Egypt’s New Constitution a Victory for Women’s Rights to Full Citizenship

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(Cairo, December 2nd, 2013) Yesterday the 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution came to an end. A preliminary reading of the Constitution, with an eye to safeguarding women’s rights, shows that, as well as the favorable constitutional provisions on economic and social rights, civil and political rights and public freedoms, Egyptian women for the first time have won the right to full citizenship as stipulated in Article 6: ‘Nationality is the right of a person born to an Egyptian father or an Egyptian mother. The legal recognition of that person and the granting of official documents proving that person’s personal details are rights guaranteed and regulated by law. The law shall determine the conditions for acquiring nationality.’

Egyptian women married to non-Egyptians have faced huge difficulties conferring their nationality on their children, which is regarded as a diminution of a woman’s rights as a citizen and as a form of guardianship or patriarchal oversight over her decision when choosing a husband.

Article 11 is a paradigm shift in terms of a woman’s right to participate in decision making and holding public office, and also shows concern for poor and marginalised women, together with reducing all forms of violence against women. The Article stipulates: ‘The state shall guarantee the achievement of equality between women and men in all their civil and political rights and their economic, social and cultural rights, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The state shall take measures that ensure women are properly represented in representative assemblies, as prescribed by law, and shall guarantee women the right to hold public office and the highest administrative roles in the country, as well as their appointment to judicial bodies and authorities, without discrimination. The state shall also be committed to protecting women against all forms of violence and shall guarantee women are empowered to reconcile their family responsibilities with their work commitments. The state shall also be committed to providing care and protection for motherhood, childhood, women who are the main or sole earners in a family, elderly women and women most in need.’

Article 19 greatly contributes to the education of girls, enabling them to make decisions for themselves. It also reduces violence against women, particularly the practice of early marriage, by stipulating: ‘Education is the right of every citizen, the purpose of which is to build the character and personality of an Egyptian, to preserve national identity, to give a firm foundation to an enquiring and critical way of thinking, to develop talent, encourage innovation and inculcate cultural and spiritual values as well as to embed concepts of citizenship, tolerance and non-discrimination. The state shall be obliged to take these aims into account in its educational curricula and teaching methods and to make provision for them in accordance with international standards of quality in education. Education is compulsory until the end of secondary school or its equivalent.’

Another important step was taken in Article 93 which approved the state’s commitment to international Conventions and Charters on human rights. Making these international agreements a legal basis for the state is seen as remarkable progress. The Article states: ‘The state shall be committed to the international Conventions, Covenants and Charters on human rights ratified by Egypt which shall become law after publication, in accordance with the promulgation process.’

Despite Egyptian women striving to attain some form of positive discrimination in all elected assemblies, the 50-member Constituent Assembly was unable to support the participation of women in Parliament. Participation in the local councils was limited to 25%, but this is also regarded as an important step on the road to women’s political participation, since Article 180 states: ‘Each local authority shall elect a Council by means of a direct, secret, public ballot for a term of 4 years. Candidates must be at least 21 years old. The law regulates the other terms and conditions for nomination as well as the election procedures, under which a quarter of seats are allocated to young people under 35 and a quarter of seats to women…’

Nehad Abu Al-Komsan, Director of the ECWR and a backup member of the Assembly, in a statement said, ‘This Article will contribute to the participation of women in the management of public affairs since the number of female members of elected assemblies will be close to 13,000 across Egypt’s governorates. This will pave the way very well for a body of women with practical, hands-on experience and training to reach Parliament.’

Egypt followed many of countries that taken important steps in the investment of women’s participation as one of development pillars such as India, Brazil, and South Africa which women’s participation in their local councils had a significant impact.

Press release coverage: in Arabic networks and news outlets:
The Arab network for Human Rights information
El Wafed newspaper
Veto Magazine
Youm 7 newspaper
El Watan newspaper
Egyptian women portal
Ed Dostor newspaper
Masress, news search engine

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