When Egyptian women first gained the vote in 1956, a woman in the cabinet swiftly followed. Women likely thought that all would be clear sailing from that point on, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Almost 70 years later, only one woman is in the cabinet.
The situation of women in post-uprising Egypt is influenced by an uneasy mix of authoritarian attempts to control a voting bloc, socially ingrained patriarchal attitudes, and a creeping bias cloaked in a religious mantle. While the challenges faced by women are multiple, they may be viewed through the assaults on their political participation and on their basic rights in the constitution and state laws.
A Political Arena, Guaranteed Largely Estrogen-free
The 2006 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report noted that Egypt “performed poorly overall (109 out of 134 countries) but was particularly impaired by its ranking on political participation and economic empowerment and opportunity.” Six years later, there has been movement: Egypt has slid another seven places to 126. Egypt performed similarly in regard to women holding cabinet positions, coming in at 95 out of 125 countries. These results are particularly disappointing in view of the hopes raised by the participation of women in the uprising.
When the first post-uprising elections were held, women were in for a surprise. The quota guaranteeing 64 seats in parliament for women–originally introduced by the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and used mainly as a way to swell its parliamentary ranks than fight for gender parity‑‑was cancelled. Despite the efforts of a myriad of women’s groups and the state-run National Council for Human Rights, and despite the fact that 108 countries worldwide exercise a parliamentary quota to ensure a measure of gender parity, women were only guaranteed one place on the party lists. With few exceptions, they were placed at the bottom. Since the candidates from successful party lists were selected in descending order, women on the lists had a paltry chance of making it into parliament.