Egyptian women are key to driving Egypt's growth
During the UN Women Executive Board First Regular Session of 2016, a special discussion on 9 February featured a briefing on how UN Women is helping transform the lives of Egyptian women.
As the second-largest country-level operation for UN Women globally after Afghanistan, UN Women's Country Office in Egypt is partnering with the Government and civil society members during a critical time in Egypt's history to ensure that women are at the forefront of the changes and their voices are heard across the board.
"Egyptian people have endured a lot of turmoil in a time of change. Women are playing a key role during the transition and UN Women is proud to be a supporter at every stage to make sure that the agenda of gender equality and women's empowerment makes it through as key priorities of the new Egypt" said Miwa Kato, UN Women Country Director for Egypt, who led the briefing.
Determining Egypt's Own Priorities
The revolution in 2011, the so-called “Arab Spring,” and the regime changes that followed, also highlighted the rampant violence against women in public spaces. Initially after the revolution, the situation for Egyptian women was deteriorating, sparking a strong public outcry. In response, a new constitution was adopted in 2014 giving unprecedented constitutional rights to women.
During the past five years, women played a vital role in shaping the country's political realities. Through its programmes and initiatives, UN Women has supported this positioning of women and girls, expanding beyond the victim-narrative to promote the idea that women are a powerful and indispensable part of achieving Egypt's priority goals of inclusive growth and social justice, as well as the overall Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
"Women are often projected as victims of society that have to be pitied and helped. This factor undoubtedly remains and we need to redouble, triple our efforts to help victimized women. But at the same time, we need to project the strategic potential of empowering women, which is key to empowering Egypt," Kato said.
The session took a closer look at UN Women’s work in Egypt.
Empowering Women Both Politically and Economically
Against the backdrop of major changes sweeping the country, there has been significant progress especially related to women’s political participation. Female parliamentarians have increased from 2 per cent in 2013 to 15 per cent in 2015 — a historic high for Egypt which UN Women is proud to have supported at every step.
However, many Egyptian women still lack any form of national identification. Even based on conservative estimates, there are at least two million Egyptian women deprived of IDs. Without identification, women cannot vote, nor access essential state services such as education, health and social protection. Joining forces with National Council for Women and other partners in Egypt, UN Women is supporting the process of providing national IDs to half a million women, marking the first step to ensure women’s rights as citizens.
In order for women to contribute to driving economic growth, UN Women is supporting women entrepreneurs and boosting the provision of access to assets, financial and non-financial services. UN Women has helped economically empower over 22,000 women and their extended families.
Ending Violence Against Women
UN Women is also working with Egyptian partners to improve the safety of women and girls in public spaces. The Egyptian Government took major steps in criminalizing sexual harassment for the first time in 2014, and adopted the National Strategy to End Violence against Women in 2015. UN Women supported the process in partnership with other UN agencies.
UN Women’s support also extends to the community level, for residents of impoverished and unstable neighborhoods in Greater Cairo where violence often occurs. Within these communities, victim-support services and prevention are provided, building stronger communities and a culture for respect and tolerance to diversity.
To build further alliance needed to bring transformational change in Egypt for women’s empowerment, UN Women is actively reaching out to different actors in society, such as the media, private sector and academic institutions, in order to make women’s empowerment everyone’s priority.
"Women's empowerment and gender equality is one area where you can make a big difference in Egypt today, and this is the moment that we can and should support Egypt for a better future for Egyptian women and girls, men and boys," Kato said in closing remarks.