Women have been an important part of the 2016 Egyptian parliament. With their number reaching 90, some women’s rights activists have considered it to be a historic achievement since they got the right to run for elections in 1956.
Women have always fought battles in parliament, and some of which have failed. Perhaps the most famous of these has been the one that Moufida Abdel Rahman fought in the 1960s. She sought to amend the law in order to allow the family of a deceased to inherit their salary rather than it being taken by the state. The MP argued for the necessity to distribute the salary among family members which led to a long debate, but she eventually failed to amend the law.
Today women MPs are engaged in many battles not to legislate but to resolve major problems that they suffer from in parliament, such as not being given a space to speak during sessions, and not having any leadership roles in parliamentary committees or the lack of representation in Arab and international parliaments.
A number of MPs had met with the speaker of parliament dr. Ali Abdel Al before the end of the first normal session in order to discuss some of the major problems they are facing that are mentioned above.
A crisis of positions
The lack of leadership roles for women in parliament is considered one of the most important, especially that there are 25 committees but none of them are led by women except May Al Botran who succeeded in heading the communication and information technology committee with the beginning of the second normal parliamentary session.
Dr. Amina Nassir, member of the education committee said that “our culture in Egypt is still dominated by men” adding that this is a problem that is common in most state institutions, and until now no woman has ever been governor or president of a university.
Nassir told Raseef22 that “despite the talk about gender equality, patriarchal culture is spread in our society everywhere. The role of women is decreasing and this is a reality that no one can deny.”
The number of women in the Egyptian parliament is 90, but they are still facing many challenges
“One woman for every three men in parliament, where is the justice in that?”
Nassir explained how she presented herself to lead the education committee during the first session of parliament and gave several statements with a clear program to reform the educational sector as someone who has been in the field for 40 years, but then she was surprised during the voting that almost everyone voted for a male colleague: “I accepted the result and I am working on implementing the plan I suggested in order to reform education in the country.”
Naemat Qamareddin on the other hand, tells us of a situation she faced in parliament while trying to run for the post of secretary of the housing committee: “I was hoping to get the post, but then I retracted my nomination after a number of MPs asked me to do so, in order not to dilute the vote for a particular male nominee.”
Not allowed to speak
Qamareddin told us how she asked for a turn to speak during the crisis between the journalists and the Ministry of Interior but the speaker of parliament gave her colleagues the space to speak but not her: “I was not able to read the statement with which I was trying to help resolve the crisis at the time.”
Dr. Mona Jaballah, member of the Free Egtyptians party, said that women are oppressed inside the parliament, adding that “there was no chance to speak in parliament.” She explained that women face many problems especially that they represent small districts that have many complaints but they are unable to speak out or solve them.
Representing Egypt abroad
Another crisis is the representation of Egypt in international and Arab parliaments which MP Ghada Ajami, member of the foreign affairs committee mentions, explaining that there are many things she wished would happen in the parliament especially when it comes to women but none have been addressed or resolved for various reasons.
She explains that women should have a leading role considering that their representation in Arab parliaments is very small: “There is one woman for every three men in parliament, where is the justice in that? There should be equal representation.”
These accusations were not well received by the office of the speaker of parliament. Suleiman Wehdan, speaking on that behalf responded to the accusations saying that the fact there are 90 women in parliament should be a great victory for women in Egypt. He added that whoever wants to speak can ask the speaker of parliament who then decides. He also pointed out that many male MPs were also not allowed to speak because of lack of time, or because the speaker of parliament decided against it.
Wehdan explains that when it comes to posts, this is up to the MPs especially for choosing heads of committees which follows a voting mechanism inside every committee. As for the international representation, he said that there is a female representation and these choices are up to Dr. Ali Abdel Al, the speaker of parliament.
All this leads us to wonder about the opportunities that women can get in an environment dominated by men who still have a very patriarchal attitude towards politics.