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Security breakdown has wreaked havoc with women’s lives in Arab transition countries, but it is hardly recognized in international debates on gender based violence, says Mariz Tadros
The T-shirts read: human dignity, bread, social justice and freedom. Photo: Nefssi
This is the first of two articles by Mariz Tadros discussing the disjunctures between the current international discourse on gender based violence and women’s realities on the ground in ‘Arab transition’ contexts.
Sometime past midnight in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday the 27th November, activists reported that a security vehicle dumped a group of women in the middle of the desert in Egypt. Security officers had arrested them the day before for protesting against the proposed protest law, which they believed would infringe on citizens’ freedom of expression. Some of the women arrested were also activists in anti-sexual harassment groups such as Fouada Watch and Opantish. Captured footage showing how roughly they were treated seemed déjà vu of the repressive security apparatus handling of dissent during Mubarak’s and Morsi’s authoritarian regimes.
However, what is striking is that the arrests of the protestors did not stir the mass mobilization of the citizenry to rise in anger, raising the troubling question of why not?
The truth of the matter is that almost three years of having suffered from the withdrawal of the security apparatus from assuming their role in protecting citizens, most Egyptians now yearn more than anything for an end to what is locally referred to as al infelat al amny – security breakdown/laxity. Human security – the idea of putting the security apparatus in the service of people’s needs for safety and protection, rather than the security interests of a ruling regime or the interests of international actors, has never had a chance to thrive in Egypt – or in any other country that has experienced revolts.
Read more: http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/women%E2%80%99s-human-security-rights-in-arab-world-on-nobodys-agenda?utm_source=50.50+list&utm_campaign=1a1e81e738-RSS_5050_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_89d6c8b9eb-1a1e81e738-407822177
By Arwa Gaballa
CAIRO, Nov 12 (Aswat Masriya) – Women are the main breadwinners in as many as 30 percent of Egyptian households, a role frowned on by conservative Egyptian society but increasingly important in a country plunged into dire economic straits by the turbulent politics of the post-Mubarak era.
Many of them are poor, illiterate and lacking experience of formal employment, and are forced into menial work in the informal economy, doing poorly paid jobs with no insurance or pension and involving exposure to the public gaze that attracts the disapproval of neighbours.
“Things were difficult before the uprising too, with those in power robbing us, but at least the little we had was enough to live on,” said Zeinab Abdel Fattah, 64. “Now we have nothing. Life has become unbearable.”
Abdel Fattah, who has a family of eight, leaves her home every morning at 6 a.m. for the city centre. Sitting cross-legged on a platform in the heart of Cairo, she sells eggs, eggplants and cottage cheese to passersby, but often returns empty-handed.
“No one buys anything anymore,” she said.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts found Egypt to be the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, due to endemic sexual harassment, a surge in trafficking, high rates of female genital mutilation and a rollback of freedoms since the revolution.
Egypt scored badly on work-related issues, too. Gender-based discrimination affects many women in the workplace and is rarely punished, respondents said.
While many Egyptian women have to work because their husbands died or divorced or abandoned them, others, like Abdel Fattah, support their family because their husband’s pension is small or his work is irregular or unstable.
“My husband was only a worker before he retired; he can’t read, you see. Now his pension is 500 Egyptian pounds ($72.57), which is not enough to feed us.”
Mona Ezzat of the New Woman Foundation, an advocacy group, said that while official data estimate 16 percent of Egyptian breadwinners are women, independent sources put the figure as high as 30 percent.
“Because the majority of these women are impoverished and thus are mostly illiterate and have no skills or experience, they resort to the informal economy, cleaning houses, street vending and so on,” she said.
The problem with working in the informal economy is that these women are not entitled to pensions or health or social insurance, and they are often exposed to physical and psychological violence that they cannot challenge, as they enjoy no legal protection.
Even if Abdel Fattah’s thin grey hair weren’t showing beneath her worn-out headscarf, the wrinkles on her tired face, her missing teeth and rough, dirty hands were evidence of the difficult life she leads.
