“Her Life, Her Right” was the theme title of a recent summit held in Cairo by Plan International Egypt, with the aim of discussing various social issues regarding violence and discrimination against women and girls. Major among the prevalent violent practices are female genital mutilation (FGM), the high dropout rate of girls from school, and early or child marriage.
Plan International Egypt hosted representatives of some of Egypt’s leading women’s organisations, including UNICEF, CARE, MP Mona Mounir, the New Women Foundation (NWF), the National Council for Women (NCW), and Tadwein Gender Research and Training Center. They all seek to implement change and promote gender equality in Egypt.
Amal Fahmy, executive director of Tadwein, moderated the discussion sessions.
Naglaa’ al-Adly of the NCW talked of endeavours by the NCW since 2010 to combat violence against women and girls, jointly with NGOs. “The year 2015,” Dr Adly said, “saw the establishment of the strategy for combatting violence against women. Accordingly, we visited the various governorates in Egypt, and came up with an executive framework to implement the strategy in each individual governorate.”
The summit coincided with the international “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” campaign, celebrated annually to challenge violence against women and girls.
Not by law alone
“The significance of legislation against gender-based violence and discrimination cannot be overstated,” MP Mounir said, “Yet the law alone will not solve the problem. The real issue is the need to change the prevalent communal culture which looks down on women and sees violence against girls as only natural.” It is known that Egyptian laws have stiff penalties for crimes of gender-based violence, but social traditions frequently stand in the way of these laws being strictly implemented.
“I am very proud of the role played by women associations, and institutions that support women, on both the legal and social levels, also in raising awareness among women and girls of their rights,” she said.
Focusing on FGM, female circumcision, MP Mounir called on the NCW to print and circulate the booklet on FGM written by liberal Islamic scholar Amna Nosseir, in which she proves that Islamic teachings do not condone the practice.
Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy Manager at Plan Egypt, Noha Abdel-Hamid, spoke of the arduous work to put an end to the FGM, female. “Plan International is currently working in ten governorates in Egypt, on several fronts, to combat various forms of violence against women and girls. But, sadly, after years of working and launching initiatives to put an end to FGM, we found out that the crime is becoming ‘medicalised’, meaning that an increasing number of doctors now perform circumcision as a surgery, under the pretext that it is medically needed by the girls; this is totally false. We need to intensify our work and lobby for support in order to achieve progress on that front.” Ms Abdel-Hamid’s words confirmed the fact that it takes more than laws to put an end to violence against women and girls.
Nevine Ebeid, a researcher in the field of development and gender-based issues, and a member of the NWF, lamented the confusion between ‘violence’ and ‘discrimination’ against women. She explained the difference by giving a common example. “Women who are hit and treated violently by their husbands, or girls subjected to female circumcision are victims of ‘violence’. Girls who are deprived of their right to education just because they are girls are victims of ‘discrimination’.”
Ms Ebeid presented the proposal of a draft law for combatting violence against women. Nine women organisations joined in drafting the proposed law: The NWF; Nazra for Feminist Studies; the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR); Cairo Centre for Development (CCD); Women and Memory Forum; Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence; Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development Center (ACT); Egyptian Female Lawyers Initiative; and Tadwein. These nine organisations mainly aim at adopting a unified law to stop violence against women.
“The draft law,” Ms Ebeid explained, “includes seven chapters, and is based on Egypt’s commitment to international human rights treaties and agreements on protection of women.”
“Most important is that the draft law spells out well-defined descriptions of the crimes committed against women, especially sexual crimes such as harassment and rape. The 7th chapter focuses on mechanisms for prevention of violence and for protecting women who have been victims of violence especially by individuals closely related to them, such as family members. “Chapter 7,” Ms Ebeid said, “stresses the need for safe havens in which women who are victims of domestic violence may take refuge, and in which they are granted psychological, legal and social support.”
Persons who work intimately with victims of gender-based violence spoke of on-the-ground obstacles they continually face. According to Ahmed Abdel-Dayem, assistant-manager at the United Nations Children Fund’s (UNICEF) Child Protection, the system of services for violence victims, whether children or women, is rife with complications. “In an attempt to bypass red tape which complicates the process of aiding victims,” he said, “we collaborate with NGOs and women’s associations. However, we have not so far achieved any tangible progress. The number of safe houses that offer women protection in case they are victims of domestic violence is no more than eight nationwide, and the occupancy rate in them does not exceed 20 per cent”. In his opinion, this is a result of the complicated requirements for accepting the women and girls needing protection.
This means these houses are not achieving the objective they were formed for, and female victims of violence have no safe haven.
Amal Fahmy of Tadwein confirmed Mr Abdel-Dayem’s claims and spoke of the bureaucratic procedures of accepting victims into safe houses. “Some women are not allowed in without an official criminal record. This is something that can’t be issued on Friday, the day off for weekend. The women leave and don’t come back. Why don’t the authorities make it easier for those women by allowing us, for instance, to check their IDs on the computer network?”
Discussions turned to the education of women and girls, focusing on the high dropout rate for girls in school. Amira Hussein, education program director at CARE International, said: “We conducted a study on girls’ drop-out rate at primary schools, using ten public schools as a sample. It turned out the main reason for girls dropping out of school was early marriage, then came poverty, third was difficult social conditions such as divorce or death of a father, and last came child labour.
“It is obvious that the issues of school dropout for girls, female circumcision, and child marriage were all intertwined; each is closely related,” said Evelyn Boutros, Plan International education and learning advisor. “Plan International is working on the project ‘Learning for Life” which, in cooperation with the General Authority for Literacy and Adult Learning, targets illiteracy among both males and females.
“We endeavour to improve the quality of school services, and also to motivate students so they do not drop out. We hold training courses for teachers on how they could promote positive forms of discipline, and refrain from gender-based violence.”
The summit concluded by stressing the need for political support for combatting gender-based violence, and including anti-FGM health messages and child protection laws in the curricula of preparatory and secondary schools, as well as medical and nursing institutes.
Randa Fakhr al-Din, executive director of the NGOs Union Against Harmful Practices on Women and Children, summed it all up when she called for mobilising communities against harmful traditional gender-based not only in specific places or for limited periods, but “all over Egypt, all year round.”
18 December 2017