UN Women’s first report notes progress and remaining inequalities for Egyptian women

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CAIRO: In its first global report, UN Women, established last year to accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment, highlighted vast improvements women in Egypt and across the region have made in recent decades, but noted the significant work that lies ahead.

According to the report released Wednesday titled “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice,” Egypt led the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in certain categories, but fell behind in many others.

Egypt, for example, is one of only three countries in the 17-nation MENA region to introduce legal reforms that protect women from domestic violence and to offer them greater rights to transmit citizenship to children, the report found.

However, the report also noted that 33 percent of Egyptian women have experienced psychical violence in their lifetime, compared to just 21 percent in Jordan and 6 percent in Morocco.

The report, which focused on justice as being “central to the effort to help women become equal partners in decision-making and development,” according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, also showcased Egyptian women’s growing role in politics and their leading position in the region.

Egypt, the statistics showed, was the third MENA country to give women the right to vote (1956) and the first to have a woman elected to parliament (1957).

As of 2010, the report continued, Egyptian women composed nine percent of the country’s ministers. While this placed Egypt fifth in the region for level of female ministerial representation, it still fell short of the 17 percent global average.

Likewise, Egypt ranked fifth in the region for its level of women parliamentarians. The 13 percent representation level, however, also trailed the global average of 19 percent.

The UN report went on to highlight the status of women’s economic rights and showed that Egyptian women trail their global counterparts.

According to the report, women in Egypt, like in 15 other MENA countries, are not allowed to work in all industries nor allowed to work the same night hours like men.

Women in all MENA countries, the report added, are offered paid or unpaid maternity leave, with Egyptian women enjoying 90 days of leave. However, despite being third in the region, behind only Morocco (98 days) and Algeria (98 days), Egypt still trails the global average of 110 days.

As for their participation in the country’s labor force, Egyptian women tied for 11 out of 17 MENA countries, with a 22 percent participation rate as of 2009. The global rate, the report stated, was 53 percent for that year.

Egyptian women were also the fourth most unemployed group of women in the region between 2000 and 2008, the report continued. At 19 percent unemployment for Egyptian women, only Syrian women (21 percent), Palestinian women and Jordanian women (24 percent) suffered higher rates. Globally, the unemployment rate for women during that period was 7 percent.

The report also touched on the status of women’s reproductive and health rights, and showed that Egyptian women were the third least likely group of MENA women to receive skilled medical assistance during child delivery between 2000 and 2008.

However, while being one of the worst in the region, the 79 percent of Egyptians that experienced live births attended by trained health professionals still exceeded the global average of 67 percent.

Similarly, Egypt suffered the fourth worst rate in MENA for maternal mortality, but still managed to exceed the global average. According to the report, 82 Egyptian women per 100,000 died during childbirth in 2008. While 120 Algerians, 110 Moroccans, and 210 Yemenis per 100,000 suffered similar fates, the global average was 264.

The report also noted that 58 percent Egyptian women used contraceptives, the highest rate in MENA, and higher than the global average of 56 percent.

On the subject of violence against women, the report demonstrated that while Egypt was one of only three MENA countries to enact legislation protecting women against domestic violence, the country still lacks a general sexual harassment law.

In addition to the 33 percent of Egyptian women that reported incidents of physical violence from 2000 to 2010, 7 percent of the women reported sexual violence from an intimate partner.

In regards to the issue of genital mutilation, Egypt was the only MENA country to report statistics in the UN report (91 percent).

Overall, Egypt’s performance over the years has reflected the global trend highlighted in the report by Michelle Bachelet, undersecretary general and executive director for UN Women, who praised the “remarkable advances that have been made over the past century in the quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” but warned that despite widespread guarantees of equality, the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach.

According to Bachelet, the world has “witnessed a transformation in women’s legal rights, which means that today, 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, 115 guarantee equal property rights and women’s voice in decision-making is stronger than ever before. Today, 28 countries have reached or surpassed the 30 percent mark for women’s representation in parliament, putting women in the driving seat to forge further change.”


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