Two sessions on gender in the upcoming AUC Social Justice conference in Cairo

AUC’s annual research conference will focus on “Social Justice: Theory, Research and Practice” this year. The conference is open to all and the first day (May 3) will be held in Oriental Hall at the downtown campus and the last two days (May 4-5) will be held out at the AUC new campus . Keynote speakers are Mahmood Mamdani and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim – both great!  We are trying to provide transport for everyone who wants to come so please RSVP at

Session #2: Gender Justice and Making the Law Work for Women (May 3)

Organizer: Hania Sholkamy

  1. Feminist social protection: Conditional cash transfers in a Cairo slum (Hania Sholkamy)
  2. Women in the work-force! How empowering is work for women?  A Look at the gap between legislation and the lived reality (Heba Gowayed, Mahmoud Hazzaa)
  3. The Limits of law: Reforming Egyptian family laws and the question of gender justice (Mulki Al-Sharmani)
  4. Political voice and women’s quotas in Egypt: The Journey to parliament of four women in the 2010 elections (Sawsan el Sherif)


Session #8: Gender, Family and Social Justice (May 5)

Organizer: Helen Rizzo

  1. Why Egyptian feminists have abandoned women’s rights discourse (Alia Dawood)
  2. Sexual harassment: The Oppression of women on the streets of Egypt: An Analysis of Hostile Sexism and bias about sexual harassment (Emily Weddle, Habiba Helmy, Mona Amer, Baland Jalal)
  3. A Capability approach to female entrepreneurs and social justice (Anette Cerne, Ahmed H. Tolba)

Please check the facebook event page for more details and updates!

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Sexual violence, again and again

The international media FINALLY published pieces (here is the BBC article) on the detainment and torture – and “virginity tests” – of protesters who were forcibly removed from Tahrir on March 9!

Additionally, there is the story of the Libyan women, Iman al-Obeidi, who tried to speak to reporters in a Tripoli hotel this weekend about how she had been detained and raped by 15 government troops. Hotel staff aggressively ushered her out of the hotel and prevented journalists from helping or talking to her.

These two stories highlight how sexual violence is a tool in the arsenal of weapons that ruling powers use against women to silence them and assert their authority and power.

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Egyptian Activistas + training today!

Newsweek ran an article on a three Egyptian activists, one of whom I have the pleasure of knowing and she is indeed a pretty amazing person, on March 6. Two days before the downer that was the Million Women march. Would be interested to hear their responses to what happened on March 8.

Also, there will be a seminar at the Mahmoud Mokhtar museum in Dokki to train activists to raise women’s political awareness. Trainer: Dr. Mohamed Hamza (Therapist and Life Coach). Click here for Facebook event page.

Workshop Agenda:

1-Principles of the revolution, their aims and outcomes.
2-Mastering communication skills.
3-Approaches to freedom of expression and positive thinking.
4-Approaches to legitimately demanding rights.
5-Concepts of Multi Political party system.
6-The importance of individual role in society.


I won’t be able to make it but supposedly a webcast will be made available…

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Director of UN Women meets with activists and scholars in Egypt

My colleagues Hania Sholkamy, Ali Atef and Heba Gowayed attended a closed round table discussion on March 20 with the Director of UN Women, Michele Bachelet,  entitled: “How Can UN Women support young Egyptian women in the democratic transition: A vision for the future.”

Ali and Heba responded to the questions “How can UN Women support young Egyptian women –  areas where the young Women could play a role with the UN WOMEN to support the insurance of women involvement in the democratic transition in Egypt?” by emphasizing the importance of South-South information exchange, unions for women working as informal labors as a channel to securing rights and entitlements and the importance of gender mainstreaming in security sector reform.

Everyone confirmed that Dr. Bachelet is a badass, but I suppose we already knew that before! Not only was she the first female Minister of Defense in Latin America but she later became president of Chile. She left that office in 2010 with extremely high approval ratings (as Chilean law prevents the president from serving two consecutive terms) and then was appointed head of UN Women by Ban Ki-Moon in September 2010. She is a staunch supporter of social protection and providing the poor access to health care and affordable housing, among other things.

Looks like @hindelhinnawy was there, tweeting some of Dr. Bachelet’s motivational one-liners. Check it on Le Twitter if you are interested.

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Sharaf seems responsive to women’s demands

New PM Essam Sharaf has been a decent guy so far in my books. Thanks to the much-needed help of my faithful office buddies ( colleagues, if you are feeling in the mood for a professional shout out) Heba Gowayed and Ali Atef, here is a copy of the Masry Al Youm article (Arabic) about Sharaf announcing the formation of a new representative committee for women, translated into English:

Activists welcome Sharaf’s initiative for the establishment of a representative committee for women and demanded the abolition of the quota

A number of women leaders welcomed the announcement of Dr Essam Sharaf, Prime Minister, for the establishment of a new representative committee for women, under the Cabinet of Ministers, which would support the role of women in all aspects of life. The women leaders demand the necessity of forming a real women’s union, and the abolition of the women’s quota to avoid discrimination against men or women.

Shahinda Maqlid, a member of the Egyptian Women for Change movement, said to Al-Masry Al-Youm, that this initiative was good and was an alternative to the High Council for Women, which was headed by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the former president of the republic. She was observant of the necessity of establishing a women’s union that encompasses the greater number of political and social powers from all ages for the development of society that are not members of a particular political party as was the case with the previous regime.

Maqlid demanded the necessary introduction of an unconditional representative roster which permits all constituencies representation in the Egyptian Parliament during the coming period and which would benefit women, Copts, fellaheen, and workers alike. She was critical of the quota for women which determined a certain percentage of seats for women in parliamentary elections.

Maqlid assured that women had a distinctive role in the events of the January 25th revolution in many governorates of Egypt, in addition to continuing political battles for decades to protect the rights of the fellaheen and in supporting the real estate tax collector sit-ins and also different protests in demanding political and social rights.

Margaret Azer, secretary general for the Democratic Front Party, supported Maqlid in the necessity of the representative committee having an effective role in recruiting supporters for women as a real alternative to National Council of Women including all political movements and intellectual cadres and political leanings and different constituencies within society to play an educational role in society.

Azer said to Al-Masry Al-Youm that the establishment of a representative committee for women must be a temporary phase and through which awareness can be raised of society of the role of women and their capabilities toward the progression political, intellectual works and the elimination of the idea of “women’s quota” and anything that can put women in allocated positions, and establishing a “representative roster” with the condition that women on this roster have secure footing, indicating that representative roster will allow all sectors of society the chance for participation and will eliminate under the trend of thugs, businessmen and bribery in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Azer asked for the reformulation of elements of the constitution to highlight the role of women so that she is represented in all dimensions of life, critical of the marginalization of women during the previous phase through their representation in ministries, especially in the creation of the most recent ministries.

Kareema Hefnawy, member of the Egyptian Women for Change movement and the Kefaya movement, rejected the establishment of a representative committee for women because she considers this as if the society is bestowing charity to women by giving them their rights as opposed to men. She insists on the necessity of changing the views of society towards women, which is what would help her in getting rights without resorting to the establishment of a representative committee for women or a national council for women, that holds meeting in famous hotels without taking strong measures to benefit women.

Hefnawy indicated that specific councils for women will lead after a brief time to a type of “cronyism” and will provide superficial services as was the case in the past. She advocates for the abolition of the women’s quota and against discrimination and for giving women the opportunity to compete in free elections.

She demanded the necessity of equal opportunity between women and men, especially in the formation of ministries and not only giving women the ministries of housing and motherhood, childhood and social security.


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From Tahrir Square to my Kitchen

Hania Sholkamy writes about the reaction to the Million Women march  in Tahrir on March 8 and suggests considerations for moving forward. This piece really resonated with me. Check it out at the Pathways site: From Tahrir Square to my Kitchen.


“Under the influence of this optimism and immersed in internet fueled naiveté hundreds of women and men sought to go to the square and actually say what they had not dared speak in the past. The demonstrators dropped the veil of caution and voiced demands for equality and for civil rights and equal rights of citizenship. Perhaps their gesture and stance was badly presented or wrongly timed but what remains is the fact of differences amongst Egyptians who are now building a new Egypt. Evidently the space of protest is not a neutral one when it comes to questions of gender. But there are more important lessons with which we need to contend. I would like to discuss two.

The first is that democracy may not deliver equal rights for women. Democracy can become a tyranny if not tempered by a commitment to basic principles and freedoms. Despite the rebirth of politics and participation, there is no guarantee that the political process will be a fair one. It has been easy to get millions to agree to jettison Mubarak. It will be hard to get them to agree on what comes next. Whatever the politics of our future governments and legislatures may be, some basic principles of rights and freedoms have to be clearly stated and not left to the vagaries of elections. All free nations have imposed limits on the ability of people to harm or undermine their compatriots. This is a position we need to realize and cement into our national psyche.

The second lesson is that women should focus on demanding democratic processes that enable them to have voice and realize achievements. We should perhaps have demonstrated to dissolve the national machinery known as the National Council for Women and create a new body formed of civil society organizations with an elected board that is accountable to its constituents. We should insist on quotas for women within every new and old political party so as to insure that all politics are gendered. We should lobby for participatory policy councils that oversee the services we require from the state. These local councils would consult their citizens when planning health, social protection, education, policing and housing policy through a legally binding process. Perhaps women can realize citizenship-focused democracy by demanding the mechanisms that deliver justice to all.”

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Million Women march: some reflections

Photo by Adham Bakry

The March 8th demonstration on International Women’s Day to demand equal rights for women in Tahrir was a blow to many of us. What was intended as a peaceful gathering on International Women’s Day for the rights of Egyptian women turned into an angry scene, with anti-demonstrators (mostly men) chanting and purposefully intimidating the demonstrators: “Haram” (It’s forbidden/shameful) “Kefaya” (Enough) “Mish wa2to” (It  isn’t the time for this), and more. Some men were ripping up the signs of protesters and one older man was yelling that none of the women there were mothers of the martyrs.

Eventually, as the numbers of demonstrators dwindled, those against the demonstration harassed and ran people out of the square by force, with some women fleeing to safety. This outcome does prove, as well all knew, that there is a long way to go. Some thoughts:

Stop the self blame

Initially, some of my first thoughts were filled with self-blame: we didn’t gather enough numbers, we didn’t have some superficially simple distilled message, maybe it wasn’t the right time, etc. But you know what? Screw that. I just finished reading a piece by my boss, Hania (Sholkamy), that points out that there were no less than four other protests happening simultaneously nearby Tahrir for various causes (large protest by Maspero against a murder and burning of a Coptic church, Salafis in front of the PM’s office demanding the release of Christian women who converted to Islam then supposedly back to Christianity again, students calling for the resignation of the president of Fayoum University, workers outside of the Semiramis demonstrating for better work conditions) and yet the Million Women demo was the ONLY ONE that was intimated and harassed into silence, specifically being told to go back to the kitchen and criticized for what we were wearing. It was a peaceful demonstration! It was not disrupting any businesses or offices and was not blocking traffic. Actually, those men (and a few women) who came to protest against us where the ones standing in the road, disturbing the flow of cars in Tahrir! Both women and men participated in the struggle to depose Mubarak and (hopefully) rid the country of a stagnant and corrupt political system. They should also be able to demand full and equal rights for women without fear of violence or oppression!

Participating as a foreigner

Anti-foreigners sentiments seemed to be running a bit high. We were approached by a man selling flags who told us in English, “Monkeys, we Egyptians are monkeys who you are watching! Go home, leave our country!” Throughout these revolutionary days, it has been difficult as a foreigner to decide whether or not to go out and protest alongside Egyptian friends. I personally have felt torn in many situations as indeed Egypt is not my home country and the presence of foreigners in protests is often used against those protesting as evidence of foreign interference in domestic affairs. That said, I support the aspirations of the many people here who I know and love to determine the future of their country and rights and felt honored to walk, run, chant and bulk up numbers alongside these friends during those 18 days. Additionally, if there were to be one day in which foreign women could stand by their Egyptian sisters (and brothers) in solidarity for equal rights, you would hope it would be International Women’s Day.

Feeling like a (dejected) feminist

As the situation at the demonstration turned ugly, some friends and I left to drown our sorrows at Horreya and we applauded when we saw a man walk in wearing  a shirt that read “this is what a feminist looks like.” Unfortunately, as my friend Lissie pointed out, the feminist acknowledges our cheers but after taking a seat at a nearby table, was morosely holding his head in his hands. Indeed, on March 8th, this was what a feminist in Egypt felt like.


I’ll leave you with a link to an article in Ahram Online by Hala Shukrallah about why these counter-revolutionary events are targeting Copts and women .

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