With a diverse and gender-balanced audience, Egypt’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva held a webinar on Tuesday to discuss efforts to combat violence against women (VAW) in Egypt.
The meeting, which was held on Zoom for over two hours, was moderated by Ambassador Ihab Gamaleldin, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN.
In the opening remarks, Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights, explained how one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, with the figure rising to 70 percent in some countries.
In most cases, it's because "the state either condones this form of violence against women and girls or it's indifferent to the abuse," said Bachelet.
Data obtained over the past year and a half indicates that VAW is rising. "Stay at home orders, severe economic distress, and other issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic have led girls and women to be essentially locked indoors with their tormentors," Bachelet explained.
Egypt was the first country in the world to issue a rapid response policy towards women and a Women Policy Tracker during the pandemic.
Egypt's efforts to tackle this issue are timely. Clearly, there must be sustained endeavours by other stakeholders as well to change mindsets, including in key institutions.
The lives of many generations of Egyptian women and girls have been profoundly harmed by practices which should be made illegal.
"As in every country, Egypt must ensure that the perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted, and punished in line with international human rights standards. Witnesses should be protected and survivors shouldn't be re-victimised during the legal process," Bachelet concluded.
"Violence against women is a global pandemic that really impacts human development and has multiple, immediate to long-term effects on women, either physical, sexual, or physiological. There is actually also a tremendous economic cost on women, their families, business, national budget, and the economy and society at large," according to Maya Morsy, head of the National Council for Women (NCW).
According to Egypt's Economic Cost-Based Violence Survey, EGP 2.17 billion is the total cost borne by females and their families due to violence. The survey shows that 18 percent of women aged 18 to 64 were subject to domestic violence from a family members.
Since its establishment in 2000, the NCW has been entrusted with pressing women issues, ranging from coordinating and following up with government agencies to implementing programmes, activities, and development projects for women to raising awareness and conducting training programmes.
Morsy said Egypt has worked on accelerating progress to achieve gender equality, empowerment of women, and combating VAW, as set forth in the 2014 constitution.
She noted that Egypt has taken several steps to eradicate VAW in all its forms in the past five years.
According to Morsy, the state has ensured protection and care for mother and child and female heads of household, elderly women, and women in most need. The state is also committed to taking measures to ensure appropriate representation of women in parliament.
"It grants women the right to hold decision-making positions in entities and judicial bodies without discrimination, thus achieving equality between women and men in all civil, political, and cultural rights," Morsy continued.
"The strategic framework started with Egypt's Vision 2030 and we have been sustaining a developing agenda. With that said, we have developed the national strategy to work on several issues, including the empowerment of Egyptian women, combating VAW and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as well as child marriage and human trafficking. The NCW has also launched a number of campaigns to raise awareness against violence against women and launched a dialogue with partners to share good practices and innovative solutions that can protect the human rights of women and girls in particular," she added.
A number of campaigns were launched, including the Secret of your Power, which has made over 135 million reach, as well as Don't be Silent, which resulted in a 25 percent increase in reports on the hotline of the Women's Complaint Office.
"The VAW is a huge area because we are dealing with a pandemic of gender-based violence against women and girls that was now intersected with the Covid-19 pandemic and we have started seeing additional problems. We also have reports on cases of violence against women during child birth and this is something that was not addressed before because this area is covered by silence and denial. There is also violence against women journalists and online violence against women, explained Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on VAW.
"What I am seeing from my global perspective is that gender-related killing of women is not counted in Egypt under the umbrella of VAW. All other forms of violence against women are counted in one area but killings are counted separately under homicides, and if you look at gender-related killings of women they are usually done by intimate partners or former husbands. So as we see in this specific category in each murder the police should look into the relation between the victim and the perpetrator and if it was intimate partner killing or family member killing it should be counted," Simonovic explained.
More than 80 percent of persons killed in intimate-partner killings are women, so this is an area for prevention.
"We are here to challenge governments to pose difficult questions to push them in the right direction and to help create an interactive dialogue between different stakeholders," she added.
The webinar concluded with Gamaleldin saying that "VAW is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace; it constitutes a manifestation of the imbalanced relationship between men and women. Moreover, it's one of the negative social phenomena that negatively affects men, women, and children and prevents women from enjoying their basic right as productive members of society."
Panelists of the webinar included Nicole Ameline, member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimnation against Women; Maged Osman, CEO and director of the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera); Frederika Meijer, UNFPA country representative in Egypt; Christine Arab, UN Women country representative in Egypt and Iman Bibars, vice president and regional director for Ashoka, an international organisation that promotes social entrepreneurship.