As women around the world celebrate their day today, and women of
8 March 2009
On the surface, it would appear as though Egyptian women have come a long way towards closing the gender gap. Girls attend school and attain the highest level of education; women are lawyers, doctors, engineers, and writers; and—at least on paper—they have equal political rights as men. A closer look, however, reveals that something is severely lacking. Women representation in political and public councils is minimal, and there is a vocal campaign among the conservatives that woman’s place is in the home.
Egyptian researcher Nadia Aziz decided to take a stand. She conducted a study on “The role played by civil societies to support the political participation of women”, for which she was granted a Masters degree. The study tackled the obviously reduced representation of women in Parliament, political parties, and civil societies, and reviewed the obstacles preventing them from assuming active roles in the political arena.
The best decision
Since early childhood Nadia Aziz was a born leader. She dealt with others strictly and at the same time gently. She was called the “whistle blower”, since she was a Girl Guide and later an activist and the founder of a NGO by the name Mubadara, literally Initiative, in Old Cairo in 2006.
When she was yet a secondary school student, Ms Aziz received a piece of advice that was later to shape her life. Her mathematics teacher told her she ought to join the faculty of social service since he believed it would perfectly fit her character. She was not too enthusiastic about the idea at first but, “I joined the faculty of science at Minya University,” Ms Aziz said. “But I did not feel happy. Then I remembered my teacher’s advice. I immediately acted upon it, and it was the best decision I ever took in my life.”
Ms Aziz told Watani that her study involved reading a large number of references, reports, documents, and periodicals, as well as following up on the international agreements and treaties that tackled women’s political participation. “Moreover,” she said, “I had to familiarise myself with the laws that regulate the activities of NGOs, and the statistics on the women representation in local councils, as well as the obstacles that prevent them from positively participating.”
Ms Aziz said she conducted her study with better women participation in mind. The goal was to raise awareness among women and the public in general through seminars and training sessions. Through Mubadara Ms Aziz recruits the efforts of experts and political figures to launch enlightenment campaigns—for both men and women—as to the role that needs to be played by women in the political field.
The young people who participate in Ms Aziz’s projects do their best to raise the awareness of the importance of social responsibility among children aged between eight and 15, addressing them through puppet shows and attractive activities.
“How can a woman be a success in political and social work?” Watani asked. “A woman should have an alert mind, use accessible language, and have the ability to connect lucidly with people. It is also of major importance to understand and uphold the law,” Ms Aziz replied.
Watani asked Ms Aziz about the female characters in history who made an impact on her life. “Before talking about the past,” Ms Aziz said, “I would like to say that I respect the role played by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, who, among her many activities, founded and headed the society of integrated care in 1980, and the society of developing Heliopolis. She sponsored many projects that serve the community, including combating illiteracy, vaccinating children, promoting blood donation, as well as helping children with special needs.”
As to the pioneers in political work in Egypt, Ms Aziz mentioned Hoda Shaarawy, the first feminist who represented Egyptian women in the international conventions and demanded changing the laws governing divorce and child custody, which were biased against women. There is also Zeinab Fawwaz, Ms Aziz said, who, seven years before Qassim Amin—the famous ‘liberator’ of Egyptian women in the early 20th century did so—publicised the cause of women’s emancipation.
Ms Aziz talked about the obstacles she faced on her path of social service. Foremost, she said, was the poor understanding of the nature and potential of civic work on the part of the people on the street.
Moreover, she said, some donors do not care much about ‘those little new [NGOs] societies’, and businessmen as well are in the main part not enthusiastic about the goals of these societies.
Ms Aziz called upon the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, as well as non-governmental and governmental societies, to cooperate with and fund her projects to aid underprivileged people obtain legal documents such as birth certificates, and ID and elections cards. This is, obviously, the first step on the way to placing them in a position to claim their rights.