Women: One Tenth of Society

In the wake of the January 25 revolution, the Egyptian political scene has undoubtedly been exclusionary to Egyptian women. The biggest surprise has been the continuation of this stance under the secular current’s guidance.

In the wake of the January 25 revolution, the Egyptian political scene has undoubtedly been exclusionary to Egyptian women. All that was said about a woman as vice president of the Republic, and a reasonable number of ministers and governors, appear to have been daydreams that have not even slightly been translated into reality.

There have been three patterns of rule: by the Military Council, Islamist current and secular current. The Military Council was not enthusiastic about increasing the responsibilities of the Egyptian woman by placing her in leadership positions—an understandable position coming from an inherently conservative institution, and in light of exceptional circumstances imposed by the post-revolution phase. When the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt, there was not an expectation that role of women would be expanded beyond a limited and superficial scope. The biggest surprise has been the continuation of this stance under the secular current’s guidance.

In terms of numbers, which cannot lie or be beautified, the last government prior to the revolution included three female ministers. That figure declined in the cabinets that followed, to include only one, and then two, women ministers. The portfolios of the current cabinet formation exceeds the number of portfolios assigned to previous governments but that has not sufficed in increasing the number of women ministers above three—less than 10 percent of the total number of ministers. This is the same amount contained in the government that preceded the January 25 Revolution. As for the number of women who participated in the Committee of Fifty, entrusted with writing the new Egyptian constitution, it was restricted to just five, or 10 percent of the total number of its members. Worth noting here is that one of them represents the National Council for Women, and that another represents the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood—I believe decision-makers must have sensed the potential for criticism had a female not represented these two councils. The current government includes leading political figures of the secular current that has always criticized the exclusion of women, and a group of technocrats who enjoy a large degree of competency, as well as what could be described as enlightened views. For those reasons, the expectations surrounding them with regard to ensuring the fair representation of Egyptian women in the committee were high, making the actual results very disappointing.

The first question this raises is the following: Do Egyptian women not enjoy the competence to allow them to play a larger role in public life?

I can attest to the presence of a large number of females that have the knowledge, capabilities and morals or ethics to allow them to assume the highest posts—qualities that bode well for distinguished performance that would surpass many men. If so many women possess these abilities, why are women absent from the political scene in anything other than a symbolic presence? What are the reasons behind the selective calling of women to superficially complete the political scene? And what are the reasons behind the absence of a real conviction regarding the added value that women might contribute to a political scene?—one in which men have not achieved the kinds of success that might justify their monopolization of the leading role.

It is in this context that I point to the Baseera public opinion poll regarding the approval rating of women in the new cabinet—all three of them.  The results indicate that 61 percent of Egyptians feel that three is an adequate number, while only 16 percent feel it is too few. One striking result is that only 18 percent of women responded that women should be represented by a larger number of ministers. Another, is the absence of clear differences between university graduates and non-university graduates, a fact which seems to confirm that the education we offer lacks an enlightening impact, and serves only as an officially sanctioned paper to secure employment. These results perhaps explain the behavior of decision makers who fail to put forth courageous proposals that tackle the development of values conducive to development, and don’t wish to shoulder the risks of leading the community in the right direction. It is perfectly clear that ruling elites will need to produce the political will to advance cultural transformation—for the better.  Historical leadership can guide the masses forward, as opposed to chasing behind the them as they head backwards.

In light of these exclusionary practices, it is important to consider women’s representation in the upcoming parliament. It is important to note that no women succeeded in individual-seat candidacies in the previous parliamentary elections, which does not mean that the list-based candidacy system has solved the issue of underrepresentation of women in parliament—all that has come of that is the addition of a small number of female parliamentarians, amounting to just 2 percent of the total number of members of parliament. As such, the electoral system will not repair what historical circumstance has ruined.

Hope now rests on the Egyptian woman herself—she can form the largest lobby in the elections. In the context of parliamentary elections, there are a large number of nominees competing for seats. In the last elections, the average number of nominees in one voting district was 73 (reaching as high as 159 nominees in one district) leading to a sharp fragmentation of votes. If female voters in any voting district agree to support a particular nominee, she will surely win, or at the very least reach the election run-off stage.

Put differently, the proper representation of women in parliament will not be achieved unless female voters marshal their ballots to make it likely that a representative number of female candidates win. Placing their hope in the liberal parties will bring nothing but the bare minimum. It appears to me that the positions of secular parties and Islamist parties do not align, except on the matter of preventing the empowerment of women—a hypothesis that will be confirmed or refuted in the upcoming months. For the sake of consistency, it is better for those who bandy about the idea that “women are half of society” to be honest with themselves and others. Instead they should say, “women are one tenth of society.”

Magued Osman is the CEO and managing director of the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, Baseera. This article originally appeared in Al-Shorouk.

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