CAIRO: The results of the first round of parliamentary elections indicate that female representation will be minimal, if not nonexistent – a phenomenon experts and candidates attribute to cultural barriers.
Not a single woman earned a seat in parliament in the first round, nor did any female candidates contest the run-offs.
“It’s shocking that even after the revolution, this stereotype of women never changed. The domination of radical religious beliefs is widespread,” activist Dalia Ziada, who was eyeing a seat on Al-Adl Party’s list, told Daily News Egypt.
“Women now are being marginalized which raises a red flag. It’s evident; which begs the question of why they canceled the women’s quota?” Ziada said.
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, a 64-seat quota was allocated for women. This step came after only four women were elected in the 2005 parliament.
However, the ruling military council which assumed power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, canceled the quota for this round, instead mandating one woman to be listed in the party list.
UN Women Country Coordinator Maya Morsy told DNE that according to UN Women estimations, countries with “first past the post” electoral systems without any type of quota arrangements will not reach the 40-percent threshold of women in public office until near to the end of this century.
“Many factors hinder women’s political participation, such as political parties being slow to respond to women’s interest, under-investment in women’s campaigns and cultural barriers,” she said.
Fatma Emam, head of the fields research unit at Nazra for Feminist Studies, argues that signs indicating women’s absence in the upcoming parliament have been very clear.
“It’s not only culture or traditions, but women are misrepresented in the political arena as well … they barely take any actions that could empower them,” said Emam.
Islamists and women’s rights
The lead by the Freedom and Justice and Salafi Al-Nour parties is also creating anxiety and raising concerns with regards to women’s rights.
“If you listened to [presidential candidate] Hazem Abou Ismail’s statements you would know, they already reject our rights, after so many years of suffering, women were able to get some rights but they reject it,” said Ziada.
Madiha El-Safty, one of the high board members of the Arab Alliance for Women, suggests the presence of a strong political wing that could neutralize the effect of radicalism and explain the importance of women in Islam.
“The notable rise in the Islamic tide explains the results so far, these groups are so rigid to the point of hostility towards women,” she added.
Emam also believes that the solution is the rise of a tide that challenges the conservative mentality and explains women’s position in Islam.
“There should come those who explain what Islam is and help people differentiate between the human-made Islam and the one that is truly sent by God,” she said.
FJP female candidates speak out
On the other hand, Manal Aboul Hassan, an FJP candidate, denied that Islamist parties will work to hinder women’s rights.
“These are all rumors that are spreading to distort Islamists’ image to the western governments, but no one will harm women’s rights,” she said.
She also blamed state-owned media under the ousted regime for fear-mongering and creating propaganda that would scare feminists when it comes to female representation in parliament.
“Women’s absence in parliament does not mean that legislations will be issued against them, there are other forms of decision-making that females could be part of,” she added.
Meanwhile, Azza El-Garh, an FJP candidate in Giza argues that the female candidates are the ones to take the majority of the blame for their minimal representation.
“Women do not actively participate in bolstering the society, people do not see them except during the elections and then they disappear. Where do they go?” El-Garh told DNE.
El-Garh said that imposing a women’s quote “is not the best option.”
“Women cannot impose themselves on the society … They should work hard through civil society, municipalities and other means to reach parliament. They need a push within the society more than in the political arena,” she explained.
Ziada suggested that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) appoint women in parliament, otherwise “it would take us 20 years back.”
She added that she, along with some women’s rights groups, are working on a bill of rights to pressure the government to guarantee minimum rights for women including the controversial family law which ultra conservatives groups are debating canceling.
According to UN’s Morsy, political accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, but it cannot stop there.
“What is required are gender-sensitive governance reforms that will make all elected officials more effective at promoting gender equality in public policy and ensuring their implementation,” she said.
Maya added that if the three election rounds end with no women in parliament, affirmative action is recommended to be applied to ensure the appointment of women in the 10 reserved seats to be appointed later.
“A parliament which does not reflect all the members of the society will not be able to deliver equally to all citizens of Egypt, men and women,” Morsy said.
“Women in Egypt have to continue their path in the protection of all their gains and their equal citizenship,” she added.
“We do not want to exaggerate the situation now, the parliamentary elections are not over yet … Some parties like the FJP nominated female candidates on top of their lists in other governorates, so the situation might twist at the end. Let’s not draw conclusions now,” the FJP’s Aboul Hassan said.