Photo Credit: Mohammed Hassan
The 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, takes place after much debate on how to commemorate this landmark agreement on the human rights of women and girls. For many activists, organizing towards the celebration came in the context of the Commission on the Status of Women this March 2019 (CSW63). One major milestone is the creation of regional multi-stakeholder platforms for countries to draw from their national reports and feed into a regional reflection on gender-related commitments. Ultimately, the plan is for those reports to later be presented at the 64th session of CSW in March 2020. Egypt’s report was prepared by the National Council for Women (NCW), and here are some reflections.
The state declared 2017 as “The year of Egyptian Women”, this for starters, entails that all reported “achievements” are not incorporating migrants and refugees residing in Egypt. The report includes but is not limited to: a national campaign to eliminate hepatitis C by 2020.(1) Along this line, there is an overtone throughout the report of unprecedented achievements; “The first of its kind globally..for the first time...breaking the glass ceiling for the first time…” “first time” was mentioned 12 times throughout the document. It is striking how virtual campaigns, legislative changes (more punitive laws), and memorandum of understanding between the NCW and other governmental apparatuses have been the easy lazy go-to solution to streamline a national position on “equality between sexes.”(2) Social media indicators have been used primarily to applaud outreach achievements, and while they can certainly guide some civil society organizing and advocacy, they are insufficient to reclaim unprecedented achievements in a country like Egypt, or any country really!
The report is made up of four sections: 1) priorities, achievements, and challenges, 2) progress made across areas of concern,(3) 3) national institutions and processes, 4) data and statistics.
While this report is full of blanket statements presented as achievements, such as: “women employees in administrative machinery enjoy a high level of work stability, under no gender discriminatory executive order on promotions and job security.” Under section II area one, “Egyptian women participated in the formulation of five-year plans on the social and economic development of the state for gender mainstreaming” (2007 - 2012, 2012 - 2017) the mechanisms used to enable such participation go unmentioned, especially when surveys and data collection are gated by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Also, attempted quantitative evidence is problematic; in serving as a checkbox. For instance, it references subscribers in the health insurance system to be 57%, whereas only 8% are women who benefit from health insurance services.
Different sectors including civil society, are acclimated to top-down approaches partially represented in activities like: arranged home visits to women in rural areas, to “educate” women about reproductive health, and through messaging that takes away women’s agency in making reproductive decisions; such as the “Two [children] Is Enough” campaign.
It is inevitable to undermine celebratory reports that include no actual monitoring or evaluation, partly because of excluding civil society from the whole process, and largely for the absence of citizen participation.