Like her husband, Abdel Fattah cannot read or write, but all her children can.
“My six children can read. Some of my children even went to university!” she said proudly with a big smile. “That was when things were easier, before they got this bad.”
The New Woman Foundation’s Ezzat said: “The struggles of breadwinners have worsened as Egypt’s economy deteriorated.” She added that there is no real plan for economic growth, as can be seen from the increase in the number of street vendors struggling to scrape a living.
The economy grew by 7 percent a year in the period leading to the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — part of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa — but has since slowed sharply because of the collapse of tourism and the fall in foreign investment.
GDP growth last year was only 2.1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2011, the state news agency reported earlier this month — worryingly low for a country whose population of 85 million suffers from high unemployment and is expected to reach 100 million by 2030.
Price rises have put many goods beyond the reach of average households, and this has led the government to draw up a plan to distribute basic supplies at subsidized prices.
In Abdel Fattah’s case, her already grinding burden is made worse by her neighbours’ criticism of her for working at her age, “as if it was by choice”.
“They think there is a lot of money in what I do,” she laughed, adding that her neighbours mock her for having to work when she has six grown-up children.
Ezzat explains that the way female breadwinners are viewed and treated in Egypt is a psychological burden, especially as many of them live in poor areas which tend to be more conservative and more critical.
Female breadwinners are often criticised for spending too much time outside their home without a male figure around, a cultural judgment that is not limited to poor neighbourhoods, Ezzat said.
Neighbourly criticism and social pressure often force these women either to take their sons out of school and send them off to work in their place, or to marry off their daughters quickly to shift the responsibility for earning the family income to their husbands.
“The sons are deprived of getting an education and the daughters are married off before their time,” Ezzat said.
ANA HUNNA CAMPAIGN
Rights activists and women’s rights organizations in the Middle East posted their thoughts on female breadwinners in a Twitter campaign on Saturday.
Hundreds of activists around the Middle East joined the online debate, using the hashtags “#Loqmet3ish” and “#anahunna”. The first hashtag, Loqmet3ish, means “a piece of bread”, an Arabic phrase used widely to describe making a living.
The campaign, organized by Ana Hunna (I Am Here), said that women are the main supporters of 33 percent of Egyptian households and families.
“Despite the fact that norms (are) transforming in Egypt, women are still generally defined as dependants and subordinate to men,” Ana Hunna posted on its account.
Ana Hunna started out in 2011 as an online campaign to empower working women, but gradually expanded and now aspires to become an actual initiative, one of the organizers, Esraa Saleh, told Aswat Masriya.
The campaign used to depend on making films to raise awareness of the need for gender equality in employment, but it is now looking for more activities that could have a greater impact on the ground, Saleh said.
“If we (female breadwinners) decide to not work for just one week, this society will be paralyzed,” Rana Allam wrote on Twitter.
“It’s time we recognized Arab women; the real heroes of our generation,” said Hebbah Hussein, another participant in the campaign. “Mothers and breadwinners will shape Egypt’s future.”
