A ricocheting cry let out by the women of Egypt: We will not go back.
It is not true that the accomplishments made by women on the social and political fronts before the 25th January Revolution were a gift from the president or the president's wife. What women have achieved thus far is the result of the Egyptian women's struggle.
Ever since the moment Malak Hefny Nassef, who wrote under the pen name “Researcher of the Desert”, called for women's liberation and gender equality, presenting the Egyptian Parliament in 1910 with a list of demands to improve the status of women;
To the time when Hoda Shaarawi led the first women's protest against British occupation in 1919, alongside her struggle against the niqab (women’s veil);
And the time when Munira Thabet raised her voice, as the first female voice to criticize the 1923 constitution, calling for the right of women to practice their political rights and obligations;
And from the time when Doria Shafiq led 1500 women in a feminist demonstration that stormed the Parliament in 1951 to bring attention to the demands of Egyptian women, then she went on hunger strike for 17 days in 1954 to protest against the absence of women from the Constitutional Assembly that was formed to write the new constitution;
Leading to the time when Aziza Hussein participated as the first Arab woman in drafting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979;
And the time when Shahenda Maklad led the Egyptian peasant uprising against feudalism in 1966, along with her life partner, the martyr Salah Hussein; and later led a feminist march to Tahrir Square, as part of the Return of Honor protests, on 23 December 2011, then another peaceful march heading to the Ittihadeya Presidential Palace on 6 December 2012 in an attempt to stop the bloodshed and prevent a civil war from breaking out . . .
Aziza Hussein and Shahenda Maklad are still fighting, along with millions of Egyptian women of all ages and social backgrounds, for a free democratic society that delivers social justice.
Is it possible to discuss the issue of democratic change in Egypt at the very moment when democracy is being decimated, and one voice monopolizes the political scene?
The Dialogue Forum on 'Women and Democratic Changes in Egypt' — organized by the Center for Democracy and Social Peace Studies (CDSPS) at the Alexandria Library, in collaboration with the Egyptian Feminist Union, and the 1000 Women Across the Globe Network — came in the midst of a critical juncture for Egyptian women and the Egyptian people as a whole. It took place just two days after the Constitutional Declaration, which incensed wide strata of the Egyptian population, at the heart of which were women — posing a serious question about the reality of the democratic change in Egypt after the January 25 revolution.
The Dialogue Forum focused on three main issues. The first was 'Women's Quest for Safety and Security: On Rights and Freedoms'. The discussions sought to pinpoint and break down the challenges facing women and to come up with ways to confront these challanges. Particular focus was given on laws and legislations, civil society initiatives, and the treatment received by women in police stations, as well as ways to bolster social resposibility in support of women's rights.
The second issue was 'Gender Equality in the Constitution and Legislation'. Here, the impact of the constitution on women's rights was discussed: Means to enhance gender equality in terms of rights and obligations, the obstacles that stand in the way of effective enforcement of the law; as well as the changes needed in the constitution, in the wording of laws, and in enforcement mechanisms.
The third issue—'Women's Voices: Forums and Platforms'—addressed ways to overcome the challenges that limit women's participation in public work, and mechanisms to promote the effective representation of women in official decision-making. It also addressed the image of woman in the media and how this influences the status she deserves as an integral partner in the building of society.
The participants listened to brief speeches made by women, presenting local, Arab, and international experiences, which enriched the dialogue about the issues raised. The focal points of the forum were then discussed in small groups: 14 round tables, each composed of 10 participants from a variety of political backgrounds. The discussions were moderated by Egyptian women who were elected by vote before the first session. One point is worth noting; There was a vivid and active involvement of young women and men in the discussions.
The participants in the forum were in agreement about the importance of international human rights treaties, in particular those addressing the rights of women and children; and the importance of protecting the rights and freedom of women. In parallel they demanded the state's commitment to enforce the international agreements it has signed; and of exchange inspiration and expertise from successful initiatives—whether local, Arab, or international—in the protection of women's rights and freedom.
The role of the police in protecting women's rights was discussed at length, in addition to the role of man as woman's partner in bringing about change. The significance of quotas was also discussed, in providing women with opportunities to play a role in decision-making on all political levels. There was also discussion about the danger of religious misinterpretations used by some to belittle the value of woman and her role in society; and the significance of visual and print media in explaining women's issues. The discussions were reflected in recommendations made to train police officers, appoint female officers in police stations, and the necessity of involving men in a dialogue for achieving gender equality at laws and legislations, because the women's issues are not hers alone—they are issues of society as a whole.
Other recommendations included the importance of sticking to quotas, as temporary affirmative action in favor of women, and including them in the constitution and in the formation of political parties, as well as local council and parliamentary elections, while taking into account geographical representation for women. Equally important is to promote positive role models of women's achievements in all fields of knowledge.
When the Dialogue Forum emphasized the necessity of reforming the Constitutional Assembly in order for a broad spectrum of women to be represented; this was a blatant refusal of a single political force monopolizing the writing of the constitution. It was a call for pluralism to be respected, and a desire for the constitution to include articles that guarantee gender equality and set down active mechanisms to oversee the enforcement of the law, and to ensure that the constitution is completely devoid of any discrimination against women in all laws and legislations.
Women of Egypt:
The Egyptian women will not go back, just as the Arab women will not go back.
Yes, the voice of women is revolution, and society's silence on fair treatment for women is shameful.