Analytical paper: the right of women to public political space
Published by Nazra for Feminist Studies, a group that aims to build an Egyptian feminist movement, this analytical paper examines the rights of women to public political space in Egypt of 2013, following a new wave of revolution which led to the removal of Mohammed Morsi from power. The paper aims to shed more light on policies and laws adopted by different institutions of the state, namely the Constitution and Family Law, and focus on the extent to which these policies affect women's participation in public political space.
The first section is an examination of the status of women in the last constitution of Egypt (suspended by the time of writing), and notes a number of fundamental flaws and examples of deep-rooted gender-based inequalities. These include: the unrepresentative nature of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the constitution, as shown by the lack of Christians, Nubians, Bedouins, and other racial and religious minorities groups, as well as a meagre 6% representation of women; the discriminatory criteria for selection of the members of the Assembly; the reduction of provisions protecting women to a single, non-specific statement on equality; a counter-productive focus on women in the context of family, viewing women as divorcees, widows, and mothers rather than equal citizens; and that even though the constitution prohibited forced human exploitation, abuse, and trafficking, it does so while neglecting to frame such concerns as rights unto themselves.
Next, the authors talk about the status of women in Family Law, one of the most important legislations to be discussed in this context. Women's position in the public space is connected to her position in the private space, since the latter is highly influential when it comes to the formation of the kind of life women experience and want to experience, beyond their roles as mothers and wives. Although most Egyptians laws are supposed to have moved away from the religious courts of the 19th Century, judgements nevertheless continue to engage with and reproduce socially conservatives values and religious customs. Yet, while Family Law may be governed by religious and societal principles that both affect it and get reproduced by it, it also has political dimensions that differ according to the nature of the ruling regime.
In spite of restrictions, women are still organising and making a difference, as exemplified by the amendments won in 2000 which granted increased rights to women concerning divorce, and increased the legal marriage age from 16 to 18. However, conflicts regarding Family Law are far from over. The twin pressure from religious and state gender-based discrimination must be tackled in a way that connects women’s personal affairs in the private space to her ambitions in the public space. So long as Family Law continues to embody inequality, be it through the concept of absolute guardianship (Qawama) of men over women, the unequal sharing of inheritance, or the lack of women’s representation in the courts, then society will continue to reproduce prevailing discriminatory social concepts.
In conclusion, the authors find that public space in Egypt is becoming a crucial area for political power and expression, and that both the suspended Constitution and the long-established Family Law work to prohibit and undermine women’s ability to participate safely and effectively. Laws in place to protect women from harassment and sexual abuse are loose and rarely enforced or investigated. Thus, women’s presence in the public space is a structural issue that affects all institutions, both government and civil society, and they should be included in discussion dealing with women’s issues. It is asserted that forms of political participation should be diversified and widened in order to guarantee the ability of women to criticise the realities of their lives, and to express their visions for society.