When women gained their political rights in 1956, they probably could not have dared imagine how far they would get. But they would progress markedly as attested by their current representation in parliament. Females are running for 25 per cent of the new parliament seats, a historic high for the country, compared to 14.9 per cent in the last parliamentarian vote.
Currently, out of more than 4,000 candidates for parliament elections, 347 women are running. A total of 303 women are competing for independent seats; the remaining 44 are on the electoral lists of parties.
According to Isis Mahmoud, head of the National Council for Women’s (NCW) training department, only 19 parties from among 36 have listed women on their electoral list. “The average of women’s representation on these lists is 53 per cent. Governorates such as North and South Sinai along with the New Valley did not nominate females for the elections,” Mahmoud said.
Women’s representation in the parliament of 2010 was 12.7 per cent. Representation dropped significantly in the 2012 parliamentary elections, hovering at around two per cent, less than their representation in 1975.
“The current percentage of women’s representation in parliament is very reassuring compared to the previous two sessions when the number of seats occupied by women could have been counted on one hand. I hope that 50 per cent of the members appointed by the president will be women, as stipulated in the 2014 constitution, in order to guarantee gender equality,” Mahmoud said.
Although Article 11 of the 2014 constitution stipulates that the state shall ensure equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social and cultural spheres, women find difficulty in winning independent seats in parliamentarian elections.
According to Mahmoud, women have better chances when included on parties’ lists. “Electoral constituencies are vastly different than before. Women on their own cannot succeed except in very few places.”
Women, according to Mahmoud, should also have a good reputation among citizens and be well-known in their constituencies, something difficult to achieve most of the time. “Women must also be wealthy as running in the elections as an independent requires a lot of money. This cannot be done easily by most female candidates,” Mahmoud said.
Mahmoud noted that when female candidates are included on a party list they have a better chance of winning, especially in Upper Egypt, a region which prefers to elect male candidates. On the other hand, “we have great examples regarding female candidates winning the elections. Port Said is one governorate where a female candidate must win a seat,” Mahmoud said.
According to Mahmoud, the number of female candidates running in Port Said is almost 16 per cent of the overall number of the governorate’s candidates, whereas Alexandria is ranked second with around 14 per cent female candidates. Females make up almost 13 per cent of the number of candidates running for the parliamentary elections in Cairo and Aswan.
Nehad Abul-Qomsan, president of the Egyptian National Centre for Women’s Rights (ENCWR), pointed out that women’s representation in this parliament — 25 per cent — is considered reasonable in the Middle East and will definitely increase Egypt’s ranking in global gender equality measurements. “This percentage is due to tremendous efforts that have been exerted throughout the past years on training women on how to manage electoral campaigns and how to compete and run in the political scene,” Abul-Qomsan said.
Although new female candidates running in the parliamentarian elections are considered new faces, much is expected from them, Mahmoud noted. “Female MPs have a huge responsibility to defend women’s affairs and interests. I am sure the elected women in the coming parliament will be respected and not subjected to any kind of discrimination,” Mahmoud said.
MP Maha Shaaban, who is running for re-election, said that the percentage of women in parliament, “though satisfying” when compared to the previous percentages, should be increased. “We hope that women’s representation in parliament will be 50 per cent of the seats, as women are considered half the society,” Shaaban said.
According to Shaaban, there are many women-related laws that are expected to be discussed in the coming session. Amendments to the Personal Law and a new law on violence against women are to be drafted. A law criminalising female genital mutilation has also become urgently needed, Shaaban said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly