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A coalition of women's rights groups in Egypt have started preparing a number of political campaigns to press the Egyptian government to adopt statutory guarantees that assure women of political and social rights in the new constitution.
In a statement issued at the end of July, the coalition demanded female participation in the new constitution's drafting process, equal-gender opportunity for political office appointments, and guarantees safeguarding women from education, health and personal freedom discrimination.
"The integration of women's rights at this significant stage is of utmost importance, [particularly] at a time of increasing pressures to undermine some of the gains achieved by Egyptian women in previous years," the statement said.
The coalition also produced a document of general principles titled "Women and the Constitution", which includes a number of articles and statutes the groups believe must be included in the new constitution.
The articles cover equality and discrimination issues between women and men, and also call for greater adherence to international women's rights agreements to which Egypt is a signatory, in addition to seven other articles pertaining to equal opportunity and political participation.
As per the constitutional amendments voted in by Egyptians last March, a new constitution is to be drafted following the next parliamentary elections scheduled for this coming November.
The female empowerment movement in Egypt has made some developments over the last decade. For example, the constitution was amended in 2010 granting women a quota for parliamentary political participation by allocating 64 seats for female representatives. However, applying the amendment proved difficult because of the individual candidacy electoral system used in the last election.
Furthermore, Counselor Tahani al-Gebali was the first female judge appointed to Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, while women were also appointed to the posts of vice president of the People's Assembly, cabinet minister and ambassador.
However, a large number of women's rights activists believe the government has neglected to involve women in the transitional phase following the January 25 revolution -- a phase during which a new social contract is supposed to be drafted and the country's future fate determined.
Activists stepped up their campaigns lately after the article about women's parliamentary quotas was removed from the new Commencement of Political Rights Law passed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces several months ago, and after no woman assumed a gubernatorial post during the changes that took place in early August.
According to Dareen Khalifa, a researcher in human rights, involving women in the transitional phase is an obligation, especially since the women's rights movement was among the primary contributors setting the stage for the January 25 revolution.
"We must launch awareness campaigns in all the provinces, especially in rural areas, to increase women's political participation in the upcoming elections and limit the influence of hardline Islamist religious groups on naïve female citizens in the People's Assembly election campaigns," she told Al-Shorfa.
Society needs to undergo comprehensive changes regarding women's rights, Khalifa said. She pointed to Egyptian and Arabic television dramas that make fun of women in high political office, a fact that demonstrates that there is discrimination against women and a denial of their important role in the community, according to Khalifa.
This atmosphere of hostility towards women has repercussions on women's entire role in politics, from voting in elections to running for political office, she said.
According to a recent report by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, female political representation between 1956 and 2005 did not exceed 2.4%. The one exception occurred during the 1980s, when female participation reached 9% due to enforced quotas allocating 30 seats in parliament.
"Following the abolition of the women quota system and under the individual candidacy electoral system, women no longer have prospects of reaching parliament except through competing with men under extraordinary circumstances," said lawyer Nihad Abu Kumsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
In order to increase women's participation in the legislative process and enhance their role in partisan politics, Abu Kumsan demanded a change in the People's Assembly electoral law and the adoption of the proportional party-list system, with 30% minimum of female candidates.
Others, however, argue that Egypt has recorded a number of positive achievements for female empowerment in the past decade, noting that the expansion of their political participation cannot be overlooked and that those achievements can be built upon.
Hiba Loza, a journalist specializing in women's affairs, pointed to such gains as the Khal'a divorce Law and the Child Law, which governs the rights of motherhood and childhood.
"The empowerment of women in the coming period should be accomplished through the observance of the principle of citizenship and non-discrimination between Egyptian citizens on the basis of gender, type or religion," she said.
Loza suggested that an entity dedicated to women's issues must be created to act as a pressure group, with civil society serving as an extension in order to raise awareness among women through economic and developmental activities nationwide.