CAIRO: “Social struggle and democratic transitions are unique opportunities to construct broken bones in society, shape institutions and think strategically,” said Michelle Bachelet, under secretary general and executive director of UN Women and former president of Chile.
“Society improves when women are active participants,” she added.
Bachelet was the keynote speaker at a roundtable discussion titled “Pathways for Women in Democratic Transitions-International Experiences and Lessons Learned,” held on Thursday.
The event brought together international civil society members, politicians and women’s rights activists to discuss various pathways for women in countries’ democratic transitions to ensure good governance, gender equality and social justice.
“[This event] sends a message of solidarity, we are here today to share experiences, lessons learned and failures,” said Maya Mors, country coordinator for UN Women, organizer of the event in cooperation with the Egyptian government and in partnership with the UNDP, IPU, the Pathways to Women’s Empowerment Egypt Hub, the Swedish Institutes Alexandria, IDEA, UNIC and i-KNOW politics.
Bachelet said that it is important to put women in leadership positions. “If I wasn’t minister of defense, I wouldn’t have become president.”
She also noted that too often in reform process, it is said that it is too early to raise the issue of women’s empowerment. “Gender equality is not a luxury, it is an imperative, and as Martin Luther King said ‘It is always the right time to do the right thing’.”
Egypt’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, who was also speaking at the event, said that now is the time to engage in high level decision-making and that Egypt will benefit from fair, equal, inclusive representation.
She also commented on the controversial female quota in parliament. “Looking at the experience of others, out of all 194 UN member states, only 28 countries have full participation of women in decision-making and it all happened through a quota system.”
Furthermore, Aboul Naga noted that “rights are grasped, no one will present it to us on a gold platter, we have to fight […] now we have the opportunity.”
In addition, she pointed out that she strongly objected and resented that fact that she is the only female minister in the new Cabinet; however Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said it is an unacceptable situation that was not intended and assured her that it will be rectified soon.
“Social justice and equality must shape Egypt’s transition to democracy […] to accomplish that we must plan, believe, act and dream,” said Aboul Naga.
UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt, James Rawley, gave five tips to help translate what the January 25 Revolution called for into tangible long-term gains.
He said that ensuring women’s full rights and their participation is essential. He added that democracy and development are not achieved without systematically involving women and having gender equality in political and social decision-making. Moreover, citizenship must be put in practice, he said, also calling for fair representation in transitional bodies. Finally, he said for development to occur, the wellbeing of women must be addressed.
Moreover, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Anders B. Johnsson, said, “Without women’s participation, the democracy Egyptians fought so hard for will be jeopardized.”
He added that women’s participation should be a priority in this transitional period.
The roundtable is working on recommendations for five groups, government, women’s movements, young emerging women’s rights activists, political parties and research and academia.