Sunday, October 07, 2012

Women in the constitutional amendment

We are, supposedly, living historic times in the Arab world. Democracy is peeking its head everywhere we look, but a full presence has not yet been secured, at least in my opinion. Let's for a minute turn our eyes to the "democratic" state at work: the Republic of Egypt. It is indeed an important achievement. Egypt is now debating its new constitution, and the discussion is public. How much of the public discussion will be taken into account for the draft constitution, I don't know. But it's a definitely a step forward.

As part of the discussion (yes I am aware that I am not Egyptian but I'm putting my 2 cents in anyway), let's have a look at one of the proposed articles on offer, Article 36. Here's a quick translation I made:

The State commits to to all legal and executive measures to enshrine the principle of women equalling men in political, cultural, economic and social life and other aspects, that does not go against Islamic Shari'a. The State will provide free maternity and child care and will guarantee for women protection and social, economic and health welfare, the right to inheritance and ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and her work in society.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of gender issues can clearly see that equality is not really at the heart of this article, but the appearance of it is. I will not venture to argue whether Islamic Sharia' does allow for equality between men and women because I am clearly not an expert on the subject. I will just make a few remarks from my own reading of the article.

The phrasing "the principle of women equalling men" is obviously problematic. It's not "equality between women and men", as if to say that somehow men are superior and they will advocate that women equal them as much as possible.

The mention of women and her role as a mother in the same article that is meant to advocate equality is more evidence that gender equality was not really taken seriously when drafting this text. Social, political and economic rights is not the same topic as caring for a family. The family should be the responsibility of both parents, but the writers here do not seem to agree.

Which brings me to my last point: how is it the state's responsibility to interfere in the woman's decision to juggle work and family? I am referring to the statement "ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and work in society".

No. They are not serious. This article is a joke. And judging from the feedback on it, it will probably pass.

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