Egypt's National Council for Women (NCW) is urging women to vote and to run as candidates in the forthcoming People's Assembly elections.
NCM secretary-general Mervat Tellawi told Al Ahram Weekly that her organization would also be following up the implementation of policies on women's issues, suggesting reforms and advising the authorities. The NCW, established in March, hopes that as many as 200 women will contest the elections, scheduled to begin in the second half of October. There were just 87 female candidates in the 1995 ballot. Only five were elected then, but President Hosni Mubarak, using his constitutional right, appointed four others. The nine represented 1.6 percent of parliament membership.
In the 1995 elections, the NDP nominated only 15 women, Wafd nominated five, the Islamist-oriented Labor three, and the Nasserist party none. The highest level of women's representation in parliament was 6.6 percent following the 1987 elections. This was made possible by a law - later quashed by the Supreme Constitutional Court - that reserved 32 Assembly seats for women.
This year, it is expected that women will figure high on the lists of candidates of many parties. But many experts agree the election battle remains tough, given prevalent social attitudes.
The under-representation of women in parliament also looks set to change. Egyptian women won the right to vote in 1956, but many political parties still question the wisdom of nominating women to run against men, given social attitudes that are often antagonistic to women's political activism.
To encourage women to be politically active, the NCW, chaired by first lady. Suzanne Mubarak, has decided to fully back all women candidates.
Tellawi hopes women will make up to 10 percent of the new Assembly of 444 elected members and 10 appointees.
"The Council is impressing on people the importance of increasing the scope of women's participation in all walks of life, and particularly in politics," she told the Weekly.
Tellawi said the NCW is putting "official and unofficial" pressure on the various political parties to nominate more women. The NCW will train candidates in how to run election campaigns. "Highly qualified professionals will be commissioned to train women nominees how to confront their opponents and emerge victorious." However, some women hopefuls charge that the NCW is in fact reluctant to provide support and help. Nariman El-Daramalli is an employee at the People's Assembly who hopes to make the candidate list of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
"I was encouraged by my family and people in Tema (Suhag governorate), as well as by Suzanne Mubarak's call for women to join in as voters and candidates," she said. "Although the general atmosphere is encouraging, I was expecting greater support, particularly financial support, from the NCW." Amna Nusseir, who is planning to run in Assiut, said: "The NCW has been doing a good job since it was set up, and we were told we would be supported. But I don't know when this support will materialize." Tellawi says once the political parties announce their lists of candidates, the NCW will support all women on them regardless of their political affiliation. One form of support will be paid newspaper advertisements. Tellawi said the NCW is ready to support Jihan El-Halafawi, a mother of six who has decided to run as a candidate of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood - but on condition "she supports women and their cause and makes a sincere effort to solve women's problems." El-Halafawi said in response: "Of course, I am going to ask for the Council's help. "Why not benefit from their experience and resources?" The NCW's efforts will be financed by donations from businessmen and businesswomen, Tellawi said. The NCW will not just back women candidates, but also women voters. It will help those without IDs to get them by organizing mobile civil registry units. - in cooperation with the interior and local administration ministries. People without voting cards will be able to use their IDs to cast ballots. The NCW is also planning information centers to guide women voters to their polling stations and it will organize programs to increase their political awareness.
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