International Women’s Day is observed each year on the 8th of March since the 1900s. This year’s commemoration happens just weeks after the women of North Africa and the Middle East courageously, and alongside their male counterparts, participated fully in the struggle for freedom, equality, democracy, participatory governance and justice in their own respective countries. They participated as equals, were exposed to the same cruel conditions as male participants, suffered the same consequences as everyone else and did not seek any special treatment but change with equal opportunities for all. The question worth asking at this stage is:
Commenting on South Africa’s situation, Sheila Meintjies notes the significant role that SA women played in the fight against apartheid but asks “how would this participation be translated into electoral politics and representative democracy?
These questions remain relevant in light of the disturbing developments in Egypt. The brutal and sexual assault on CBS reporter Lara Logan during the uprisings is again a stark reminder of the challenges that women still faces since the first celebration of Women’s Day in 1911.
The reality for Egyptian women at present is that they have been completely marginalised in the nation building process with very few of them having been appointed to serve in structures tasked with deciding the country’s future. The complete absence of women in the Constitutional Committee amending Egypt’s constitution makes mockery of the January 25 revolution which was moulded around the ideals of equality; freedom and the involvement of all citizens in decisions affecting their lives. Women organisations and other movements like the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and the Egyptian Coalition for Civic Education and Women’s Participation have already raised concerns over these developments. A few weeks back, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights circulated a petition which raised concerns over the exclusive nature of the Constitutional committee. The Egyptian Coalition consisting of around 102 NGO’s also issued a statement condemning the amendments to the Constitution which will make men the only candidates eligible for appointment to the position of the President.
Countries who have undergone Egypt’s journey in recent years would know of the necessity to have constitutions that best represent the aspirations and dreams of all citizens. In order for Egypt’s constitution to be legitimate, the process of making it must be inclusive and speak to the diversity of views and needs of its entire people and be highly considerate of women’s issues and concerns. South Africa’s Constitution which is regarded as the best in the world is a direct product of processes which never fell short of seeking to encompass the multiplicity of views within the nation. As a result, South Africa’s Constitution guarantees women’s rights; and affords equal treatment of all people irrespective of gender, sex, race, religion, belief, culture and so on. Egypt can also learn from the constitutions of countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Iraq and Nepal which guarantees women’s rights and political rights.
No one denies that different conditions exist in all countries, however, the rights of all people including women transcend boundaries. The importance of these rights also find expression in the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Beijing Platform for Action, the Protocol to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of women in Africa; and the Millennium Development Goals. It is no secret that Egyptian women have a lot of challenges to deal with and these challenges are openly discussed in various reports by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights on the status of Egyptian women. These reports speak to the needs for the strengthening of laws on sexual harassment, rape, women’s health and reproductive rights, domestic violence, honor crimes, female circumcision, human trafficking of women as sex workers, divorce laws, inheritance laws, ownership and property rights. In light of these challenges it is clear that it can only be through participating fully in the Constitution making process and other structures building Egypt that women of that country can best ensure that the future holds a better and brighter life for Egypt’s daughters and mothers.
As the deliberations continue women should hang on to the revolution spirit and ensure that it delivers for them as well. Egypt’s revolution would be half achieved if it does not speak to the needs, dreams, and aspirations of all the people who made it possible.