President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and President of the National Council of Women (NCW) Maya Morsi jointly declared 2017 the Year of Egyptian Women on International Women Day’s. The announcement, made on 8 March, revived hopes of resolving several long-standing issues affecting women and their lives.
According to a legal amendment passed this year the NCW is mandated to enhance, develop and protect the rights and freedoms of women according to provisions in the constitution and international agreements ratified by Egypt.
The year also saw the launch of the 2030 strategy for Egyptian women. The plan consists of five strategic stages: political and economic empowerment, societal protection, and cultural and legal rights.
With the help of the government, Egyptian women finally will be able to collect their dues, at least as far as inheritance is concerned. Egypt previously had no sanctions by which to punish someone who keeps members of a family — usually women — from receiving their rightful shares of an inheritance. The problem is common for women in Upper Egypt as well as in some rural and urban areas. Often an inheritance is kept from a woman either because of greed or because the family fears property ownership would be transferred to her husband and not be kept in the immediate family.
Accordingly, the NCW passed a law guaranteeing inheritance rights for women. In February, the parliament’s Legislative Committee approved an amendment proposed by the government to Inheritance Law 77/1943. Under this amendment, a number of violations would be considered criminal offences, including intentionally depriving heirs of their rightful inheritance. The amendment proposed punishment of at least three years in prison and a fine ranging between LE20,000 to LE100,000.
The law stipulates that withholding documents that could prove a person’s legal right to an inheritance is also a violation. In such cases, the offender would be sentenced to at least six months in prison and a fine ranging between LE10,000 to LE50,000. If the violation is repeated, the amendment calls for a sentence of at least one year in jail.
Early this year, parliament approved a draft bill pushing for tougher penalties on sexual harassment. The bill imposed an increase in fines ranging between LE5,000 and LE10,000 on those who are found guilty of sexual harassment in public or private areas, with harassment defined as gestures or words or any modern means of communication, or any other action that carries sexual or pornographic hints.
Parliament also agreed on an amendment to the penal code on child sexual abuse in which jail terms were toughened to three years and fines of between LE20,000 and LE50,000 imposed. Stricter penalties were also imposed on abusers who use their authority in the setting of family, work or education to commit sexual harassment. They will now face a jail sentence of not less than three years and not more than seven years and a fine ranging between LE50,000 and LE100,000.
This year, women were also accomplished on the political and decision-making levels. After a cabinet reshuffle in February 2017 women took the helm of ministries. Hala Al-Said is minister of planning, follow-up and administrative reform. The Ministry of Investment and the Ministry of International Cooperation were merged into the Ministry of Investment headed by Sahar Nasr. This is in addition to the already appointed Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali and Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram.
For the first time, a woman also become a governor. Nadia Abdou became the first woman to be appointed governor of Beheira governorate.
Egyptian women also assumed leading international positions. Amany Abu Zeid assumed the post of infrastructure and energy commissioner of the African Union.
Meanwhile, Mushira Khattab, Egypt’s former secretary-general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, ran a tight race for the position of UNESCO general manager, eventually losing to French candidate Audrey Azoulay.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Gender Gap Report, Egypt ranked 99th among 144 countries in occupying higher positions for women. In the Arab region, Egypt ranked fourth after Morocco among 14 Arab countries.
In women’s health, the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population launched the International Medical Conference for the Health of Arab Women which resulted in the Cairo Declaration.
The declaration included constructive strategies to promote health awareness and reduce the risk of chronic diseases in women. It included the prevention of violence and her empowerment through education, creating job opportunities, and improving her image in the media, and the rejection of all malpractices against her, as well as a health strategy through reproductive, mental health and non-communicable chronic diseases. The aim was equality and justice for both genders.
Throughout the year there was greater attention paid to women’s health. The NCW and the Ministry of Health and Population upgraded health in the villages of Nasr Al-Nuba and Kom Ombo through medical convoys that received nearly half a million patients and nearly 100,000 women at the age of childbearing. All the services were provided for free at the state’s expense. The convoys included clinics in all medical specialties for early detection of breast cancer. Ten civil societies and the Eradication of Illiteracy and Adult Education Organisation readied the convoys which provide family planning services.
The “Knock the Door” campaign under the slogan “Support your Country Strongly… For Your Good” was another highlight of the year. Launched in all villages of Egypt by the NWC, the campaign aims at finding the villages most harmed by floods to help families and pay field visits to the affected regions to decide the necessary measures needed, solve the problems of women in slums, and establish a complaints office, in addition to the “Safe Cities” initiative to create an atmosphere free from harassment and violence against women.
The council also sought to increase the role of women in the economy. The NCW set up a commission against discrimination to increase the community’s awareness of the importance of a woman’s role. This was done by launching a campaign whose followers reached 40 million during 2017. The council, in cooperation with other agencies, issued 100,000 identity cards for women in villages, the countryside and Upper Egypt. There is a plan to issue 500,000 IDs for free soon.
This is part of a broader plan to involve women in the job market. To that end, the Ministry of Social Solidarity launched an initiative through the National Institution for Family Development, affiliated to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and allocated LE20 million in 2017 to fund female microenterprises in civil societies. They include the Cottage Industry Families Associations and Society Development Communities licensed by the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA).
Amendments were made to Law 11/2004 which sets up a family insurance fund to cope with the steady increase in prices. Money allocated for divorced women reached LE520 million. Female beneficiaries are over 250,000.
A total of LE250 million has been allocated to make nurseries safe.
On the political front, the NCW prepared a data base for women who wish to run in local elections, reaching 4,000.
The number of parliamentary female members is 90 — 15 per cent of the total number — 76 of whom were elected in addition to 14 appointed. Moreover, women and younger female voters reached 55 per cent.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly