Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) has set its priorities this year as economic empowerment and financial inclusion for women, according to its President Maya Morsy.
She said that given the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is a need to focus more on providing economic opportunities for women and engaging them in the financial systems.
“We have signed an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to work on increasing savings and loans in villages,” Morsy said.
She added that another of the NCW’s priorities this year is the Egyptian family development project. It is being designed and implemented with the cooperation of the Egyptian Cabinet and under President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s directions.
“This is besides, of course, social empowerment and protection from all forms of violence against women and its legislative agenda,” Morsy added.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Morsy on the occasion of the Day of Egyptian Women, which is marked on 16 March every year.
The interview touched on Egypt’s national strategy for women’s empowerment 2030, the impact of COVID-19 on women, as well as the different initiatives to empower and the promising sectors for women in 2021.
Morsy believes that some of the winning sectors in the coming period will be agriculture, food processing, textiles, banking, entrepreneurship, microfinance, ICT, pharmaceuticals, paid care, and handicrafts.
“We have actually studied and analysed the situation in Egypt including the expected most promising sectors while drafting the Action Plan of the ‘Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator’,” she added.
“It was a great exercise and we also contacted concerned experts to help us determine those sectors that we can build upon within our Economic Empowerment Action plan, and aligning it with the Egyptian framework, context, and priorities,” Morsy said.
In July 2020, the NCW, along with the Ministry of International Cooperation and the World Economic Forum, together launched the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator”. The World Economic Forum Accelerator Model is a platform that facilitates public-private collaboration. It provides a national ecosystem for leaders to drive actions, insights and analysis for evidence-based decision-making, and practical guides and tools for impact.
We have learned all about the international model of closing the gender gap accelerator and contextualised it to adapt to our national Egyptian framework. The Accelerator is focused on one specific pillar within the National strategy of Women Empowerment 2030, which is the women economic empowerment Pillar.
The NCW, the Ministry of International Cooperation, and the World Economic Forum are collaborating to bring together multi-stakeholder actors across the public and private sectors. This is with the aim of generating local insight, developing an action-plan, and driving its execution for women’s economic empowerment in Egypt.
Can you describe the NCW’s mission, and what tools it uses to meet or achieve the national strategy for women’s empowerment in 2030?
According to Law No 30 of 2018, the NCW is the mandated national platform in Egypt to propose responsive policies to women needs, legislation, and action plans. It also coordinates between entities, monitors and evaluates related projects, conducts training programmes and awareness campaigns for women.
It has 27 active local branches that work closely with communities and community women leaders. It has reached millions of women beneficiaries on the ground through conducting a variety of programmes and initiatives.
The NCW led the process by which the National Strategy for Women Empowerment 2030 was drafted, and which was endorsed by the Egyptian President. The Strategy was announced by the President as the guiding document and roadmap for all the work concerning the empowerment of women.
The strategy’s vision is, “By 2030, Egypt will possess a competitive, balanced and diversified economy, dependent on innovation and knowledge, based on justice, social integrity and participation, characterised by a balanced and diversified ecological collaboration system, investing the ingenuity of place and humans to achieve sustainable development and to improve the quality of life of all Egyptians.”
The NCW puts an institutional framework and coordination mechanism in place to support implementation efforts of all stakeholders. The council is also following up on the progress of the implementation.
Accordingly, a periodic meeting at the level of the cabinet is conducted, to follow up on the national efforts of the strategy’s implementation.
In your opinion, what were the impacts of the pandemic on women in Egypt? How did the NCW get involved to help reduce these impacts on Egyptian women?
The pandemic has had a great impact on women, given that women make up around 42.4% of human doctors and 91.1% nursing staff of who are actually working for the Ministry of Health and Population. This is in addition to 73.1% of nursing staff in hospitals and therapeutic facilities in the private sector being women.
Women in the health sector are more likely to be exposed to the virus, whilst dealing with enormous stress balancing paid and unpaid work roles. COVID-19 also poses a serious threat to women’s engagement in economic activities, especially in informal sectors.
In Egypt, 18.1% of women are housewives, whilst 40.9% of total female non-agricultural employment is in informal employment, and 33.9% of female employment is vulnerable employment.
Meanwhile, 6.7% of female employment in industry, 36.4% of female employment is in agriculture, and 56.8% of female employment is in services. Moreover, Egyptian women represent 70% of the paid care sector workforce (mainly as teachers, health and social workers), and are almost four times more likely than men to work in the paid care sector.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Egypt in March 2020, the NCW drafted the Egypt’s Rapid Response to Women’s Situation during Covid-19 Outbreak. This included the why and how women can be impacted during this pandemic, and included suggested measures to be put in place to support women and consider their needs while containing the virus. The document was finalised on 31 March, and sent out to all concerned authorities and entities in Egypt immediately.
