It has been one year since a wave of political change set Egypt on a challenging but promising path to reform. Yet, while women played a crucial role in bringing the transition about, many feel that they are yet to fully benefit from it.
Many women ran as candidates in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, yet just nine were elected and two appointed — which makes up 2 percent of the People's Assembly. Women's voices have also been largely absent from the process of redrafting the constitution.
Throughout the year, women's activists have been voicing concerns about the continued lack of laws and practices to encourage women's leadership, to address their social and economic empowerment, and to tackle the high rates of gender-based violence in private and public spaces. During the transition process, UN Women has continued to support Egyptian women's leadership; particularly their renewed focus on full participation in political life. Much of this work has centred around the strengthening of women's networks and their advocacy capacities, in close partnership with national women's groups and the transitional government.
In early 2011, UN Women helped the development of a National Egyptian Women's Charter — a powerful lobbying tool that articulated women's expectations of the democratic transition. The project united different groups to discuss common goals, and brought many women in touch with new tools for communication and mobilization. The Charter was announced in June 2011 at a large conference organized by a coalition of Egyptian NGOs. It was signed by half a million women and men from 27 governorates, and finalized and ratified by 500 women's NGOs.
In 2011, UN Women was also involved in the historic launch of the Egyptian Women's Union. Through networking, lobbying and technical support it is expected to mobilize five million women voters in the parliamentary and presidential elections, and the constitutional referendum, while working to propose revised and inclusive party agendas. The Union will also link women throughout the region, such as by supporting and advising Libyan women on establishing their own national convention, charter and union.
A Coalition for Civic Education and Women's Participation has also been formed to monitor female political participation during the transition, with its members taking on the mantle of both watchdog and lobbyist. They have met with editors-in-chief of prominent newspapers, and communicated their concerns to the ruling Military Council, and public at large. This has generated extensive media coverage on women's rights issues, and created a valuable repository of information about women in the elections.
A wide range of training sessions, workshops and informational have helped to nourish political awareness among the country's women. By partnering with institutions such as Cairo University, for example, UN Women has helped to recruit female electoral observers and hold training sessions for women candidates and their campaign managers. In another case, a voter awareness campaign was targeted at women and developed through media channels using Public Service Announcements, and jingles on radio and television.
Even though achieving gender equality is rarely a fast process, times of transition offer tremendous opportunities for change. One year since the Arab Spring took shape, women across the Arab States region continue to call for genuine and inclusive nation-building processes. With support for their voices and full participation, the coming year holds promise, in Egypt and beyond.