Egyptian Women…High Ambitions and Higher Challenges!

An exception to most other ancient societies, Egyptian women achieved parity with Egyptian men. They enjoyed the same legal and economic rights, at least in theory, and this concept can be found in Egyptian art and contemporary manuscripts. The disparities between people's legal rights were based on differences in social class and not on gender. The current status of Egyptian woman does not meet the expectations of young women even after the two revolutions in 2011 and 2013. The conditions of women are not in their best given their aspirations. For example, women illiteracy is still 32.5%; in addition, women’s public and political participation is still constrained with inherited values and traditions. This situation had not changed over the past three years; it is still persistent. Women are not genuinely or adequately integrated in the democratic reform process. True, Egyptian woman assumed the position of a minister in 1962. True, each cabinet , ever since, has had a female minister. However, the number does not exceed three or four each time. The incumbent cabinet has 4 female ministers out of a total of 33, i.e. 12%. According to Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics(CAPMAS), the percent of women who assume the office of a minister is about 18.2%;  and those who assume senior management positions in the state administrative body is about 15%.

Egypt ranked first with respect to the decline of women’s political status. It ranked 126 in 2012 according to gender gap index issued by World Economic Forum (WEF). Egypt ranked last with respect to women assuming the office of governor ( 0). As for availability of economic opportunities, Egypt ranked 80 out of 128 countries, according to Economist’s report on economic opportunities for woman. According to gap index, Egypt ranked 124 out of 132 in terms of economic opportunities and participation. Female unemployment is four folds that of male unemployment. Egypt ranks 99 out of 133 in terms of women’s access to senior administrative positions according to same index. 

Egyptian arena currently witnesses a strong conflict between National Council for Women and Council of State due to the latter’s rejection to accept women as judges though provided for in the new constitution, though Egyptian woman has assumed the position of judge since 2005 when 32 women joined the judiciary. Counsellor Tahany El-Gebaly has assumed the office of judge at Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest judicial body in Egypt. Nevertheless, the Council of State does not accept women on board.      

Women currently face tremendous challenges to maintain their rights prior to the revolution, and acquire equal rights for participation in same revolution. These challenges impede integration in public life. This gave rise to two programmes, namely, ‘ Gender Participation in Public Life’ and ‘Springboard’ under the umbrella of ‘ Active Citizens’ programme, organized by the British Council in collaboration with several women’s associations, to strengthen gender participation in public life; create women empowerment mechanisms to secure that their voice shall reach decision-making centres and ensure access to positions therein. It is likely that beneficiaries of these programmes shall become MPs, members in local councils, and possibly ministers within the forthcoming years.  

From Upper Egypt to Drafting of Constitution

The British Council extended its services to Upper Egypt. ‘Springboard’ programme has provided its services to women of Aswan and Nubia, a segment deprived of this type of services that promotes participation in public life. This is attributed to the fact that development programmes are heedless of these regions. Egypt has 44 Nubian villages served by 40 NGOs, all are located in Cairo and Alexandria. These NGOs provide their services through their branches in rural areas. There are 5 Nubian clubs in Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, Suez, and Abo Sombul. Activities hardly reach Nubian villages, a matter that has a negative impact on women. Furthermore, customs and traditions act as a barrier before benefit from women empowerment activities provided through NGOs in other regions in Egypt. As a result, women’s public participation is limited whereas their ambitions have no ceiling.

Naglaa Abouelmagd:  "Egyptian women need help to discover themselves and push towards leadership. There has never been a woman president, prime minister, or governor. I think if we expand this programme we might find women in these positions in the future.

Because nobody has discovered the women there and this programme discovers the self. I felt that if these women attended this course they would express themselves a lot better. And after the programme we saw that in each of them. (Springboard participant and the leading representative of the 'Committee for follow-up of Nubian File' who represents the Nubian community in Egypt's constitution. Nasr ElNuba village, Nubia, Aswan)

From marginalized girls to football coaches 

Through its activities, the British Council provided opportunity to girls to exercise their right to sports, especially in marginalized areas and governorates. Premier Skills Programme targeted girls who are interested in football and desire to be trained to become accredited football coaches. The British Council availed training at the hands of Premier League coaches. The girls who were unemployed and had no chance to participate in public life turned into professional coaches in famous sporting clubs. For the female coaches, accredited certificates and working in famous sporting clubs was not adequate, they felt they had a role to undertake towards the society. They have to provide the opportunity for girls in underprivileged areas to play football. Through a modest grant, Ms. Fayza Heider & Pasant Tarek managed to train female students of public preparatory schools in Helwan and its suburbs, and to establish football teams at these schools. She even persuaded their families of the importance of sports; the families, by turn, became keen to ensure their daughters’ participation in these teams given they have no chance to subscribe in sporting clubs.

Active female citizens with innovative ideas

The British Council worked for many years to support and empower women in partnership with community based partners ; we are implementing  ‘ Women Participating in Public Life’ which one of its’ main strands is the ‘ Active Citizens’ programme. The British Council works with women in different governorates nationwide in twelve different governorates that include geographic areas such as governorates in Upper Egypt till Aswan, North Coast, the Delta, the Red Sea and in various areas in the capital and its suburbs. We are seeking to provide services within the widest geographical area of marginalized segments. The British Council through its partners held several training programmes and workshops on women empowerment; social interaction mechanisms; communication and negotiation skills; problem detection and problem-solving mechanisms; creation and implementation of local initiatives. Participants were innovative in their ideas, where most were university students.

Heba (20 years)- Menia:

‘ I used to be timid. Interaction with fellow trainees encouraged me to undertake a role in explanation and awareness. The presence of trainers during the visits boosted my self-confidence. They helped me realize my ability to play a role in raising awareness of  female villagers in terms of the importance of political upbringing and participation. I am no more passive. I got rid of excessive shyness and fear of dealing with others’.

Manar Mohamed (22)- Mansoura:

After participation in ‘ Active Citizens’ training, she implemented an addiction-free initiative at Ezbet Arab Al-Walda in Helwan that aims to train young people to conduct awareness sessions on addiction and related risks. ‘Before attending Active Citizens I was shy and more of an introvert person, I didn't have many contacts, but now my network is growing larger, now I'm persistent and determined, I go after what I want no matter  the amount of hardships I find’

Souad Hassan Fahmy (24)

Graduate of Faculty of Science, and a member of ‘ Creation of Creative Generations’ Initiative: It is an initiative that aims to fight illiteracy among primary school pupils; promote their skills; train on community participation; and motivate to pursue their education. Souad commented on how ‘Active Citizens’ affected her participation in the initiative as follows: ‘ I learned how to develop projects, conduct feasibility studies, prepare budget, work and produce under pressure, and how to present innovative community initiatives to resolve the problems of the area where I live’. 

Shaima’a Saad El-din Kamal (21)

Graduate of Faculty of Arts, and member of ‘ Theatre of the Oppressed’ initiative: It is an initiative that aims to use art to express gender problem through theatre acting. Shaima’a states: ‘ Through ‘Active Citizens’, I started to accept the opinions of others; and  to consider the benefit of the whole    community , not only mine. I personally benefited from the training in terms of conducting effective and constructive interviews. I also benefited at the professional level. ‘ Theatre of the Oppressed’ aims to involve a group of women in issues of violence against women at work, in the street and the household so as to consider relevant solutions. I am pleased to participate in this initiative as I am now able to freely and fearlessly express my opinion. The training motivated me to participate in another community initiative.