Egypt rights groups demand quotas for women in parliament

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Egypt’s womens rights groups are demanding that a future constitution currently being drafted include a quota for their participation in parliament.

Across the country, women’s rights organizations are holding conferences and lobbying campaigns to ensure their representation in the parliament.

The Egyptian Women Union this week invited members of the panel drafting the constitution to a meeting to discuss the role of women in Egypt’s political roadmap.

The National Council for Women (NCW) also called this month on the 50-member panel to make sure that women’s quota system is applied at least for two election cycles in order to “the people’s culture.”

The NCW, whose president Mervat el-Tallawi, is a member of the panel, also called for an article in the constitution criminalizing violence against women.

An open letter was also posted on the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) calling for women representation in parliament. The group has also launched an online campaign on Facebook (“Where is she in the constitution?”) aimed at supporting articles related to women in the constitution.

A quota system that gave women 12 percent seats in parliament was adopted in 2010 for the first time. Sixty four seats contested only by women were added to the 454 seats of the People’s Assembly.

The quota system was removed following the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution.

Parliamentary, along with presidential, elections are set to take place by mid-2014, according to the political road map put in place by the military-backed interim government.

Fatma Khafagy, an expert on gender issues and a member of the NCW, says the chances of having a quota law in favor of women’s participation is higher now than any other time in history. She says the quota is the “only guarantee that there will be a reasonable number of women in parliament.”

“The only thing is to have a gender quota actually, there is no other way.”

Long time feminist and head of the Egyptian Feminist Union Hoda Badran says a quota system would open the door for a revamped election law.

“The best scenario is to have a quota, we have to have something in the constitution,” she said, adding that the quota should not be less than 30 or 35 percent.

In the 2011-2012 elections, two thirds of seats were elected by party list proportional representation and one third by block voting, also known as individual list voting.

Badran supports the hybrid system, but says women have a better chance if they run under the party list.

She noted, however, how some parties are not supporting they female candidates enough during the campaign.

In the country’s last parliamentary elections, parties had to include at least one woman in their lists but their names were often put at the end, Badran said.

The first parliament since Mubarak’s ouster had a sweeping majority of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist MPs, with only 10 female deputies all hailing from the same party.No woman won in individual seats.

“I have to say that we should blame our political parties, the liberal ones, because when they put women on the list they put them at the end of the list. We have to push to change that, it cannot be one women only,” Badran said.

Seeking to encourage people to vote for women, “the Parliament to Protect Women’s Rights,” group has been launched nationwide.

Abeer Aly a coordinator of the campaign says the main goal is to increase the number of women leaders and promote their participation in public life but to also to empower them in rural areas of the country.

“The importance of our group is to have skilled women in all the governorates of Egypt, we are defending women’s rights in society and politics,” said Aly.

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