Hundreds of Egyptians march to parliament on International Women's Day

Bel Trew, Thursday 8 Mar 2012

Marking the global celebration of women's rights, a march, organised by coalition of 16 feminist NGOs, went to People's Assembly Thursday chanting against the SCAF and demanding that women make up half of constituent assembly

Women's march from Journalists' Syndicate to Parliament (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Hundreds of protesters marked International Women’s Day on Thursday by marching from the Journalists’ Syndicate to Egypt’s parliament, demanding that women make up 50% of the constituent assembly. The march was organised by a coalition of 16 Egyptian feminist non-governmental organisations (NGO), who submitted a list of demands to the People’s Assembly on Wednesday.

Parliamentary speaker Mohamed Saad El-Katatni is due to meet with the coalition this Saturday to discuss the document.

“It was a good turnout and better than the stationary protest on Tahrir last year,” explained Iman Darwish, 36 from the Alliance of Arab Women, part of the coalition of NGOs who organised the march. She was making reference to the sexual harassment the women were subjected to during last year’s march. “It’s good to see so many women taking to the streets again to demand their rights.”

The event was made all the more poignant by the deliberate similarities to the 25 May, 2005 demonstration against a presidential election law referendum that was violently dispersed by Mubarak-paid thugs. It was also staged in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate.

The event that became known as Black Wednesday, saw female protesters badly sexually assaulted and beaten as police stood by and did nothing. The event was so shocking and public that it bought together, if only momentarily, opposing groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Centre for Socialist Studies in their calls for change.

Thursday’s protest, which started at 4pm, saw both men and women chanting against the ruling military council, the Muslim Brotherhood and the group’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei. Protesters see all powers as having contributed to oppressing women in formal politics. The march moved up Talaat Harb street, across Tahrir to the barricades in front of the People’s Assembly. Drums accompanied the revolutionary slogans.

“We have been preparing for a whole week, including putting together the statement which we delivered to the parliament,” said Nivanna Semi, 30, a media student who is part of the feminist coalition. “We have a committee who are going to follow this up in the People’s Assembly next week.”

Many familiar revolutionary faces were present. Samira Ibrahim, who is currently suing the Egyptian army for the “virginity tests” (read sexual assault) she was subjected on 10 March, was there.

Mary Danial waved the flag of her brother Mina Danial, a young Copt revolutionary who was killed by the army during the 9 October attack on a march in front of Maspero, Egypt’s state TV headquarters.

“International Woman’s Day came from America originally and then to Egypt,” Mary explained. “These kinds of days are important as they are global and give a voice to the poor across the world,” she said, explaining how they don’t have the same platform. “We are fighting for their rights.”

Ghada Shahbender, from the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, co-ordinates a lot of the care for victims of torture or injured at the hands of Egypt’s security forces. 

“Women have virtually no representation in parliament, we need to make sure we are at least half in the constituent assembly,” she emphasised making reference to the fact that only 2% of the 508 seats in parliament were allocated to women in the 2011 lower house elections.

Dr Laila Soueif, the well-known activist and mathematics professor who recently went on hunger strike in protest of her son Alaa Abd El-Fattah's military detention, was also present. She explained to Ahram Online how fulfilling this 50% quota would not be hard for the parliament to do. There are enough women in each category, she explained.

“Egypt needs equality… this is the main problem that the new constitution must address, whether that’s between men and women or Muslim or Christians, regardless of social status,” she emphasised.

Prominent human rights lawyer Ragia Omran, who works closely with the No To Military Trials for Civilians campaign, explained to Ahram Online how in the past the female protesters had been accused of being pro-Mubarak.

“They associated our demands for human rights with Suzanne Mubarak laws,” she explained. Suzanne Mubarak had co-opted and made herself the namesake of a number of women’s rights campaigns, further complicating the issue.

It’s ridiculous, Omran added, as the Mubaraks were responsible for siphoning funds from NGOs, including feminist organisations, to their own pockets.

“Personal status laws, which refer to women’s rights in divorce for example, need to be changed in the next constitution,” Omran explained, which she added would be more likely if there were more women involved in the writing of it.

Key figures from Egypt’s art-scene also joined the march. Eskenderella’s Samia Jaheen and actress-cum-parliamentary-candidate Tayseer Fahmi were there.

Basma, the actress who recently married parliamentarian Amr Hamzawy, also showed her support. “The numbers have increased almost threefold from last year,” explained Basma to Ahram Online, “Today shows people’s increased awareness of women’s issues and of the willingness of women to go to the streets to get their rights.”

There were a number of men marching in solidarity with the women and manning the protective cordons.

The flag of Mina Danial, which is always present at the frontline of the clashes was in the march too.

“This flag is a symbol of protesting and of fighting, and that is what we are here to do to fight for women’s rights,” said Ahmed Ezz, 21, an engineer at Ain Shams University who was manning the flag. “I am religious and a Muslim but there are many who use religion in the wrong way. Like the sheikh’s reaction to the footage of women being dragged, stripped and beaten in the streets during the December clashes. They blamed the women!”

As the day came to a close outside of the parliamentary building Ahram Online caught up with Mama Khadiga, the woman who became a mother to everyone in Tahrir square.

“It is bringing us all together, we are unifying under a clear demand like the fair representation of women in this assembly,” Mama Khadiga said, “who else can talk about women, or decide what should happen to women, than we ourselves?"

Short link: