Egypt draft constitution article raises fears for women's rights

Ahram Online, Sunday 23 Sep 2012

Leftist and liberal parties, groups voice 'deep concern' after draft constitution article promises gender equality 'without contradicting precepts of Islamic Law'

Women played a key role in the Tahrir uprising that toppled president Mubarak (Photo: AP)

Following publication of Article 36 of the 'Rights and Duties' section of Egypt's draft constitution, a number of political parties, coalitions and public figures have issued a joint statement expressing their "deep concern" for the draft article's wording, which, they say, could compromise women's historical rights.

The wording as it currently stands reads: "The state is committed to taking all constitutional and executive measures to ensure equality of women with men in all walks of political, cultural, economic and social life, without contradicting the precepts of Islamic Law."

The article adds: "The state will provide all necessary services for mothers and children for free, and will secure for women protection, along with social, economic and medical care and the right to inheritance, and will ensure a balance between the woman's family responsibilities and work in society."

Critics fear that the wording of the draft article is a convoluted detour around equal rights between men and women, due to the ambiguity over the phrase "without contradicting the precepts of Islamic Law."

The statement was issued by the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and endorsed by the Popular Socialist Coalition, the Free Egyptians party, the Popular Current, the New Woman Organisation, the Woman and Memory Organisation, Al-Nadeem Centre and a number of others. The statement was also signed by several public figures, including Mohamed Abul-Ghar, George Ishaq, Khaled Youssef and Sakina Fouad. More signatures are currently being collected online and via petitions.

The statement also stresses that such unclear wording "endangers the democracy that everyone aspired for and sacrificed for," stating that the struggle of Egyptian women throughout history should guarantee them the rights they had already gained historically on the basis of equal citizenship. Such rights should not be reduced, the statement added, noting that such a reduction would contradict Egypt's commitments to international charters and agreements.

The reason behind this stipulation, the statement warned, is the Constituent Assembly's largely Islamist representation, which, it claimed, was willing to bargain on the rights of women. The statement went on to say that the constitutional referendum should not be put up to a single yes-or-no vote, but rather be voted upon section-by-section. It added that the approval rate for amendments to pass should also be raised to 75 per cent, and that public debate on the constitution should be increased beyond the 15 days currently planned after the draft constitution is completed.

The statement goes on to urge that, if the article is passed as is, then all women and independent Constituent Assembly members should resign to protest "this unacceptable inequality."

The constituent Assembly has already suffered a number of withdrawals, when the 'Egyptian Bloc' parties – including the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party – initiated a walk-out,  followed by the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Democratic Front Party, to allow greater representation for women, young people and Coptic-Christians, while also registering their objection to "Islamist monopolisation" of the assembly.

Meanwhile, the troubled assembly still faces the risk of dissolution by court order in September on grounds that it was drawn up by the People's Assembly, the since-dissolved lower house of Egypt's parliament.  

Short link: