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Mervat al-Tellawi: Women’s Rights in the Constitution

Mervat al-Tellawi
Mervat al-Tellawi

From my recent article in Arab West Report, continuing a series of interviews with members of the constitutional committee. Mervat al-Tallawi is the head of the National Council for Women. She described that strengthening of articles concerning women’s rights was not difficult, setting right the Islamist tinge from 2012. But Tellawi felt these protections were not enough, given the realities of Egyptian society:

So the text of Article 11 makes clear that women have the right to serve in high government and judicial positions, which actually did meet quite a bit of opposition in the committee – from a surprising source. The Salafī representative objected in clear and straightforward manner, as expected, and the Azhar did not speak either in favor or against. But otherwise liberal members protested, naming Diā’ Rashwān of the journalist syndicate specifically, the head of the lawyers’ syndicate (Sāmih Ashūr), the head of the doctors’ syndicate (Khayrī ‘Abd al-Dā’im), and the head of a university (not specified, either Jābir Nassār of Cairo University or Ahmad Muhammadīn of Suez Canal University). She anticipated religious representatives might oppose her efforts, but was taken aback by these educated and liberal figures.

Article 11 also spoke against violence against women, which was passed unopposed. But it also called for ‘appropriate representation’ for women in parliament, which also proved controversial. Originally, Tallāwī asked for ‘just and balanced’ to be the phrasing on this issue, but Sayyid Badawī of the Wafd Party objected, saying this meant she wanted fifty percent. No, she replied, but if specification is needed let us officially propose a one-third parliament representation for women. The others mentioned above joined in what became a three hour fight, the end result of which was the wording of ‘appropriate’. This only postpones the battle, Tallāwī stated, until the drafting of the electoral law which will define what appropriate means, but there are several acceptable modalities. Perhaps the law will oblige parties to place women high on their voting lists; perhaps each governorate will assign three seats to be contested by women only. Other options can be discussed.

Tellawi also addressed the much overlooked, but vital sphere of local governance, and ensured women would have a place therein:

If social conservatives, though, had objection to appropriate women’s representation in the parliament, they did not object to a full quota in the local councils. Article 180 stipulates women must receive one quarter of elected positions, with one quarter to youth, and half to workers and farmers, with undefined appropriate representation for Copts and the handicapped. The only issue raised against the women’s representation here was if there were a sufficient number of women capable of serving administratively. Without a doubt, Tallāwī assured, giving specific names and stating the National Council for Women had 20,000 rural women who helped communicate between the council and illiterate women in the villages. But people are not aware of this, and men tend to only see men as qualified. But the members of the committee did not treat this issue with the same importance given to parliament.

She comments also on the controversial articles concerning the military and civil governance versus civil government. Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

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