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When it comes to political participation, Egyptian women, especially those living in rural and marginalized areas, such as Upper Egypt, face huge challenges that often prevent them from stepping into the political arena. Despite the conservative nature of the community; the stereotypes, customs and traditions that underestimate women’s leading capabilities and discourage them from engaging in public affairs; and the lack of awareness among people, Egyptian women struggle for more representation, particularly at local levels.
While women occupied only 4.7% of the seats of local administration councils in the last elections in 2008, the current constitution ensured better representation of women in the local councils where it establishes that one-quarter of the local council seats must be allocated to women (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014, Article 180), creating thus an opportunity to push for more effective participation of women in local governance.
To this end, the National Association for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms (NADRF), one the awardees of our call for proposals to coordinate a local cluster of gender equality actors, has successfully implemented a pilot action where 31 women from marginalized and remote places were consulted to identify the main obstacles and opportunities to participate in the upcoming local elections. These women were also provided with a set of skills enabling them to conduct electoral campaigns and set an electoral program and objectives. The training was conducted between the 20th and 23rd of May 2017.
The training was preceded by a conference and a series of meetings with local authorities, religious figures, and civil society organizations within the objective of establishing a strong network of actors willing to support female candidates before and during the upcoming elections.
With this purpose, in March 2017, NADRF conducted five field visits to women and youth associations in the villages of Zeinya, Armant, Esna, Aqalta and Elmares, in Luxor, where public meetings where conducted with over 80 men and women including religious figures, local authorities, and activists. These meetings tackled the roots of the problems that prevent local women from participating in their local councils including the lack of education, women’s image in conservative communities, the patriarchal system in these areas, and last but not least sexual harassment which constitutes a major barrier to women’s engagement in the public sphere.
The meetings were followed by a conference that NADRF and other local partners organized between the 8th and 9th of April 2017, with the participation of more than 95 figures, civil society activists, and Media, in Luxor, under the title “For Effective Participation of Women”. The conference was divided into four panels on 1) the role of political parties in supporting women and acting in favour of equal gender representation in local councils. 2) the role of Media in supporting and empowering women. 3) the role of Civil Society in supporting women in local councils. 4) and a review of the current Local Administration Law.
At the end of the conference, participants compiled number of recommendations and observations on the existing legislation related to local governance in a document that was sent to the Egyptian Parliament.
All these findings, recommendations and information culminated in the publication of a field diagnosis titled “For Effective Women’s Political Participation at Local Level in Luxor”.
This pilot action which was highlighted and covered by more than 9 national and local Media outlets, is supported by the Foundation in the framework of the initiative “Strengthening the capacities of actors working for gender equality” funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development(MAEDI).
It is also worth mentioning that this pilot action was followed by 7 sessions held in small villages in Luxor with the aim of raising people’s awareness regarding women’s political participation and involvement in the public life. A training targeting media actors and journalists was simultaneously organized in order to increase media’s support to women’s political agency.
These sessions helped opening discussions on possible mechanisms to build trust between women and the community; women and men’s positions in the society and female leadership. They have also helped in identifying women leaders willing to run for the local elections.
For more information about local clusters of gender equality actors set up by the Foundation, click here.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.
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