Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 February - 1 March 2006
Issue No. 783
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


Focus on women

MRS SUZANNE Mubarak, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), chaired the council's 19th meeting debating the fourth annual conference to be held in March. The conference will focus on the economic empowerment of women to reduce poverty. Mrs Mubarak stressed emphatically that the conference must adopt a comprehensive strategy to integrate women in the fifth national economic plan, starting 2007, in order to effectively reduce poverty among women.

According to Farkhonda Hassan, NCW secretary-general, the number of women living in poverty has continued to rise, despite the sound economic growth witnessed by Egypt in recent years. There is increasing evidence that Egypt is witnessing what has become termed as "the feminisation of poverty", said Hassan. And although there are many urban women living in poverty, the plight of women living in rural and remote areas deserves special attention, due to added burdens of overall economic underdevelopment and social marginalisation. Women will not become successfully economically empowered unless the governmental, non-governmental, banking and private sectors support them. In addition, activists call for a renewal of vocations typically associated with rural women such as embroidery, tally and palm leaf product making, to suit modern market requirements, Hassan added.

The effect of education, health and culture in empowering women economically will also be discussed during the conference. Mrs Mubarak highlighted the elimination of female illiteracy as a key factor in ensuring women's economic integration in society. Hassan declared that as far as girls' education is concerned, statistics reveal that the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in schools is considerably low. Levels of female enrolment in schools appear to be hindered by socio-economic factors, and it is these which activists seek to eradicate. Women must be educated and well-trained to enhance their vocational skills in accordance with current market requirements, in order to enable them to effectively support themselves, their families and society as a whole.

The conference will request from the government the patronage of medical insurance to include all categories of women. Activists hope to raise women's awareness about the importance of their health, as this will enable them to positively influence their society. The importance of the media and its role in improving women's image in society is another sub-theme to be discussed in the upcoming conference. Each of Egypt's governorates has been requested to set a clear-cut plan for the elimination of poverty, to be integrated in the 2007 plan.

Black box found

FRENCH and British experts on Tuesday recovered the black box from the Al-Salam Boccacio 98 ferry which sank in the Red Sea earlier this month, killing approximately 1,000 people.

Transport Minister Mohamed Lutfi Mansour said the experts, working for the International Maritime Organisation, had retrieved the voyage data recorder from the sunken ferry and would send it to Britain for analysis.

The recorder, which stores details such as the position of the ship, direction of travel and weather conditions, might shed light on the reasons behind the ferry's sinking.

The box, said Mansour, would be analysed in Britain by the investigation branch of United Kingdom Marine Accident. "It will take around a week to know the cause of the accident and determine who was responsible," he added.

The recorder was located with the help of a robotic submersible after the wreck of the ferry was found on 16 February in the middle of the Red Sea, 2,600 feet under water. Mansour said the Oil Ministry lent one of its ships at a cost of $1 million to perform the retrieval, some 30 kilometres off the coast of Safaga.

The ferry was on a journey between Duba in Saudi Arabia and Safaga in Egypt when it sank in the early hours of 3 February, about 80 kilometres off Egyptian shores. Out of the 1,414 people aboard, only 388 survived. Passengers and ship officers said a fire broke out on the car deck shortly after it left Duba but they have not explained why the vessel continued to sail out into the Red Sea for several hours after the fire started and why the crew evacuated so few of the passengers.

Surviving passengers said after the disaster, one of the deadliest maritime tragedies in recent history, that the ship caught fire two hours after leaving Duba. Passengers and their families have criticised the captain for deciding not to return to Duba after the fire broke out and also incriminated the crew for monopolising the life rafts. Doubts over the safety procedures enforced by the owners as well as the Panamanian register and the Italian classification company have also been raised.

The Al-Salam Boccacio 98, a 36-year-old ship, was modified to increase passenger capacity a few years ago and was deemed unfit to continue to serve on its original European routes.

The Egyptian government, which was also criticised over its management of the crisis, has set up an investigation panel to look into the accident. The government has been accused of reacting too slowl.

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