September 25 2013
Making up for lost ground
Women intend to play an effective role in amending the upcoming constitution
By Reem Leila
Al-Tellawi heads the NCW roundtable
The National Council for Women (NCW), headed by Mervat Al-Tellawi, joined forces with a number of non-governmental organisations to submit proposals to the 50-member committee assigned with amending the 2012 constitution. The proposals include criminalising all violence against women and ending gender-based discrimination.
On 18 September the 50-member committee accepted the suggestion submitted by the NCW that Article 11 which stipulates that “the state is obliged to guarantee full equality between men and women in all fields and fair representation of women in elected bodies” be expanded to include a commitment to “protecting women from all kinds of violence” ensuring women are able to exercise all their rights as citizens without discrimination.
Women, stresses Al-Tellawi, comprise more than 50 per cent of society. “As mothers, wives and daughters they have the right to view and review the constitution in order to safeguard society’s rights as a whole.”
NCW members are currently taking part in meetings with hundreds of activists and representatives of community groups. Council members are also meeting with representatives of civil associations, political parties, trade unions, universities, rural workers and state institution employees. “The council is canvassing opinion on the constitution as a whole, not just on articles concerning women and children,” says Al-Tellawi.
Sekina Fouad, veteran journalist and presidential adviser on women and family affairs, says that while the number of seats occupied by women on the 50-member committee is insufficient, the five women Azza Al-Ashmawi from the National Council of Childhood and Motherhood, Mervat Al-Tellawi, head of the NCW, Mona Zulfaqqar from the National Council for Human Rights, Abla Mohieddin from the Industrial Chambers Committee and Hoda Al-Sadda, professor of English literature, feminist writer and activist who are members are all “top notch”.
Data from several questionnaires distributed among representative cross section of citizens by the NCW was forwarded to the Constitutional Committee on 22 September. “The council has also launched a website and a hotline to receive suggestions on the new constitution,” says Al-Tellawi.
On 23 September members of NCW joined with representatives from women’s NGOs in a meeting with the 50-member committee to submit detained suggestions for amendments to several articles.
Article 1 of the constitution states that the Arab Republic of Egypt is a socialist democratic state and it is united and cannot be divided and that the Egyptian people are part of the Arab and Islamic Nations. The NCW has suggested that the article should also include a reference to Egypt “being proud of its African and Asian affiliation”.
The council also suggested that articles 2 and 3 be merged. Article 2 stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the main source of legislation is the principles of Islamic Jurisprudence while Article 3 stipulates that the canonical prescriptions of Egyptian Christians and Jews should govern matters of personal status, religious practice and the selection of their spiritual leaders.
“Merging them in only one article is better because they relate,” says Al-Tellawi.
Article 9 of the draft constitution stipulates that “the state shall ensure the safety, security and equal opportunities of all citizens without discrimination.” The NCW has suggested that “shall ensure” be replaced by “is committed”.
While Article 10 of the suspended constitution guaranteed certain social rights for women it failed to address the problem of violence against them. Article 10 stated that “the state shall ensure free maternal and child health services and facilitate the reconciliation between the duties of a woman towards her family and her work. The state shall provide special care and protection to female breadwinners, divorced women and widows.” The NCW proposes the addition of a clause stating “the state is committed to preventing all forms of violence against women, whether domestic or public.”
Article 38 of the chapter on Rights, Freedom and Public Duties stipulates that “all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination based on sex, religion, language, creed, origin or any other reason.” The NCW believes a clause should be explicitly criminalising all forms of discrimination.
Paragraph 3 of Article 39 stipulates “the person arrested or detained has the right of appeal to the courts against the measure of arrest. If a decision is not provided within a week, release becomes imperative.” The NCW suggests the addition of the phrase “according to the law” so the article reads as follows: “The person arrested or detained has the right of appeal to the courts against the measure of arrest according to the law. If a decision is not provided within a week, release becomes imperative.”
The first paragraph of Article 57 states that “professional syndicates are regulated by law and managed on a democratic basis, the accountability of their members subject to professional codes of ethics. One trade union is allowed per profession.” The NCW is pushing for the phrase “professional codes of ethics” to be replaced by “professional codes”.
