The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights is an independent, non-governmental organisation in Egypt.
It aims to help Egyptian women gain legal and social parity with men and also encourages the authorities to review legislation related to women’s rights. The head of the centre, Nehad Abu-Alkomsan joined us on International Women’s Day to discuss this very issue:
You have issued a statement criticising the recent amendments to the constitution. Why did you feel obliged to do this?
We put the statement out in objection to a number of the amendments. For us, Article 75 is one of the most significant; it is open to mis-interpretation.
We think certain terms used in the text indicate a deep-seated sexism – for example, presidential candidates must not be married to a foreign WOMAN. The way the sentence is formulated linguistically suggests that the expectation is the presidential candidates will be male – even though in Arabic the masculine gender is used to refer to both sexes.
So, is the problem purely linguistic or do you think there is something more sinister behind it?
After President Mubarak stepped down, we felt that there was a deliberate attempt to exclude women from being involved in the process of political transition.
Women were among the thousands who took to the streets to protest, but when it came to the formation of committees, like the constitution drafting committee, they were conspicuous by their absence.
We are concerned about the influence of orthodox Muslims in the transition process. Organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood are reluctant to allow women or Coptic Christians to participate in the commission.
Women are in a contradictory position. On the one hand, we have a clear role to play in society, but on the other hand, when it comes to political decision-making, it seems there is a deliberate policy of excluding women.
The referendum on the constitutional amendments will be on March 19. What will you do next?
Nehad Abu Alkomsan:
We are planning to hold a protest in Tahrir Square.
When we bring up the issue of women’s participation, the reaction is negative and people say to us “now is not the time to talk about women’s rights.”
We want to make a clear link between democracy and women’s participation. Otherwise, we will just produce a new version of the old political system, which oppressed Egypt for so long.
How do you interpret the popular reaction to the amendments. Would people accept a woman as president of Egypt? Do you have much popular support for your demands?
Nehad Abu Alkomsan:
The reaction to the amendments in the streets of Egypt has been encouraging. Most people are uncomfortable with how they are worded.
In terms of women, many people think it is a woman’s civic right not to be discriminated against.
Notwithstanding the application of this right, or the readiness of the Egyptian community to choose a woman president, or even whether a woman would be ready to stand, the important thing is to respect the principle of equality.
This revolution was born from the most fundamental principles of justice, human dignity and equality.