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2014 witnessed active climate for women

State response, measures and women rights supported by Al-Sisi


An Egyptian woman holds a sign reading 'I come from a respectable family' during a protest in downtown Cairo to denounce the military's attacks on women and to call for an immediate end to the violence against protesters on December 2011.
The top women’s issue of 2014 has been violence against women. On 7 March, the Cabinet ratified the Penal Code, adopting a law criminalising sexual harassment, which includes a jail term of at least six months and a fine of up to EGP 5,000
(AFP File /Getty Images)

Special Year End 2014 Feature: 

The 2014 constitution, which passed in a referendum in January 2014, has generally been viewed as supportive of women rights in multiple fields. In an analysis report reviewing the final draft of the constitution in 2013, the local NGO Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) called it “a victory for women’s rights to full citizenship”.

The new constitution overcame those challenges, in addition to also guaranteeing political rights such as an article passed for the first time entitling women to hold judicial positions in the State Council Judicial Authority. Moreover, despite overlooking the defining of a parliamentary quota for women’s representation, the constitution designated 25% of seats in local councils to women.

“Not entirely satisfying, but a moderate solution that should empower elected female candidates in municipalities,” renowned leftist journalist and women rights’ activist, and head of NGO the Forum for Women in Development (FWID) Farida Al-Nakkash said in March.

Apart from the general framework established under the constitution, the top women’s rights issue that has been the project of 2014 has been violence against women. On 7 March, the Cabinet ratified the Penal Code, adopting a law criminalising sexual harassment, which includes a jail term of at least six months and a fine of up to EGP 5,000. Both elements of the punishment are subject to increase in cases of stalking, rising further in cases where the assaulters hold familial or work ties with the victims they assault.

In May, the government’s response took the first executive step through the establishment of a special unit at the Ministry of Interior’s Human Rights Department to face violence against women under the command of female police officers, and foster change in authorities’ handling of the cases, mainly in police stations where female reporting sexual abuse incidents are often subject to further victimization and maltreatment by male police officers.

Despite limited presence in the streets away from major public assemblies, female police has been seen in the streets on several occasions, including during protests, feast celebrations, near girl schools and in the metro. “We are working with different organizations, setting new plans and getting training to face the issue, which includes a focus on the psychological treatment of victims of violence,” Colonel Manal Atef had explained on the sidelines of a major event organised by civil rights’ groups for women against violence on 11 December.

However, Atef said security issues have increased following the 25 January Revolution due to the absence of a firm executive power, raising questions over the degree of awareness of a complex persisting problem.

“Let’s say that as a first step, the Egyptian authorities admitted that they have a role to play to resolve the issue. They still need to achieve a lot of training in terms of grasping and understanding the problem, and providing proper assistance to the victims,” said Sally Zohney, the Project Officer for violence against women and girls at UN Women in Egypt. “They are trying to do so by coordinating with us and other organisations to benefit from our recommendations following years of work in the field.”

The law had been advocated by civil rights and feminist groups for years since the Mubarak regime in vain.  The Cabinet’s resolution came as recognition of the obscenity and atrocity of the increasing phenomena. The decision followed a UN 2013 report saying the rate of sexual harassment in Egypt was 99.3%.

In May, the government’s response took the first executive step through the establishment of a special unit at the Ministry of Interior’s Human Rights Department to face violence against women under the command of female police officers, and foster change in authorities’ handling of the cases, mainly in police stations where female reporting sexual abuse incidents are often subject to further victimisation and maltreatment by male police officers.

Despite limited presence in the streets away from major public assemblies, female police has been seen in the streets on several occasions, including during protests, feast celebrations, near girl schools and in the metro. “We are working with different organisations, setting new plans and getting training to face the issue, which includes a focus on the psychological treatment of victims of violence,” Colonel Manal Atef had explained on the sidelines of a major event organised by civil rights’ groups for women against violence on 11 December.

However, Atef had referred to the issue of sexual harassment as a “new phenomena, including it among a series of security issues that have increased following the 2011 revolution due to the absence of a firm executive power,” raising questions over the degree of awareness of a complex persisting problem.

“Let’s say that as a first step, the Egyptian authorities admitted that they have a role to play to resolve the issue. They still need to achieve a lot of training in terms of grasping and understanding the problem, and providing proper assistance to the victims. They are trying to do so by coordinating with us and other organisations to benefit from our recommendations following years of work in the field,” said Sally Zohney, the Project Officer for violence against women and girls at UN Women in Egypt.

Education

Habiba works in a beauty salon and lives in Faysal, a working-class neighbourhood in Cairo. As a mother of two high-school students, she is primarily concerned with education, school maintenance, and security.

“The children are not learning anything. External learning centres have become disastrous, and it’s not like students have other options, especially in their last two graduation years,” she said. “I know many girls who were good and even excellent students, they have skills but they can’t find opportunities. They are talented but they are buried.”

Asma’a, 36, is a housewife and the mother of two children. She lives in Imbaba, another Cairo working class neighbourhood. “Not only are the children are not learning anything – they are getting beaten all the time,” she said. “My son skipped school for two weeks and I didn’t even know. He was slapped two days ago for not bringing personal photos as required, even though he had a sick note.”