Conference on working women in Egypt and their role in political participation and economic development
مؤتمر يناقش أحقية المرأة العاملة في المشاركة السياسية
جانب من المتدربات بمركز التدريب المهني- صورة لأصوات مصرية
ينظم الاتحاد العام لنقابات عمال مصر بمشاركة المجلس القومي للمرأة الخميس المقبل مؤتمره الأول للمرأة العاملة لبحث دور المرأة العاملة في المشاركة السياسية والتنمية الاقتصادية والاجتماعية
وقالت سحر عثمان، سكرتير المرأة العاملة والطفل باتحاد العمال، إن المؤتمر سيناقش أوراق عمل حول أحقية عاملات مصر اللاتي يمثلن 40% من قوة العمل، التي تقدر بنحو 25 مليون عامل وعاملة
وأكدت عثمان على أحقية المرأة العاملة فى المشاركة السياسية وإبداء الرأي فى مواد الدستور، وأحقيتهن فى التمثيل داخل المجالس النيابية، والشعبية المنتخبة دون تمييز، مشيرة إلى أهمية تعميق دورهن الاجتماعي وفي الأنشطة التي تساهم في خدمة المجتمع
وأشارت سكرتير المرأة العاملة والطفل إلى أن المؤتمر سيبحث التشريعات الخاصة بعمل المرأة وتوفير العمل اللائق لها وفقا لما نصت عليه التشريعات الوطنية واتفاقيات العمل الدولية
ويحضر المؤتمر سكينة فؤاد مستشار رئيس الجمهورية لشؤون المرأة، والمستشارة تهاني الجبالي نائب رئيس المحكمة الدستورية العليا سابقا، وعدد من النقابيات والجهات المعنية بقضايا المرأة
|July 01, 2013 12:57 AM|
|By Olivia Alabaster|
CAIRO: Experts warn any IMF loan package to Egypt will have dangerous long-term effects on the country’s most marginalized citizens, and that the secrecy surrounding the negotiations represents a threat to democracy. The government has been in talks with the International Monetary Fund for more than a year now over a $4.8 billion loan to help tackle the growing state budget deficit, which stood at $26.4 billion in May, according to the Finance Ministry.
The IMF is due to respond to the recently submitted reform program in the coming weeks, but details of the negotiations and conditions for the loan have not been made public.
At a regional conference in Cairo over the weekend, held by the New Woman Foundation in conjunction with Lebanon-based CRTD-A, a gender research NGO, delegates went into details of the 2013/2014 budget, recently passed by the Shura Council, many elements of which they said would be crippling to the poorest and most sidelined citizens, including women.
Head of the research institute at the Bank of Egypt, Salwa al-Antari documented how the economy had suffered since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
“After a revolution which asked for certain slogans, it has gotten worse,” she said, blaming the current situation on a failure of management and a lack of good governance.
She also blamed management of the economy under Mubarak, saying that “the majority of the population before the revolution never felt the fruits of growth rates.”
While it was natural, she said, that a period of instability and financial insecurity would follow any revolution – with $9 billion in foreign reserves leaving the country in the first six months postrevolution – people were initially optimistic that the country would soon get back on its feet.
“We had the necessary infrastructure and factories, so all they would need was good management, more efficient policies … people thought. But unfortunately what happened was the opposite.”
The growth rate before the revolution stood at 5.1 percent, but by the second half of 2012 it fell to 2.2 percent. The current Cabinet has set a target of 3.5 percent, but as Antari said, “There are no signs that the situation has improved. All indicators show that the situation is deteriorating and I believe that if we manage to maintain the 2.2 percent rate of last year that would be an achievement.”
On tourism, which has always been an important pillar of the economy, Antari said that she believed the current Muslim Brotherhood-led government was intentionally mismanaging the sector.
“Whenever there are efforts to revive tourism, we find there is something intentional to stop this,” she said, citing irresponsible statements that had been issued, including claims that “Pharaonic monuments are blasphemous, that tourists only wear bikinis and drink alcohol.”
“It became obvious that there are methodological efforts to prevent tourism,” she added, including the reduction of money allocated to boosting tourism in the latest state budget and the temporary appointment of a jihadist governor of Luxor, a crucial area for tourism.
Employment too has suffered, with unemployment increasing from 9 percent before the revolution to 13 percent today, and 27 percent for women.
Those living below the poverty line – which is defined as earning just $36 per month – account for 25 percent of the population.
Antari warned that the government of Mohammad Mursi saw borrowing as the only solution for this dire situation.
Egyptian business journalist Musbah Katub said that when Mursi assumed office exactly one year ago, foreign borrowing stood at $34 billion. In the last year alone this has increased by $11 billion.
He labeled the ongoing negotiations a “bad game being played between the IMF and Mursi’s government. …I believe the current system aims at making Egypt drown in more and more foreign indebtedness,” leaving it more susceptible to other country’s desires.
“It will be very easy after that to impose conditions on the country, and the first thing they will bargain with is the Suez Canal,” he added.