The NCW has also drafted the “Women Policy Tracker”, a tool to monitor all the efforts of the Egyptian Government on measures and policies taken that are considerate to women’s needs. A total of five editions have been published reflecting March 2020 to January 2021.
Egypt was the first country in the world to draft a policy note and policy tracker that focused on women’s needs during the pandemic. Given the NCW’s mandate, further efforts have taken place to support women socially and economically.
Awareness raising programmes have been conducted digitally on means of protection against COVID-19, psychological and social support, as well as means of protection from violence especially cybercrimes. This is particularly given the high rates of internet usage that has taken place as a result of the lockdown.
The NCW has also been referring women in need from across Egypt to the concerned entities whether to respond to social or economic needs. The council’s Training programmes have been digitised, to adapt to the circumstances of the lockdown.
The NCW has also been a member of the Ministerial committee on informal workers, led by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to support informal workers during the pandemic.
The President of Egypt has dedicated cash transfer support to the country’s informal workers of EGP 500 per month, of which 47% of the beneficiaries of this support were women.
Moreover, the NCW has strengthened the infrastructure of its Women Complaints Office (WCO) and its referral pathway, to adapt and receive women’s complaints and inquiries, and respond effectively and efficiently.
The NCW, co-chairing the National Committee to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) has also worked with the concerned entities to propose a stricter legislative amendment for the practice during 2020.
The council has also conducted door-to-door campaigns, to increase women’s awareness on the virus, its implications, and proper referral channels.
How many complaints has the NCW received since the start of the pandemic? Do you notice a change in the kind of complaints?
The NCW’s Women complaints office infrastructure has been enhanced and now has 27 branched all over Egypt. In 2020, the complaints office received its highest number of outreach whether through phone calls, walk-ins, or social media contact.
The office has received around 66,000 complaints/inquiries in 2020, compared to 14,700 in 2019. It was noticeable that 80% of the inquiries/complaints received during the year 2020 were about economic difficulties faced by women as a result of the pandemic.
The WCO has strong networks and linkages with several concerned authorities that worked even closer during the pandemic and all of the calls received were either resolved by NCW, if within its mandate. If not, then they were referred to the concerned entities with close follow up, to make sure women got the services that they are entitled to.
Due to the lockdown and the tremendous amount of stress and fear faced by all, the rate of violence against women, domestic violence in particular, was expected to rise globally.
As a result, the NCW has cooperated with Baseera and UN Women to conduct a phone survey during the period from 4 to 14 April that tackled the effects of COVID19 pandemic. The survey included 1,518 women with a minimum age of 18, and the results confirmed that the pandemic contributed to a change in lifestyle compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Results showed that 7% of wives reported that they had already been subjected to violence at the hands of their husband (verbal abuse or insult); 33% reported increased problems within the family; and 19% increase in violence among family members.
The level of awareness among family members on means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 is 94%, while 72% of the respondents believe that the family’s income has been affected by the crisis.
Do you have the actual number of beneficiaries from NCW’s campaign to end FGM, and other presidential health initiatives?
The NCW, which along with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) co-chairs the National Committee for the eradication of FGM, was established in May 2019.
This National Committee has intensified its efforts and collaboratively delivered its messages to 74 million as part of its online and offline campaigns titled “Protect her from FGM”, and through the helplines of NCW and NCCM.
As for the Presidential health initiative, it has been a true success for Egyptian women. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi gave directions during one of the yearly women’s conferences that took place in 2019, when the breast cancer initiative was presented. As part of this, the aspiration was put forward to have each and every woman undergo the screening and early detection of breast cancer.
The President responded immediately, and directed for the Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed, to study the availability of kicking off a national health initiative for women. Only a couple of months later, the Minister of Health and Population announced the implementation of this initiative throughout Egypt, and I believe this initiative has reached out to 11 million Egyptian women so far.
Egypt was the first country to provide a women-specific response during the pandemic, launched by the NCW. The country ranked 1st in the Middle East and West Asia regions in terms of 21 policy measures according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, so what are the NCW’s preparations or the plan in terms of helping women during the coming period?’
The main reason behind our success so far during the first and second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was the readiness and the strong institutional baseline that the Egyptian Government has.
In such crises, the response has to be solid and immediate, and for that to happen we have to build our already existing interventions to contain the impact of the pandemic as much as possible. The Government has had a strong social protection and safety net baseline as well as solid economic grounds and that was the key.