The first two paragraphs of Article 60 stipulate “every child, from the moment of birth, has the right to a proper name, family care, basic nutrition, shelter, health services and religious, emotional and cognitive development. The state shall care for and protect the child in the case of the loss of family. The state also safeguards the rights of disabled children and their rehabilitation and integration into society.” The NCW wants the article to read: “Every child, from the moment of birth, has the right to a proper name, family care, basic nutrition, shelter, health services and religious, emotional cognitive and educational development. The state shall care for and protect the child in the case of the loss of family. The state is committed to safeguarding the rights of disabled children, orphans and homeless children and their rehabilitation and integration into society.”
Article 64 of the draft constitution stipulates: “Citizens’ participation in public life is a national duty. Every citizen shall have the right to vote, stand in elections and express opinions in referendums according to the provisions of the law. The state is responsible for the inclusion of the name of every citizen who is qualified to vote in the voters database without waiting for an application. The state shall ensure the fairness, validity, impartiality and integrity of referendums and elections. Interference in anything of the above is a crime punishable by law.”
NCW believes it should read: “Citizens’ participation in public life is a right and national duty. Every citizen shall have the right to vote, stand in elections and express opinions in referendums according to the provisions of the law. It is permissible to be exempted from practicing this right in cases defined by the provisions of the law… ”
Article 138 of the draft constitution stipulates that the prime minister or any presidential candidate must be an Egyptian citizen born to Egyptian parents, must have possessed no other citizenship, must have civil and political rights, cannot be married to a non-Egyptian, and at the time of nomination cannot be younger than 30 years. The NCW has suggested that a clause be added requiring that the children of candidates also possess only Egyptian nationality. “Given what happened under the previous regime and under the rule of former president Mohamed Morsi this procedure should be taken as a precautionary measure,” says Al-Tellawi.
The NCW is also seeking to extend Article 49 which currently reads: “Freedom of creativity in its various forms is the right of every citizen. The state shall advance science, literature and the arts, care for creators and inventors, protect their creations and innovations, and work to apply them for the benefit of society. The state shall take the necessary measures to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage and promote cultural services.” It wants the amended article to include researchers alongside creators and inventors and to make explicit reference to the protection of research.
According to a recent press release the Ministry of Scientific Research has failed to spend 82 per cent of its annual budget. Accordingly, the budget will be cut as a result, which will definitely affect staff at government research institutions. After the 25 January Revolution Egypt’s annual budget for research has risen by more than one third to become LE1.3 billion. “Unfortunately, the budget will be reduced next year, after the majority of this year’s was returned unspent. Therefore we need to find useful means to spend the budget allocated for scientific research,” said Al-Tellawi.
Article 77 stipulates: “The People’s Assembly shall have at least 450 members, elected by direct, secret public ballot. A candidate for parliamentary elections must be an Egyptian citizen, enjoying civil and political rights, holder of a certificate of basic education, and 25-years-old or older at the time of candidacy. Other requirements of candidacy, provisions for election, the fair division of constituencies, shall be defined by law.”
NCW members have joined with women activists to suggest the article be amended to the following: “The People’s Assembly shall have at least 450 members, elected by direct, secret public ballot, only two thirds of which should comprise one sex…”
Nehad Abul-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, points out that Egypt has slipped in international tables of female participation in the decision-making process. “Egypt ranked 139 out of 142 among 189 countries through women’s representation which is two per cent. This led women to participate strongly in the squares of the revolution demanding the change and refusing the exclusion,” said Abul-Qomsan.
Female representation in parliament has only grown in Egypt when either a quota system or the proportional list system was in place, as in 1979, 1984 and 2010. Women continue to suffer from cultural, social and political discrimination even though they comprise a potentially influential voting bloc.
The debate on any women’s right in general, and political rights in particular, still disturbs many people. Women’s issues are generally ignored except in the run-up to elections, when politicians will pay lip service in an attempt to win votes. In the 2012 parliament there were just eight female members out of 500.
Abul-Qomsan believes that if the coming elections adopt the list form “then one third of the list should be allocated to female nominees and a third of women candidates placed high on the lists”.
Al-Tellawi stresses that acknowledging and integrating political, social and economic issues that impact on women is necessary in the transitional period if any advances are to be made. “Women’s issues should not be discussed in isolation from wider societal interactions. It is also essential to listen to their demands as well as hold those who committed crimes against them accountable,” she says.