Decreasing the budget deficit through such austere measures, was not worth the costs to the people of Egypt, Katub said.
“This will have adverse effects on vulnerable groups, and women will pay high costs. The whole situation is really risky and dangerous,” he added.
The new state budget increases the sales tax on a number of goods, which speakers said would unfairly hit the poorest in society. Income tax of 10 percent will be imposed upon anyone earning $65 per month, and the maximum bracket, for those earning over $35,000 a year, is just 25 percent.
Mohammad Guad, another business journalist, slammed the sales tax as “a regressive tax with very violent social impact,” and one which would most affect women, as they generally are responsible for managing the household budget.
He also said the economic policies of the government “gave the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood are against social justice and democracy.”
“The short term impacts look easy and manageable, but it’s vital to look at the long-term impacts of the conditions for the loan,” Katub said.
Economist Ahmad al-Hajjar backed these comments, saying that the country was witnessing “the same policies as under Mubarak, but just with less efficiency.”
He also said it was shameful that while women used to account for 29 percent of the workforce, they had now fallen to 23 percent, while “in the rest of the Arab region the share of women in the workforce has gone up,” and called for recognition of women’s work within the home.
Delegates at the conference, which was funded by Oxfam NOVIB and held under the Women’s Learning Partnership international banner, came up with recommendations for fairer economic justice, including increased access to information for all citizens, in particular women, so that they were aware of their rights and responsibilities, in order to best achieve political and economic empowerment.
On the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations, Lina Abou Habib, director of CRTD-A, also asked, “Can we talk about democracy when the fate of people’s lives is not being openly discussed?”
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Business/Middle-East/2013/Jul-01/222081-experts-poor-to-bear-burden-of-egypts-imf-loan.ashx#ixzz2a37xvmzr
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)
Posted on 29 June 2013 by wlp
By Olivia Alabaster, on behalf of WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A
Saturday, June 29
CAIRO: The implications of an IMF loan package to Egypt were discussed in further detail on the second day of a regional conference on economic justice and women’s rights Saturday organised by CRTD.A/WLP-Lebanon.
Egyptian workers march to Shura Council on May Day 2013 (cc) Gigi Ibrahim
In the first session Mohammed Guad, from Al-Shourouk newspaper, spoke of how the conditions which the IMF loan deal stipulates would most negatively affect the poor and marginalized sectors of society, including women.
He also described Egypt’s regional importance, stating that were the pound to collapse here, it would undoubtedly have knock-on effects across the Middle East, and suggested that faith in a country’s economy was closely linked to the political system.
“Trust in a country’s economy happens when democracy prevails,” he said.
Talking of the new state budget for Egypt, Guad slammed the sales tax as a “regressive tax with a very violent social impact.” He added that it would have bad consequences for women, who normally have to manage the household expenses and said in general the state budget gave the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood are “against social justice and democracy.”
He also stressed the need for civil society to increase efforts to speak out against the IMF loan and said that, “As seen by the previous parliament, members of parliament are not necessarily best representatives of the people, so civil society needs to step up. ”We should not remain subject to things imposed on us by others,” he added.
In groups, participants then discussed alternative approaches to achieving economic justice and equality for women.
Proposals focused on the need to expand access to information and knowledge for women across the board, and the need for political and economic empowerment to go hand in hand. It was also suggested that NGOs better network with each other, to share information and collaborate on advocacy efforts.
Another suggestion was better lobbying of politicians, as well as the need to submit regular reports to relevant actors in government.
A grassroots approach was stressed, including the need for education on women’s rights and duties, to better enable a politically aware society and an understanding of the long-term effects of an IMF loan, which in turn could help boost opposition to it.