“One of the kids videotaped with his mobile phone a teacher who was beating a student, kicking him in the face. When the teacher found out, he confiscated all cell phones before the beginning of his next class. The school administration didn’t do anything about the video. The beating continues, and the kids have it on tape. We want our children to learn, as simple as that. We want them to feel safe to go to schools, not run away and stay on the streets.”

Nour Atef, 29, lives in Haram and is the mother of two.

“What I want? A better future, that is safe for our children. Before we used to suffer because schools were not teaching our children. Today we are not even sure our children will survive in schools after all the accidents that happened this year.” Atif was referring to the deadly clashes between students and security forces that have occurred on campuses across Egypt during the course of 2014, leading to 20 student deaths and hundreds of arrests.

A 2013 United Nations report said the rate of sexual harassment in Egypt was 99.3% (Photo by Mohamed Omar/DNE)
A 2013 United Nations report said the rate of sexual harassment in Egypt was 99.3%
(Photo by Mohamed Omar/DNE)

Infrastructure and public services

Many had demands about infrastructure and public services. As the population of Egypt continues to increase such demands are likely to increase.

Sara, 28, lives in Saft el-Laban and works at a beauty salon. Among her main concerns were transportation, garbage collection, and the availability of public services, particularly healthcare., transportation, slums, garbage, facilities, healthcare.

“The infrastructure in some of this country’s areas, such as my district, is not up to any human conditions. We don’t have paved streets and I literally started consuming more shoes, ” Sara said. “Some of my neighbours have ‘occasional’ access to water in their homes.”

Nagah Mohamed, a 37-year-old housewife living in Imbaba said: “Security has improved a little since the revolution and the police are doing what they can but still we want more. Also we have problems with electricity and recently we have bills much more expensive than we use and they tell me it’s what I used.”

“I don’t have any electric equipment, no A/C, or ventilator, or TV or anything, I sit outside my apartment all day with the neighbours in the streets. I usually never pay more than EGP 20 and most people not much higher, now I have a bill with 200! And the company told some that they will allow it to pay in installments!”

“Also health the services are very poor and the hospitals and clinics are neglected but also the streets and the buildings are,” she added. “And we have garbage everywhere, and street vendors and it’s always overcrowded.”

Iman El Nahhas, 28, from Alexandria, works as a vendor and voted for Al-Sisi.

“I think security improved, now I can go home as late as 12 when I have to work,” she said. “But transportation needs to improve especially the roads and means of transportation connecting governorates to Cairo.”

Social values

Fatma and her daughter Dina own a small stationery shop near to their building in Mohandessin

Care for the elderly and a better organisation of services are needed, while general moral ethics do not exist anymore, according to Fatma.

“People have no more respect for each other, let alone the elderly. They do not give up bus or metro seats for an old lady anymore,” she said. “People have no morals or ethics. A society that finds spitting on the streets normal!”

For Dina, street cleanliness and maintenance,  and pollution (noise, sight, environmental) are important issues, while violence and thuggery must end.

“The society will never develop if people do not find their basic needs of living in peace and quiet. Pollution affects our psychology and motivation, which keep decreasing to eventually become part of the big chaos in the country,” she said.

“As a woman, I feel hindered and handicapped when I try to do anything in my community, even if it is defending a personal right or telling people on the streets to keep their voices low at night.”

Dina went on to say: “Part of this is because there is no law enforcement, my rights are wasted and my complaints to any official entity are just piled up. The other part is the patriarchal society we live in that don’t take women seriously. I always need a man to get a job done, or to keep somebody from assaulting me or my property.

“They blow you up as a woman,” she concluded.

Mona Magdy, 28, lives in Shubra. She stressed street cleanliness as one of her priorities and lamented the “chaos” afflicting popular and dense areas. She also took issue with the high cost of living. “It’s true the government is improving things through the subsidy system but apart from basic goods the rest is expensive. Vegetables, for example: the price hike is usually shocking and sudden. Let alone meat or poultry.”

About corruption Magdy said: “If there is no corruption many of our problems can actually be solved.”

Security and health

Zeinab, 32, works as domestic help, lives in Imbaba, and voted for Al-Sisi. “When we chose Sisi because we wanted security and safety in the streets.”

She demands the government to start taking care of slum areas, and to address garbage, chaos and increasing drug dealing; including among children.

“Drug dealers do operations in front of schools, little kids are involved they know the dealers, wait for them, no police whatsoever.”

Zeinab further noted that public hospitals are sometimes expensive as you have to pay for tests and not all medicine is covered or available by insurance. She blamed doctors and nurses for absolute negligence.

“You can find the nurse just sitting there with food on her desk, chatting and not working, because there is no supervision.”

Om Sayed, 42, a housewife living in Ezbet Hagana, said: “We’re not safe, there is a lot of arms being used in every single minor conflict in our neighbourhood. It can be over nothing and suddenly everyone wants to take part in the bloody fights. People kill each other. The government forgets us, the police also knows of some criminals and leaves them because they have mutual benefits.”

“I have one son, 13, who keeps avoiding school and says he wants to find a job as two of his friends work with microbus drivers to earn their living,” she said.

Unemployement

Samar Hamdy, 30, unemployed, lives in Alexandria, and studied at the Faculty of Arts.

“The government needs to find a serious issue to employment, not because it is my problem, but many like me, we completed our education but we are either over or under qualified in the labour market.”

https://ww.dailynewssegypt.com/2015/01/03/2014-witnessed-active-climate-women/
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