CAIRO: “Integrated rights and equal opportunities equal full development, Minister of State for Family and Population Moshira Khattab said during an International Women’s Day celebration at the British Council.
In partnership with the Gender and Development (GAD) donor subgroup, the British Council held a two-day celebration on March 9-10, commemorating International Women’s Day; a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women.
The event included activities to raise awareness of gender issues and social inclusion.
In light of the increased calls for democracy, Khattab said, “[Achieving] women’s rights is the first step towards democracy because if half of the society is not getting their rights then there is no democracy.
“The role of women in the civilization and history of Egypt is immense, they have embarked on all different fields whether it is politics, nuclear energy, media, and were highly successful, she added.
Suzan Blankhart, ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Egypt, explained that “This is a day to pay tribute to women around the world and we are here to celebrate the perseverance of women in Egypt.
She outlined a number of positive steps Egypt has taken to ensure the equality of women including the amendments to the family law, the citizenship law, raising the minimum age for marriage and criminalizing female genital mutilation.
“[Furthermore] a positive step has been made in the social dialogue in which taboo subjects are now discussed openly, Blankhart explained, citing crimes of honor.
On the other hand, Blankhart also referred to the struggles women in Egypt still face today. These include, gender discrimination in the penal code, the personal status law, the employment ratio, violence – for example domestic violence which is not addressed in the constitution – and women representation in elective bodies.
Ziad Rifai, representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Egypt, explained two realities of the inequality against women. “When it comes to income, healthcare, education, violence, job opportunities, political and economic participation, women have fewer rights, he said.
He also explained that women suffer more in time of crisis. “Whether it’s the global financial crisis, an earthquake, an armed conflict or even an energy or health crisis, he said.
Rifai said that women in rural areas are the most subjected to inequality, citing women in Upper Egypt.
“The issue of women’s rights is a development issue, there can never be development without the full participation of women [in society], said Rifai, pointing out that it’s also a human rights issue.
Blankhart also referred to the Millennium Development Goals, saying that there has been minimal development regarding goal number three, which is to “Promote gender equality and empower women and goal five which is to “Improve maternal health.
“The progress in MDG 3 is worse than any other MDG, and continuing to abandon women [Egypt] will fail to achieve all MDGs, she said.
Panelists unanimously agreed that women can’t achieve equality in legislation unless these laws are implemented. “As Albert Einstein said, ‘Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced’, said Rifai.
Khattab explained that the establishment of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the National Council for Women was a major step forward for women. She added that the new child law which was passed in June 2008 laid the foundation for women to earn their rights through legislation.
She noted that the officials and the government are willing and are eager to work on gender equality and women’s rights. “When we listen to the speeches made by the president the enthusiasm towards the case of women’s rights is there, however the same level of enthusiasm is not present in society, said Khattab.
The event included a variety of events including an open forum discussion titled ‘Discover Your Future’ which featured a number of success stories by women.
Students from Asmaa High School attended the celebration of International Women’s Day, raising their awareness of the issue of women’s rights and gender equality.
“I have to stand up for myself and defend my rights and call for equal opportunities, said 16-year-old Aya El Sayed.
Zeinab Abdel Rasoul, 16, said that the biggest threat girls her age are facing today is early marriage. “It deprives the girl from a chance of going out there and achieving her full potential, she said.