In conclusion, Lina Abou-Habib, director of CRTD-A, said that while the conference had focused on Egypt, the lessons learned were relevant to countries across the region. Speakers had agreed, she said, on the dangers of the secrecy surrounding the ongoing negotiations. “Can we talk about democracy when the fate of people’s lives is not being openly discussed?” she asked. Abou-Habib also introduced the launch of the WLP global campaign entitled “Stand with Women Who Stand for Democracy” and the timeliness of the Campaign for both Egypt and other Arab countries in the throes of post revolts transformations. The New Women Foundation and the Equality without Reservation Coalition, both co-organisers of the events, will be launching the Campaign on their social media.
Posted on 28 June 2013 by wlp
By Olivia Alabaster, on behalf of WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A
CAIRO: On the opening day of WLP-Lebanon/CRTD.A’s regional conference on economic justice and women’s rights, delegates representing women’s organisations from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco met in Cairo to discuss the implications of Egypt’s current IMF (International Monetary Fund) negotiations for women.
An Egyptian woman worker stacks bricks at a brickyard kiln factory near the town of Mansoura city, 210 km north of Cairo in March 30, 2008 (cc) Nasser Nouri
In the opening plenary, Lina Abou-Habib, director of the Lebanese NGO CRTD-A (WLP’s partner in Lebanon), said that the theme was chosen as the IMF negotiations are an urgent matter, but due to the lack of transparency surrounding the talks, “very few of us are aware of the negotiations.”
“Attention and involvement in the issue is crucial,” she added, as “it does affect all of us.”
The first speaker, Dr. Salwa al-Antari, former head of the research institute at the Bank of Egypt, laid out the economic state of the country, and detailed how the situation has deteriorated since the revolution in 2011.
“After a revolution which asked for certain slogans, it has gotten worse. Why is this?” she asked, putting the blame on a failure of management and a lack of good governance.
However she also blamed the Mubarak government for the situation today.
“The revolution was the best proof that all the policies adopted before were complete failures,” she said “the majority of population before the revolution never felt the fruits of growth rates.”
She painted a stark portrait — a country experiencing high unemployment, ever slowing growth and high poverty.
After the revolution, foreign investment left the country – some $9 billion in the first six months alone.
The tourism sector – one vital to the country – has also suffered greatly, she said, thanks to the instability and also to deliberate neglect of the sector by government officials.
“It became obvious that there are methodological efforts to prevent tourism,” she said, citing comments from politicians and the recent appointment of an Islamist governor of the Luxor region.
She criticized the current Mursi government for looking to borrowing as the only solution for a growing budget deficit, and its 2013-2014 state budget plans, which was recently passed by the Shura Council.
Sales tax increases will most seriously affect those already struggling, and income tax rules – with 25% for the highest bracket – do not go far enough, and exempt only those who earn less than 456 Egyptian pounds a month, ($65).
To summarise, she said that any “IMF loan will impact upon poor people and women will be the worst affected.”
Business journalist Musbah Katub spoke next, and was skeptical over the worth of any IMF loan.
He described the ongoing negotiations between Mursi’s government and the IMF as a “bad game,” with the latter trying to “trap countries into indebtment… when they are unable to pay it back.”
“I believe the current proposal aims at making Egypt drown in more and more foreign indebtness,” he said, adding that when Mursi assumed office there was $34 billion of debt, a figure which has increased by $11 billion in his first year of office.
He also said that the only reason Egypt has been able to ride out these economic dark days thus far is all the unpaid work that women do.
Any IMF loan, he said, would see “women paying off high costs.”
Lastly, economist Dr. Ahmad al-Hajjar slammed the current government’s policies: “we are seeing the same policies as under Mubarak, but with less efficiency.”
The government, he said, was taking out this IMF loan to manage the state budget deficit, but it is holding the next generations responsible for paying it off.
That women’s involvement in the workforce has dropped from 29% to 23%, he said, was shameful, and were this to increase it would “help the entire country have a good productive system,” rather than merely relying on foreign loans which leave the country more susceptible to external meddling.
This Conference was organised as part of a regional programme on gender equality and economic justice including Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt and funded by Oxfam-Novib. The outcomes of this event is expected to feed into a regional policy dialogue process aiming identifying strategies to support women’s involved in economic policy formulation.
