Ahead of the parliamentary elections expected by the end of 2015, according to the Egyptian government, women are preparing their efforts, hoping to achieve strong results and guarantee fair female representation on the national level.
Parliamentary elections were first scheduled to be held last March. However, a decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) cancelled the process on the grounds that the issued parliamentary laws violate the constitution.
The new electoral districts law was issued on 9 July by the presidency, while two more laws are pending. The Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) is in charge of announcing the parliamentary election dates, following the finalisation of the law.
“Now that the law has been amended and electoral districts were reduced in numbers, women have a better chance of competition,” said Refaat Al-Komsan, a member of the political bureau of the state-affiliated National Council for Women (NCW), in a Sunday conference.
“It is more effective for female candidates to operate on a constituency made of 50,000 to 70,000 voters,” he added. Nonetheless, electoral competition for women faces several obstacles, mainly in financing campaigns.
Moreover, female representatives from the governorate of Damietta raised the problem of competing against Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates, or other Islamist movements, not only in parliamentary elections, but also in local municipality councils, which women are more active in pursuing than the parliament.
They said the Brotherhood and other affiliated groups use money to acquire popularity in the streets, in addition to rousing public sentiment by supporting them in times of crisis, whether financially or through establishing personal contacts.
Dawlat Sweilam, an expert in social development issues, argued that the problem is a part of the public’s perceptions derived from their culture. “We should not be thrown off by such actions; we should confront them by alternative plans and foster a new culture,” Sweilam told Daily News Egypt in the aftermath of the conference.
Sweilam said that based on her experience in 27 governorates, she has seen influential and powerful women in their communities. “We do not have a political problem by the way, we have social issues in delivering proper and correct messages, choosing the easy way out by putting the blame on the Brotherhood,” she added.
Female circumcision and early marriage are two examples of priority social issues.
On the other hand, Sweilam pointed out a dilemma, which is the relationship between female candidates, voters and women’s issues. While she asserted that more female representation in the parliament means more attention to women’s causes, she stressed that there is no need for affirmative action in the process.
“I oppose quotas and the like, and I also do not say that every woman should elect a woman nor that female voters should be the only targets of candidates. A good candidate should attract both genders,” Sweilam said.
“Good comes from a well-planned electoral programme, not because she is a woman. We have seen the experience of electing religious preachers on the false assumption that they would actually be more biased towards religious practices in their actions,” she added.
Al-Komsan further noted that during the preparations of March’s annulled elections, political parties were keen on including women on their candidates’ lists, which he believed was either related to their increased awareness on the issue, or simply to “gain popularity”.
“In any case, it positively contributed to more female representation,” Al-Komsan told Daily News Egypt. He added that 56 seats are guaranteed for women inside the upcoming parliament, according to the division of the list-systems, and 14 are to be directly appointed by the president.
NCWR members responded to the “Brotherhood fears” by reminding the audience that women played a crucial role in the anti-Brotherhood uprising of 30 June 2013, adding that “they [the Brotherhood]” would not stop taking advantage of every situation, and therefore women should remain strong in the fight.