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Egyptian Women Victims of Cultural Traditions

CAIRO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS) - Although indicators relating to women have improved over the years, they still remain large differences between men and women in literacy and schooling, the labor force and unemployment, and political participation.

In Egypt, as in most other countries, there are several reasons for the current state of affairs on women and gender empowerment.

Firstly, the entrenched religious, cultural values, and social class as well as urban or rural location are factors that affect the situation of Egyptian women, but it is the cultural tradition that most strongly affects their lives.

Egyptian law is based in part on the Islamic Sharia, which provides for equality between the sexes, but at the same time the interpretations could discriminate against women in various aspects. Moreover, women are the victims of inequality with regard to family matters. Women in Egypt have a very low level of protection for their physical integrity.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, is relatively common and include physical and psychological abuse. The penal code criminalizes all forms of violence against women, but some provisions are weak, and depend on age of the victim than the perpetrator. Domestic violence is perceived as a private matter and many incidents go unreported.

Secondly, women suffer in rural and marginalized urban areas for the lack of education and ignorance of their rights and the laws that provide them with such rights. The situation allows discrimination against them whether by their families, as in cases of depriving women of inheritance, or by husbands who are not aware of women’s legal and financial rights either during the marital relationship or after divorce.

In addition, there are different attempts to exclude women from the process of democratic transition that Egypt is currently going through as a consequence of lack of awareness of their important roles in public life and political participation.

Thirdly, Egyptian women and young people who have been in the front line of the revolution, found a great amount of marginalization from all parties in the transitional phase. It was shown on the level of choosing women and young people in ministries and leading positions, or being put in the end of the parliament electoral lists.

Such action led to women obtaining only 2 percent , in addition to two more with recruitment, which represents a humiliating percentage for women — not to mention youth representation which was extremely weak.

The causes of this issue are based on several factors:

– Inferior perception of women as well as negative customs and traditions towards it.

– The limited number of women cadres qualified to go through the elections or have the necessary skills and experience to do so.

– Local council laws and lack of positive discrimination of women

– The lack of support from political parties for women nominees at elections.

The poor representation of women leads to the absence of women’s issues/ from the priorities of the local councils and increases the poor services provided to them, even though the percentage of women heading households is more than 35 percent.

This leads to decreasing the status of women and their political, social and economic marginalization, and thus to greater suffering for women and increases the poverty rate for them and their families.

The women’s participation can be advanced in Egypt through several means:

– It is an urgent need for Egyptians in general, and women in particular, to be well versed in legal knowledge and culture to be aware of all aspects of the current situation in Egypt since knowledge is the first step towards positive participation. So, it is necessary to activate and strengthen the role played by women through raising awareness campaigns.

– Networking with different women’s rights organizations in order to coordinate and unify the mission for the sake of boosting the feminist movement in Egypt.

– Empowering women legally and providing them with the needed skills to participate in public life.

-Creating a public and political climate supportive of the participation of women

Focusing on amending the discriminatory laws against women in order to have a state law, as well as obligating the state, to commit to international conventions and agreements ratified by Egypt in the context of the new constitution of 2014 that enhances the concepts of equality.

(* Azza Suleiman is one of the founders of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, which works to defend women involved in marital disputes, advocate for women’s rights in personal status law, and end violence against women.)

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