Egyptian women in public domain: Models of awareness, will and passion

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 12 Apr 2023

Four inspiring Egyptian women shared their groundbreaking achievements in the public domain and all the learning they have acquired in a special seminar on Monday.

Egyptian Women
Prominent Egyptian Women in The Public Domain


The seminar, held under the auspices of Nevine El-Kilany, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, and Hisham Azmy, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Culture, the seminar, was run by Professor Adla Ragab.

"The idea was to share the achievements of these four bright stars in the realm of the public domain," explained Professor Nevine Mossad, the moderator of the seminar, as she introduced them in alphabetical order.

Gihane Zaki: Awareness, Identity and Belonging

Gihane Zaki, a professor of Civilization and Religion of Ancient Egypt and History of Art, has held numerous national and international posts in the realm of heritage.

In 2011, she became UNESCO's regional office consultant for World Heritage.

A year later, she became the first woman to hold the prestigious position of Director of the "Accademia di Belli Arti d’Egitto a Roma".

"It was a very big challenge, for all 13 directors before me were male artists, and I was the first woman who practiced art management," she said.

She added that another major challenge she faced was from the radical religious regime in power at that time, which threatened to sell off Egypt's section in the Venice Biennale.

"It was all about preserving our identity on a foreign platform through arts and culture so we launched the Egyptian Replicas Art effects of Tutankhamen that put Egyptian heritage upfront on the Touristic Map of Rome as well as the Italian public schools.

“In 2013, we also managed to establish an art and cultural connection with the Vatican, which was soon followed by the historic visit of Azhar Grand Imam to Pope Francis," she added.

 Zaki has recently started her initiative to raise cultural and heritage awareness among the children of security guards in her community.

She believes that the only way to preserve our identity is to raise awareness of our heritage and hence increase our sense of belonging.

Mona Zulficar: "In Egypt - All Dreams Are Possible"

Known as "the Lawyer of Unprecedented Legal Deals," founding partner and Chairperson of Zulficar and Partners Law Firm, Chairperson of EFG Hermes, VP of constitution Committee, and Chairperson of the Egyptian Federation for Financing MSMEs-MSMFS, international corporate lawyer, Mona Zulficar's name has always been affiliated with human and women's rights laws and the Egyptian constitution.

Being the daughter of renowned Egyptian actor Salah Zulficar, she was asked during the seminar on why she was never tempted to try a career in the arts.

"You see, law is an art and every day I stand on the stage and defend a cause," she said.

She noted that she was a leading actress in college where she won the golden cup for two successive years.

However, she added that acting was taking away too much time from her studies and she decided to focus on academia.

After graduation from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science in 1969,  Zulficar started her career at the United Nations.

She was then appointed a manager at the prominent Shalakany Law Offices where she would facilitate communication between clients and lawyers when English was a barrier at that point.

Soon after, she studied law and found herself drawn to women's causes.

Women’s causes came naturally to  Zulficar given her family background.

"My father was the producer of films that empowered women, such as Merati Modir Am (My Wife is the General Manager) and Oreed Halaa (I Want a Solution). My mother was one of the founding members of the Women's Association for Health Improvement," she noted.

In a time when there were no national councils for women or human rights, Zulficar collaborated with prominent figures of civil society, such as Aziza Hussien, and drafted a booklet on women's legal rights theory and implementation.

"I introduced the new marriage contract in this booklet that was highly opposed because it included the woman's rights to add new conditions in the contract. I argued that conditions added in old marriage contracts date back to the 15th century and we should not be opposing new ones."

 Zulficar was the woman behind the Khul3 law, which allowed Egyptian women to divorce husbands, to name but a few of her achievements.

As founder and chairperson of Al Tadamon Microfinance Foundation, she set a successful example of microfinance that changed the lives of 5 million Egyptians.

"In Egypt, all dreams can come true; it needs patience, perseverance, and partnership," she concluded.

Mona Omar: The key word is Passion

Ambassador Mona Omar, former assistant minister of foreign affairs for Africa and member of the Advisory UN Committee on Human Rights and the National Council of Women, has always had a passion for Africa.

After attaining her college degree in 1975, she embarked on a diplomatic career, holding multiple posts in Africa.

"I have always believed that Africa is the future of Egypt and it is the backbone of economic and political security for Egypt," Omar noted.

She was based in South Africa during turbulent times before the election of Mandela in the early 1990s.

She also served during the Rwanda massacres in the mid 1990s.

Omar explained the critical circumstances she was put in and how she managed to navigate through it all.

“Love and passion are the driving forces behind her successful journey,” she stressed.

Naglaa El-Ahwany: Willpower

Professor of economics and former minister of international cooperation, Naglaa El Ahwany, is also a board member of the ERADAA (Egyptian Regulatory Reform and Development Activity) initiative.

"As the minister of international cooperation, we overcame many difficulties such as bureaucracy while cooperating with other ministries. We also faced a lot of resistance from several European countries when we applied to become members of the EuroBank," El Ahwany explained.

“Every big achievement comes with overcoming obstacles. We do not possess the luxury of failure," she concluded.

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