Women hold just over 2 percent of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament, down from about 12 percent in the last elections held under Mubarak. The sharp decline followed the elimination of a quota to ensure women’s representation, which had been seen by many as a way to stack the body with members of Mubarak’s political party.
Military rulers did not include any women in the committee that wrote constitutional amendments adopted in a nationwide referendum last year. And there are no women among the 13 candidates who will be on the ballot Wednesday, when voting begins in the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.
Badran and other women’s rights activists are particularly worried that the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood will use its religious and charitable groups to encourage uneducated and poor women to vote for its candidate, Mohammed Morsi. Morsi opposes women being allowed to serve in the presidency. He has called for the implementation of Islamic law and, at campaign rallies, referred to Islam’s holy book, the Koran, as the constitution.
To counter the Brotherhood, Badran’s group has hired hundreds of buses to take women to the polls. It is also distributing pamphlets that encourage women to vote for a candidate who respects women, who doesn’t use religion to campaign and who doesn’t lie, Badran said. The group has not endorsed a candidate.
Among its Arab neighbors, Egypt boasts some of the strongest legal protections for women. Women here can sue for divorce. They are a significant part of the workforce, and they are not subject to an Islamic dress code. Egyptian women who are married to foreign men can pass on citizenship to their children, unlike in more socially liberal countries such as Lebanon, where they cannot.
But the Islamist-dominated parliament is discussing several proposals that could change women’s status here. They include lowering the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 13 and revoking divorced mothers’ custody of their boys at age 7 and girls at 9, rather than at 15, a move that would be in accordance with a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The existing rules were projects of Suzanne Mubarak, the former first lady, a strong advocate of laws to protect women and children’s rights. But she was also accused of monopolizing the issue and putting laws on the books that were never implemented, while independent women’s groups were not allowed to flourish.