Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Women’s great leap

The New Year brought an unprecedented level of representation for women in parliament, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Large numbers of women participated in last year’s parliamentary elections, and it was worth the effort. Despite fierce competition, women candidates managed to secure 73 seats, in addition to the 14 women who were appointed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

The percentage of seats in parliament held by women is currently 14.6 per cent of the parliament’s 596 seats, the highest percentage of women since Egypt’s parliament was established in 1957.

For decades, women have struggled to acquire equal political rights in order to participate in formulating national policies and in lawmaking, either through elections for legislative or local councils, becoming members of the boards of professional syndicates and NGOs, or just by voting.

According to the Egyptian constitution, Egyptian women enjoy full political rights. Participation at the grassroots and policy-making level would make it possible for women to influence the development process, and ensure that women’s problems are addressed, given priority and resolved. The share of women in parliament in Egypt has been on the rise every year, according to a recent study conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women. “Egyptian women have finally accomplished their aim,” the study concluded.

In the two-stage parliamentary elections of 2015, held in October and November, women candidates won 73 seats, while 14 were appointed by the president. Among these seats, 56 were elected through electoral lists and 17 won individual seats. The parliament is comprised of 596 members — 448 individual candidates, 120 elected through lists and 28 appointed by the president. Parliament’s first session is expected to convene on 10 January. “We are sure that female parliamentarians will play an important role in the upcoming parliament,” Mervat Al-Tellawi, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), said.

“The new electoral system has played an essential role in determining the percentage of women’s representation in the parliament.”

The council provided women with several technical training sessions on how to run and compete in the elections. This coincided with the stipulation in the constitution that there should be appropriate representation of women in parliament.

“However, it was vague and indefinite,” Al-Tellawi said, adding that despite this, Women managed to accomplish a great leap this time in their representation in parliament.

She said the country’s political leadership greatly supports women and believes in their significant role in society as they make up almost half of the population. “This support was reflected in the parliamentarian elections and we are still expecting more to come.”

Al-Tellawi also pointed to the significance of media and education with regards to their role in influencing the mindset and attitude of Egyptians towards the role of women and their representation in parliament. Akram Alfi, political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that the final election results represent a shift in the mindset of the society towards electing women in parliament. “For the first time, a Christian woman wins an individual seat, and another woman, Tahani Al-Gebali, leads an electoral list,” Alfi said.

According to Alfi, Egyptian women were the first among Arabs to be granted such a right in 1957 when two women won seats in the parliament, representing the Giza and Alexandria governorates. “Women’s share later increased to eight seats in 1964,” he said.

The Elections Law, as amended in 1979, introduced the quota system, which allocated 30 seats for women as a minimum requirement, with the remaining seats available for both women and men.

In 1979, 200 women contested and 33 won parliamentary seats. Then-President Anwar Al-Sadat appointed two more women, bringing the total to 35 and filling almost eight per cent of seats.

In 1984, the system of proportional representation was introduced, broadening the quota and resulting in the presence of 36 women out of 458 members in parliament, reducing the women’s share to 7.8 per cent.

The quota system was reinstated in 2010, guaranteeing 64 seats, but women were unable to win any additional seats. In 2012, the quota system was cancelled and female representation in parliament was less than two per cent, despite a record number of candidates that exceeded 900. Veteran writer Lamees Gaber was among the female appointees. “Although I do not understand politics very well, I hope I will be able to serve the country,” Gaber told the press.

“This parliament includes of good number of women who serve in different fields of life. I am sure they will all work for the country’s welfare ... as I do trust the president’s vision,” she added.

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