EGYPT: Women breaking culture barriers in upcoming parliamentary elections

EGYPT: Women breaking culture barriers in upcoming parliamentary elections

 An unprecedented number of female candidates is running for parliamentary elections later this month following the passage of a new law that guarantees a certain percentage of seats to women. 

Sponsored by the ruling National Democratic Party and approved by parliament in June 2009, the quota bill designates 32 new seats in parliament for women. Though the official number of female candidates won’t be announced until next week, the Higher Elections Commission stated that 379 women applied to run for the new seats.

These figures do not include hundreds of other women running against men in many districts across the country.  

Women’s involvement in the political sphere had long been an Egyptian taboo that human rights activists complained marginalized females and women issues such as education and sexual harassment. Nonetheless, Rabha Fathi, head of the Assn. for Egyptian Female Lawyers (AEFL), believes women are becoming more politically active.

"For years, male members of parliament have objected to the presence of female MPs and women were not allowed any space in parliament. That’s why the quota is a huge step forward," she says.

Having large numbers of women willing to run in parliamentary elections was out of the question when Fathy began advocating for women’s rights in 1995. She said she is convinced that changes within the Egyptian political scene over the last five years have helped in materializing her aim.

"The landmark was when the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 parliamentary seats in the 2005 elections. Many women started to say that if a banned group managed to do so then we can do it," she says.

"Now rather than having to campaign for women’s rights to run for and win parliamentary seats, we will be working on enhancing their participation and efficiency in making crucial decisions in the parliament."

The quota program has taken the number of parliamentary seats from 454 to 518, as women will form 12% of Egypt’s lower parliament house (People’s Assembly) after the next elections.

AEFL held a recent program for training 100 potential female candidates on how to run a political campaign. Another program entitled "Partners in Life, Partners in Parliament" was organized by the National Council for Woman last year to raise awareness on the importance of including women in the political arena.