not only the Islamists, the developing countries, but also in the developed countries.”
Last March, Tallawy, who is a minister and president of the National Council for Women-Egypt, surprised and delighted delegates from more than 130 countries when she ignored the Brotherhood and announced that Egypt would join consensus on a 17-page document that sets global standards for action to prevent and end violence against women.
This year, the Commission on the Status of Women is focusing on how women and girls have fared in achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2000 as the 2015 target date approaches — and what should be included in new goals expected to be adopted next year.
The current goals include promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring every child has a primary school education, reducing maternal and child mortality, and halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The commission produced a proposed seven-page final document, which ballooned to 45 pages with suggested additions from many countries.
Delegates were still working Thursday night to reduce the text and come up with a final draft. To be approved, it needs all delegates to agree before the conference ends Friday.
Tallawy said she is in a better position this year because the Muslim Brotherhood, which was “a nightmare” on many fronts including on women’s rights, has been removed from power.
Compared to last year, she said, extremist conservative positions taken by Iran, Cuba and Russia have softened, “but not totally.”
This year, Tallawy said, there is also a group of young conservative diplomats “who get together thinking they can change the world.”
Their inclination in the post-2015 agenda is not to mention gender equality or women’s issues and focus instead on the environment, sustainable development, climate change and other issues, she said.
The reality is that millions of women are poor, discriminated against, and victims of violence, she said, and the unfinished goals must be carried over into the new goals along with a separate goal on women’s equality and empowerment.
“We fought hard to get the rights,” Tallawy said. “They got it free.”
“That’s why a person like me is obliged to stay until the end of the session, so these youngsters will not upside-down the whole situation,” she said.