Women's rights in post-revolution Egypt in EU focus

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 7 Jul 2011

Rights practitioners are calling on the EU to better integrate women's rights and their protection into its Neighbourhood Policy, to ensure women get a fair deal in post-revolutionary Arab states

Tahrir Square
Egyptian women dance and wave national flags in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

"Just yesterday we sent a letter to the prime minister of Egypt demanding that due attention be given to the question of women and their rights in the policies to be adopted by the Egyptian government," said Emilie Dromzee, project coordinator of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network.

Speaking in Brussels to a group of Arab journalists, Dromzee affirmed the keen interest of non-governmental organsiations in Egypt and their European partners to put women's issues high on the agenda of post-revolution Egypt.

The letter was jointly sent by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and the Cairo-based New Woman Foundation to Prime Minister Sharaf, Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union on foreign policy matters, and to Jose Barosso, the president of the European Commission — the latter planning to visit Egypt next week.

The three-page letter, of which Ahram Online obtained an Arabic copy, underlines concern at "a tendency to marginalise women in post-revolution Egypt" despite their crucial participation in the January 25 Revolution.

The letter specifically notes that women were excluded from the committee selected by the currently ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to draft limited constitutional amendments. It also refers to the elimination of the women's quota of 64 seats in parliament, coming into effect through elections in August 2010.

While making reference to "other forms of marginalisation and exclusion of women" in Egypt on the part of the new ruling authorities, the letter also states that women and their rights, as well as possible contribution, do not figure high on the agenda of political parties amid growing calls "to go back on legal rights secured during the past few decades under the increasing dominance of patriarchal culture and ultra-orthodox religious currents".

The letter demands of the committee to be elected to write a new constitution to better integrate women in the transition process and support of women's rights. It also demands that future legislation not go back on women's rights but work on eliminating existing discrimination.

Specifically, the letter demands that the new constitution should clearly stipulates that "Egypt is a democratic and civil state" that observes full separation of powers and that recognises "equal citizenship and rights and declines all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, colour, ethnic origin or religion" in line with the commitments undertaken by Egypt in the Convention of Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights instruments.

The letter also requests that the constitution stipulate 50-50 participation, of men and women, in all committees and councils and decision-making posts across the branches of government, and that the next parliament to work on securing an end to discriminatory laws against women, including those in the penal code and the personal status law.

Of the European Commission and the high representative of the EU on foreign policy, the letter requests the proper integration of women's rights in the EU Neighbourhood Policy and assistance packages provided to the Egyptian government.

According to Dromzee, the EU has not done enough to properly integrate women's rights matters into its cooperation policies with countries of the southern Mediterranean, including Egypt. Dromzee said that more work will be done in terms of lobbying EU officials on the matter.

For her part, speaking in Strasbourg yesterday (Wednesday, 6 July) before the European Parliament in a session on the Arab Spring, Ashton underlined the EU's commitment to work further with Arab countries and to secure fair respect of women's rights in post-dictatorship Arab states.

This morning (Thursday, 7 July) UN Women issued a report calling for an end to discrimination against women in legislation around the world, including in the Arab world.

The UN Women report, "In Pursuit of Justice," that was compiled before the Arab Spring, underlines that Arab countries are falling behind in terms of both legislation and application of existing laws on the rights of women. It demands this situation be righted, including to "repeal laws that discriminate against women; support innovative justice services; put women on the frontline of justice delivery; and invest in justice systems that can respond to women’s needs."

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