Egypt development needs 'specialists not Islamists': UNFPA Cairo

Yasmine Wali, Wednesday 19 Jun 2013

UN Population Fund (UNFPA) holds Wednesday press conference in run-up to scheduled Cairo population conference on 24 June


At a Wednesday press conference in Cairo held by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), head of the Egyptian National Council for Women, Mervat Tellawy, said that Egypt needed "specialists and not MPs or radical Islamists" to discuss the principles of population, development and women's issues.

"We cannot have people filing cases against the health minister to legalise female genital mutilation," she said. "We want to move ahead, not go back 200 years."

"In the middle of the last century, former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser personally took care of the population and development files," she added.

A UNFPA conference held in Cairo in 1994 launched a 20-year plan for population and development throughout the Arabic-speaking region.

"At the time of the 1994 conference, we were targeted by a campaign against the conference's aims. The media portrayed the event as trying to implement immoral western values and homosexuality," she explained.

Tellawy claimed that the conference had been negatively perceived by the public because it discussed women's health and reproduction; the right of women to choose when to get married and have their first child; and the right to use contraceptives.

She urged the media to raise awareness and correct what she said were the misperceptions among the Egyptian public regarding the upcoming UNFPA population conference.

The UNFPA conference, to be held in Cairo from 24 to 26 June, aims to revise the plan of action introduced at the 1994 UNFPA conference and come up with a 2014 plan of action.

The conference is expected to tackle a wide range of issues, including mother's health, youth, fertility, environment and development, and social violence.

"Every year, 2.6 million children are born. What will [Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham] Qandil do in terms of development regarding this number?" she asked.

"We have serious issues, like 12-year-old girls getting married, while the law [puts the age of consent at] 18 years old, and the government is not taking care of this issue," Tellawy said. "Also, female genital mutilation has increased after the revolution. We shouldn't go back to discussing primary principles that were settled at the 1994 conference."

Egypt is still giving women and their families the right to decide the number of children they want.

"UNFPA promotes and supports the concept of reproductive rights, the right of individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, without coercion or discrimination", said UNFPA Assistant Representative Magdi Khaled."We  support the government of Egypt in providing comprehensive reproductive health services and ensuring the reproductive rights of all women".

Hisham Makhlouf, for his part, demographics expert at Cairo University, highlighted the importance of governments working on population issues and development statistics.

"Twenty years ago we said that our share of Nile water was threatened by rising populations in the Nile Basin countries," Makhlouf said. "So we shouldn't be surprised today by the current crisis with Ethiopia."

Fatma El-Zanaty, statistics expert at Cairo University, stressed the importance of having accurate information available to the public to aid decision makers in various fields.

"Providing accurate information will avoid the problem of having contradicting figures on the same matter," El-Zanaty asserted.  

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