التلاوي: المرأة تمثل 23% من إجمالي قوة العمل في مصر
كتبت- جهاد الشبيي: ه
شددت مرفت التلاوي، رئيس المجلس القومي للمرأة، على أن أحد أهم معوقات التنمية في البلدان العربية والإسلامية يكمن بشكل عام في تهميش المرأة وتحجيم وتقليص دورها في العملية التنموية، لافتة إلى أنها مشكلة لا تتعلق بالمرأة وحدها، وإنما بمسألة الرؤى وسياسات التنمية.
جاء ذلك في كلمة ألقتها السفيرة مرفت، خلال مشاركتها الأحد، بافتتاح منتدى التمكين الاقتصادي للمرأة الذي تنظمه جامعة الأزهر، بالتعاون مع وكالة التنمية الفرنسية، بحضور شيخ الأزهر، وسفير فرنسا في مصر.
وأشارت التلاوي إلى أن ”ادعاءات” لازالت تُثار حول قدرة المرأة على القيام بدور هام في تنمية المجتمع، موضحة ”البعض ينظر إلى المرأة بوصفها كائنًا لا يصلح سوى لإنتاج العنصر البشري، والمؤسف أن هذه الادعاءات بالتوجه السلبي تجاه المرأة، الذي يستند إلى التفسير الخاطئ للدين، والدين منه براء”.
وأكدت أن المرأة تمثل ركنًا أساسيًا من أركان المجتمع، وأنها مساهم رئيسي في صنع حاضره ومستقبله؛ قائلة ”تعتبر المرأة حافظة التراث والقيم والمبادئ الأساسية للمجتمع، وذلك بدورها في عملية التنشئة الاجتماعية للأجيال”.
وأوضحت التلاوي، في كلمتها، أن بيانات الجهاز المركزي للتعبئة العامة والإحصاء تشير إلى أن المرأة المصرية تواجه العديد من التحديات في المجال الاقتصادي، حيث تمثل قرابة 23 في المئة من إجمالي قوة العمل في مصر، ويصل معدل البطالة بين الإناث لأكثر من أربعة أمثال المعدل للذكور.
وأضافت أن نسبة المتعطلين لحديثي التخرج من الإناث ترتفع إلى نسبة 25.5 في المئة، وتصل نسبة المرأة المعيلة في مصر لنحو 25 في المئة من النساء العائلات لأسر معظمهن يعملن في القطاع غير الرسمي، يفتقدن التأمينات والتعويضات والرعاية الصحية والاجتماعية، ومن ناحية أخرى نجد المرأة المصرية تمثل ثلث المسؤولين الإداريين في الأجهزة الحكومية والمؤسسات العامة، سواء وزارة التعليم والصحة أو التأمينات والخدمات والبنوك والشركات.
وقالت إن تلك الظواهر والأوضاع تدعونا إلى ضرورة العمل على عدة محاور أهمها؛ أولًا: المحور السياسي وضرورة تمثيل المرأة في المجالس والهيئات النيابية المنتخبة، وذلك بتوفير التشريعات التي تساعد وتسمح بذلك، وثانيًا: والمحور الثقافي وهو يتطلب تضافر جميع الجهود لتغيير الثقافة المجتمعية، ثالثًا: المحور الاقتصادي وذلك بالتمكين الاقتصادي للمرأة، وهو من أسباب القوة الاقتصادية للدولة.
وشددت رئيس المجلس على أن ”قصور” الاستثمار في الفرص الاقتصادية للنساء يؤدي إلى نمو اقتصادي ”مقيد ومحدود”، ما يؤدي إلى إبطاء وتيرة التقدم الممكن تحقيقه في معدلات النمو الاقتصادي وفي تخفيض أعداد الفقراء، موضحة أن الشواهد تبين أن ”افتقار” المرأة إلى الفرص الاقتصادية يرتبط بقوة باستمرار الفقر بين الأجيال.