I believe in the coming period interventions should be in place, as we are relatively familiar with the implications of the virus given the experience of the first and second waves. However, you can never fully forecast or assume that things are going to be exactly the same.
The NCW is going to work on two main components, namely raising awareness and training, especially in the areas of economic empowerment and protection from violence.
The NCW is also going to cooperate with the Egyptian government to make sure all governmental interventions are meeting women’s needs and give any possible support or advice.
What laws or legislations does the NCW hope to finalise in the coming period?
The NCW has been working on several legislative proposals, and in 2020 an amendment to the criminal procedures was successfully passed to protect the data of women subjected to violence. An anti-bullying law was also passed, whilst the penal code article concerning husbands not paying alimonies has been amended.
As for legislations in the coming period, the NCW has worked on a proposal to criminalise child marriage, and another proposal was submitted for stricter penalties on the crime of FGM, which was approved by the Egyptian Cabinet earlier this month.
The NCW has also worked a proposing a comprehensive law on violence against women and amendments on the personal status law.
Many harassment cases surfaced in 2020, and were circulated on social media. Under your presidency, the NCW takes not just an awareness role, but now has more cooperation with executive authorities. Could you brief us on this?
The NCW, under its mandate, has always worked on awareness raising programmes and campaigns and is still continuing the efforts in this direction. In the last year, we have intensified the awareness raising campaigns on issues of violence against women, especially given COVID-19, and the increase in which users are spending time on the internet.
The council has launched several awareness raising campaigns on social media addressing cyber crimes and means of protection from those crimes. These include the “Speak Up … protect yourself and others” campaign, in cooperation with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. It aims to raise awareness about electronic risks, safe use methods, and ways to report cyber violence crimes, and has reached 307,000 thousand viewers.
There is also the “Choose your words wisely” campaign, in cooperation with Instagram, which sheds light on the cyber-bullying issues and raises social awareness about its psychological effects. It also looks at the importance of maintaining a positive environment on the platform, and highlights Instagram tools to protect its users from bullying. The campaign has now reached 5.8 million viewers.
Additionally, there is the “Women Safety Resources” campaign, in cooperation with Facebook, aiming to spread awareness on ways to protect women from cyber-violence through the protection tools provided by the Facebook platform to prevent cyber-crimes.
We have also launched a video in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower and the International Labor Organization (ILO), aiming to raise awareness of the role of business owners and companies in providing a safe work environment for women.
We have also launched awareness-raising videos on the issue of online harassment and cyber-bullying on social media platforms, in cooperation with Plan International Egypt and a group of artists and creators. The videos underlined the need to report these crimes, which constitute a form of violence against women.
On another note, and through the NCW’s WCO, we have very strong networks and linkages with different concerned authorities. We work in coordination with the Violence against Women unit at Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, and refer cases to them that need intervention within the unit/s mandate, and follow up closely with them. We also work in close coordination with the Public Prosecution Office within both our mandates.
Other than that, the NCW has a legislative committee with a group of legal experts and we work in close coordination with the Ministry of Justice and its human rights sector.
Did Egypt really see an increase in sexual harassment cases, or is it because many cases have been placed under the spotlight thanks to social media?
The latest official study that we have conducted with the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) and the UNFPA on the Economic Cost of Gender based violence in Egypt indicated that 10% of women aged between 18-64 years faced harassment in the streets in Egypt.
A further 7% of women aged between 18-64 faced harassment in public transportation, whilst 18% of women aged between 18-64 faced violence from a family member in Egypt.
Most cases given particular focus on social media last year were actually committed a long time ago. I do not believe the number has increased but the culture and mentality have changed these days.
I think that social media played a huge role to put the harassment cases under the spotlight. It is a great platform with a wide outreach but it can be a double-edged weapon.
This is why we need to aware the public of the right way of using social media, the dos and don’ts and we must always be very careful about the fake news and its spreading over social media as well as the legal implications of such things.
You have previous experience in dealing with women issues during your work with the UN before being selected as NCW president. What are the opportunities and challenges for women’s empowerment in Egypt, and how does it differ from other MENA countries?
Egypt has one of the strongest legal baselines and infrastructure and it is very unfortunate that not everyone is aware of that. We have a lot of laws in place already for all violence against women issues.
We also have a law against harassment, including harassment at work and if practiced by an authoritative person, rape without consent, cybercrimes law, bullying criminalised, child marriage law, FGM criminalisation law, among many others.
Egypt needs to focus more on campaigns that target awareness raising with these laws so that women are fully aware of their legal rights. This will definitely motivate them to report any violence incident with confidence that a legal action will be taken with severe consequences.