On International Womens’ Day (IWD) in 2016, several government officials, parliamentarians, and UN women personnel assembled to ring the stock exchange bell to raise awareness on the importance of women’s economic empowerment at the Egyptian Exchange (EGX) headquarters in downtown Cairo.
The first International Women’s Day to be officially recognised was in 1911, and 2016 marks the 105th annual celebration. The theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” and it aims to advocate for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by world leaders at the 2015 UN summit. The agenda addresses poverty, hunger, and disease issues, as well as gender equality.
The political progress can be seen in the percentage of women representatives in the parliament, which rose significantly to 15%, compared to the previous parliament of 2012 that only had 2%. Nevertheless, gender equality in Egypt still has a lot to achieve, according to UN Women country director Miwa Kato.
“I highly encourage the Egyptian government to start look at their sustainable development plans from also a gender perspective. This will make resources much bigger,” she told Daily News Egypt.
“We hope to see more resources matching the needs that are there and I do not mean that there should be more money, but I mean that money and investments should be put for other wider segments for social development.”
According to Kato, UN Women Egypt’s focus for this year is making sure that women’s political rights are secured. “This is important because when women are in decision making position they tend to be able to contribute to the bigger policy decisions of the country.”
However, political and supportive framework that we support means nothing unless we have a good economy that allows women to achieve political empowerment, according to Kato. “We all know Egypt still needs economic growth. And we want to make that link between women rights and economic growth in Egypt,” she said, referring to the common discourse on women that focuses on those who are victimised. “That is still true, but as Egypt gears up for its 2030 strategy, women empowerment should be very much in the centre of discussion.”
Similarly, the newly appointed director for the National Council for Women (NCW) Maya Morsi highlighted the importance of the 2030 national strategy for advancing the gender equality status in Egypt. “We are looking forward to achieving the targets of the 2030 agenda and NCW is about to launch its detailed plan based on the 2030 strategy,” she told Daily News Egypt.
According to Morsi, this plan addressed women rights issues while being drafted instead of integrating it later on, as is usually the case. “If you have a vision for 15 years from now it is important to forecast the economic and social growth for every sector,” she said.
In September 2015, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) work duration came to an end after 15 years. However, none of the goals were fully achieved. In 2015, world leaders adopted a new development strategy entitled the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a further 15 years.
The SDGs include wider range of goals and issues than the MDGs, up to 14 goals. The goals addressed climate change and freedom of speech for the first time as one of the main development issues.
Egypt made slight progress towards the MDGs, according to an official joint report between the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Egypt’s Ministry of Planning. The report, launched in September 2015, highlighted national efforts towards the eight MDGs.
Regarding the third goal, which aimed to promote gender equality, Egypt achieved only one out of the three targeted indicators. The first indicator tackled access of education for girls. The ratio of girls’ enrolment in education increased to about 102%, compared to only 80% in 1990, in primary and secondary stages, according to the report.
The second indicator addressed gender equality in the labour market, where Egypt failed to make progress since 1990. The share of women in wage employment stayed at 19%, according to the report. The third indicator targeted better representation of women in parliament. The share of women’s seats drastically decreased by the end of MDGs, as only 11 women participated, making about 2%, according to the report.
In its 2030 strategy, Egypt highlighted 12 key areas of focus, including education, social justice, economic empowerment, energy sector development, urban development, foreign police, national security, and health among other sectors.
During his opening speech on International Women’s Day, Minister of Planning Ashraf Al-Araby said the 2030 strategy has carefully taken into consideration gender equality in terms of social and economic development.
The strategy, which was first outlined in 2014, aims to raise Egypt global ranks in economic growth, and improving citizens’ quality of life by 2030.
Meanwhile, there are three drafted bills awaiting parliamentary review on the local councils’ management. The first was drafted in 2011, the other in 2013, and the latest was drafted in 2014. The Egyptian Centre for Women Rights (ECWR), a local women rights group, highlighted the importance of women’s participation in those councils.
“Women are the most knowledgeable segment of the societal needs due to their familiarity with many of its details,” the ECWR stated previously. “Women should have a significant representation in the management of those councils, given the council’s authority in working with executive branch and thus involvement in the decision-making.”
However, the awareness level and available resources for gender equality remains incommensurate. A recent poll by Baseera indicated that 84% agree that men should have priority in getting jobs when job opportunities are limited; surprisingly a huge percentage of those who agreed were females. Additionally 55% agreed that married women can work outside home if they want.