The National meeting "From Ministerial Conclusions to Gender Equality Policy Making in the Euro-Med Region" took place on the 24th of April 2017 in the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement headquarters in Cairo. The meeting was organized by the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE) in partnership with Euromed Feminist Initiative and supported by the EU. The one day event gathered representatives of civil society, gender experts and representatives of concerned ministries, who discussed the policy recommendations for improving the status of gender equality, that have been developed during a one year process in the frame of the project “Gender Regional Platform” funded by the European Union. This meeting was part of the process to prepare for the 4th UfM Ministerial conference on women’s rights, scheduled to take place in Egypt in the fall this year.
The national meeting commenced with a review by Dr. Majdi Abdel Hamid, President of EACPE and a board member at IFE-EFI, of the work done from inception to date, and a reminder of the purpose behind it, namely, to bring civil society organizations working in favor of women's rights and human rights organizations together with relevant stakeholders and policy makers, in order to discuss the Gender Regional Platform and to pressure the UfM Ministerial Conference to issue more concrete and policy oriented conclusions during their conference scheduled to take place in Egypt in autumn 2017.
Ms. Shireen Moawad the third secretary of the Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights Office, pointed to how important the issues of Human Rights are to the office, and Women's Rights in particular, and stressed the importance of cooperation between all governmental and non-governmental sectors for an effective change.
After presenting the objectives of the gender regional platform, the four priority areas were described and discussed:
- Ending discrimination against women and strengthening women’s participation.
- Reform education, changing gender stereotypes and attitudes towards gender equality.
- Ending violence against women, wars and occupation.
- Ensuring freedom and independent action of the civil society as well as support to women’s rights organizations.
Dr. Azza Kamel; Chairperson of Appropriate Communication and Media Center for Development (ACT), pointed out that women and girls in Egypt and the Arab region suffer more from lack of access to education, care and employment, resulting in greater poverty and unemployment among them. The Arab League Educational, Culture and Sciences Organization (ALECSO) called for adjusting stereotypes of women in Arab schools' curricula, and for the elimination of discrimination and gender inequality represented by it. In a study on the mechanisms for enhancing the image of women in Arab schools' curricula, the organization concluded that Arab curricula and textbooks provide a stereotypical image of women that is in line with the traditional patterns prevalent in Arab societies.
The study showed that this manifests through the roles assigned to each sex, where males are given more important and positive roles, which adds to the already existing quantitative imbalance in the presence of male and female characters in textbooks. It criticized the "lack of female presence at the committees in charge of the preparation and development of educational curricula within ministries of education, as well as within the authors of their textbooks.The study noted that the culture of discrimination in roles given to each sex resulted in not effectively involving women in the economic cycle.
Dr. Azza presented some statistics on girls and women in Egypt, including that "1 in 10 schoolgirls feel that they are more vulnerable to harassment and violence and are less safe and suffer from gender discrimination in schools."
Ms. Azza Soliman, Director of Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance shed light on the growing crackdown on civil society in Egypt, which stirred the question of whether the government desires the presence of civil society at all or not, and whether the state supports the concept of funding civil society organization or not, and if it also supports CSOs involvement and interaction with the international mechanisms of human right. Stressing that this trend in Egypt is part of an international trend to stifle civil society, an example to which is what's happening in China, India and Jordan. This, is in addition to the fact that the state is only interested in organizations that provide "services" to citizens and not those who play their real role of monitoring of the government.
Soliman mentioned two events that took place in Egypt proving this state of crackdown. The first was in 2014 after CSOs submitted their reports on the situation of human rights to the International Council for Human Rights in Geneva, where back then, the Egyptian media deliberately distorted the image of the organizations participating in the UPR meetings, describing the representatives of these organizations as "agents", "traitors" and "receivers of funds", when that the State was aware of this.
The second incident was in late 2015 when the famous case # 173-2015 of 'foreign funding' took place, this file keeps getting opened from time to time to add new organizations and individuals from civil society. All individuals working at civil society organization in Egypt are at risk of this.
Dr. Mozn Hassan, Executive director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, said that it is difficult to talk about ending violence, but it's rather possible to discuss fighting it and trying to reduce it, pointing out that there are different forms of violence practiced against women in Egypt:Sexual violence, domestic violence – noting that in MENA region only two countries out of ten (Morocco and Jordan) actually have laws to combat domestic violence, psychological violence, political violence, physical violence.
She reminded that gender-based violence and especially sexual violence against women is prevalent in both states of war and peace, as under the absence of security and the presence of social tolerance and emphasized on that the majority of Arab penal laws do not contain specific articles for the protection of women victims of armed conflict. The proliferation of crime, violent conflict and the abundance of weapons all create a climate of insecurity and many women no longer feel safe enough to move or even be in public. Many women suffer from a violation of their personal freedoms, inability to visit relatives or travel safely to work.
The participants emphasized that gender-based discrimination should be eliminated and the need to work towards eliminating it from every field by:
- The amendment of family law
- Issuing a law for local councils, that ensures the participation of women through the approved electoral laws
- Reform the laws of trade and labor unions
- Issuing a new law to establish an Equal Opportunities and Elimination of Discrimination Committee
- This is in aside from the enormous gap separating the Constitution of 2014 from the various laws dealing with women's rights and gender equality.
During the following session experts from the civil society, political sphere and relevant ministries discussed ways to turn these recommendations into concrete actions to enhance the lives of women taking into account the variables that took place in Egypt during the last period and its impact on the four priority areas that were discussed previously such as: The increase in the phenomenon of violence against women. In the end, the participants expressed their optimism that the upcoming 4th UfM Ministerial Conference on women’s rights, scheduled to take place in Egypt in the fall this year would be able to change the status of women in Egypt and in the whole region.