CAIRO: Very few female candidates ran in the nation’s parliamentary elections and even fewer have been elected: 10 took the oath last Monday.
Eight women elected and two appointed women make up less than two percent of the 508 seats in the powerful lower house of parliament. Considering the proportion of women who applied, the chances weren’t big. In the capital for example, only 80 women ran compared to 1,010 men.
While each party was required to have at least one female candidate on their ballot, almost all parties, including the more liberal ones, such as the Egyptian Social Democratic, placed female candidates on the lower half of their list, weakening their chance of success. While participation from the women of the Muslim Brotherhood was also low, the Freedom and Justice Party had more female candidates higher on their lists than many of the less conservative parties.
Project coordinator of the Nazra Center’s women political participation academy, Yahia Zaied, accredits this fact to the FJP’s long establishment as a party. “They already have their hierarchy prepared. These new parties are only six months old. They didn’t have much time to prepare women leaders and good lists.
“This doesn’t give them [liberal parties] an excuse. They cannot say they are progressive because they did not include women as strong candidates. … Many parties put one woman anywhere in order to legitimize the list,” he said.
Echoing the concern that parties were playing politics early on was Omaima Kamel, one of the newly elected parliament members under the Freedom and Justice Party. “Women are put to fulfill criteria on the list,” she said, explaining that parties were worried women won’t have a positive impact on the lists in terms of attracting voters.
Kamel continued that while few women succeeded in the race, it has largely to do with the fact that there were better male contenders. “Many of the men had justification to be there. Thirty percent of the women who ran had some political experience and good potential. The rest, the majority, are not as qualified.”
Director for the Cairo Center for the Culture of Democracy, Abdel Moneim Al-Mashat, disagreed. He said the reason not many women were elected into the parliament was not political, but cultural.
“Egyptians have never been trained to be democratic and they don’t know that democracy means free choice, equal representation and freedom of expression without looking into gender, religion, class and so on,” he said.
Unsuccessful parliamentary hopeful Magy Mahrous was concerned that not having enough women in parliament could negatively affect the new government’s emphasis on equality rights. “We cannot afford not to have women in parliament. When 50 women get together, they do not talk about men’s rights. Imagine 500 men in parliament.”
Many other governmental positions are yet to be decided. More female politicians could still find a place in the newly formed government through appointment. Two of the female candidates now in parliament were appointed by the ruling military council.
Jerry Leach, professor and director of the American Studies Center of the American University Cairo, said, “They may very well say ‘now that we didn’t get what we thought we deserved — what we had earned in the election process — we should have our fair share of the ministerial posts.’ So it’s possible that it might turn into more female cabinet of ministers than what might otherwise have been the case. It depends on how strongly the case is made and who’s listening.”
Political Science experts agree the newly elected parliament is merely a transitional body and while it might not fully represent all Egyptian citizens, it is just one step in the long process of the revolution. In the future, more women can be encouraged to run for election.
AUC assistant professor of political economy Samer Soliman insists, “Women’s participation will increase once the political sphere is more mature.”
Prominent political activist and feminist Nawal El-Saadawi said underrepresentation of women in the parliament reinforces the fact that the revolution process is far from over. “It cannot happen suddenly like that. We need a political revolution, an economic revolution, a cultural revolution. The revolution does not end with removing the head of the regime. The body still remains … You cannot liberate women in a country that is not liberated. Women are half of the society. The liberation of women goes hand in hand with the liberation of the society.”