وذكرت السفيرة أن التمكين الاقتصادي للمرأة يمكن تحقيقه عن طريق الأخذ بمبدأ التخطيط بأبعاده القصيرة والمتوسطة وبعيدة المدى، والاهتمام بتحقيق ما يلي: العمل على تلبية الحاجات الأساسية للمرأة في الغذاء والتعليم والصحة والمسكن والملبس والضمان الاجتماعي، وإعادة النظر في النظام التعليمي في جميع مراحله، ومحو أمية المرأة والتنسيق بين الجهد الرسمي والأهلي للعمل على سد منابع الأمية.
وفي ختام كلمتها، أكدت السفيرة مرفت أن التمويل متناهي الصغر يعتبر أداة قوية للتمكين الاقتصادي للفقراء وللتخفيف من حدة الفقر، وتمهيد الطريق لمزيد من الاستقرار من خلال توفير فرص عمل للآخرين
Around 30 participants coming from various Egyptian organisations gathered on the 25th and 26th of June at the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development (AUEED) to reflect on women’s invisible work at the global, regional and national level and strengthen their communications and social media capacity, within the framework of the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action led project Sustainable Economic Opportunities for Women, currently being implemented in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco.
Participants came from all over Egypt from the Future Eve association, the New Woman Foundation, the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, the Badia Foundation, the Egyptian Association for Sustainable Development, the Forum of Women in Development and the Evangelical Association for Comprehensive Development.
During two days, participants worked on the meanings of women’s work amidst political changes in Egypt. The first day of the workshop was dedicated to a short summary of what has been achieved so far in terms of research and round tables on the topic of women’s work in the informal sector and of domestic work. Papers prepared by CRTD.A consultants Ms Rabea Naciri and Tina Wallace, dealing with women’s informal work in the MENA region and in Lebanon, were briefly presented, along with the debates that have been organised in Lebanon on mainstream indicators and the ideologies underlying them and on women’s informal work in Lebanon. The glaring results of these studies so far have been that women’s work at home and in the informal sector, while being absolutely crucial to household economics and society as a whole, is rarely recognized, let alone valued and accounted for. This is particularly oppressive to women as in the MENA region, the overwhelming majority of women work in the informal sector and/or at home, carrying the bulk of society’s reproduction, while official indicators still estimate the female activity rate at around 20%, one of the lowest in the world.
The issue of accounting for and accurately measuring women’s participation to the economy has been extensively tackled afterwards by the resource person coming from the WIDE Network, Ms Bénédicte Allaert who questioned in her presentation mainstream indicators that we usually take for granted, such as the GDP or what constitutes work under the ILO definition. Ms Allaert went on to demonstrate that these indicators indeed did not paint an accurate picture of economic realities, globally and in the region. Participants were then invited to break into groups and work on the concepts of women’s informal work, women’s work in the household, gender stereotypes pertaining to what is perceived as “women’s work” and the three roles women have to play (productive, reproductive and in the community) paid work/unpaid work, and women in the formal sector. The outcome of the group work was the very purpose of it: participants had different understandings of the concepts, highlighting that what is being measured and studied in the economy is only the tip of the iceberg, with most of economic relationships happening unnoticed and invisible. This knowledge and research will serve as a basis to inform and influence future and global public policies in order to improve the protection, respect and fulfilment of women’s economic rights.
The role of neo-liberal policies and their impact coupled with the impact of the economic crisis on Egyptian women were also discussed. In Egypt, lack of employment opportunities and long-standing weak social protection and work conditions systems were only worsened by the decrease in foreign investment brought about by the economic crisis, as well as the decrease in tourism. The impact of that depression in the economy was first and foremost borne by women who had to endure massive losses of jobs, and carry on the majority of the housework load.
The second day was articulated around social media and on how can Facebook Twitter and blogs help raise awareness on this topic and allow for partner to stay in touch in between physical meetings. The workshop ended with participants drafting action plans to carry the project forward, with the ultimate aim to change not only policies and laws, but also mentalities.
Stay in touch as we will soon publish interviews with Egyptian women on their points of view on why the issue of women’s work is important and relevant!