As the UN gears up to remind the world on international Women’s day of the challenges rural women across the globe face, women in Egypt have an historic opportunity. As all Egyptians, they are better educated, healthier and more engaged in the economy than previous generations. The highest political levels of the country have shown the commitment and willingness to address historic inequities that have affected the position of women in society.
Social change however is slow, and gains are often hard fought. It will take more than political will to make sure that all girl children remain in school, to the age at al least 14. We know this is important; better educated girls get married later in life and have fewer children. So, we need the schools, we need the support at school and we need the willingness of parents to commit to also offer their girl children access to quality education.
How do we convince parents that this is the right thing to do? By this I mean, all parents; also those in dire financial straits, also those living in remote areas of the country and also those who are illiterate. You see, the job is not done until all girl children get the opportunity to obtain a quality education, and with the best will in the world, the facts speak against this.
The National Strategy for Women’s Empowerment is in our opinion a historic document for Egypt and possibly for the world. The starting points is that, when facing historic inequity where change has been slow, you need to do something really different. This strategy started from a good analysis of the evidence on the position of women in Egypt – uncontested Government statistics. The national evidence based was placed against Egypt’s international commitment, often entered into as part of this engagement with the United Nations and its associated bodies. Finally, there were consultations – where women across the country were asked to give their input, their opinion and their commitment. This process was conceived in Egypt, it was implemented by Egyptians and the country is yet again breaking historic ground and possibly setting a global trend.
In the history of change and innovation, we have always said that what gets measured can be changed. The Nations Strategy for Women’s Empowerment has taken this well to hearth with a well-supported national result framework. Our experience in Egypt teaches us that “what gets budgeted gets done” and we are therefore seeking to expand the UN’s partnership with the National Council of Women and the Government of Egypt, to support the implementation of the historic strategy.
The National Council of Women has shown excellent thought leadership in the way this strategy was put together and we very much respect that the implementation needs to build on that. What we hope to add is our global knowledge and expertise and our capacity to bring the international community together in a coherent and coordinated fashion. Collectively, we are all facing an historic opportunity for women in Egypt – one that we cannot afford to miss.
On behalf of the United Nations development system in Egypt, it is my profound honour to wish all Egyptian women and girls a happy International Women’s Day.
*The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Arab Republic of Egypt