CAIRO: Egypt’s political groups have professed a claim to uphold human rights in the country, but are failing on ensuring women’s rights and ending the use of the death penalty in the country, said Amnesty International on Monday.
The London-based rights group said that although most of the large political parties in the country claim to have committed to human rights reforms during the transitional phase in Egypt, they are giving “mixed signals” and even refusing to protect women’s rights and abolish the death penalty.
Amnesty had called on political parties ahead of voting last November to sign a “human rights manifesto” to ensure “meaningful human rights reform” in the country, but now, three months later and the first session of parliament being held, women’s issues remain on the outside for most political groups.
The Freedom and Justice Party, which won the most seats in the new People’s Assembly, “was one of three parties that did not respond substantively, despite considerable efforts by Amnesty International to seek its views,” the organization said in a statement.
“With the first session of the new parliament sitting this week, it is encouraging that so many of the major parties engaged with us and were prepared to sign up to ambitious pledges for change on combating torture, protecting slum residents’ rights and ensuring fair trials,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Middle East and North Africa director.
“But it is disturbing that a number of parties refused to commit to equal rights for women. With a handful of women taking up seats in the new parliament, there remain huge obstacles to women playing a full role in Egyptian political life.
“We challenge the new parliament to use the opportunity of drafting the new constitution to guarantee all of these rights for all people in Egypt. The cornerstone must be non-discrimination and gender equality.”
The rights group has called on political leaders to act “if they want to create a truly equal society– for women and for men,” said Sanjeev Bery, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa in Washington.
“Women stood side-by-side with men in the protests, and they must be equal partners in the creation of a new government. All Egyptians must benefit from laws ensuring equal treatment and dignity.”
Women’s issues have been increasingly pushed aside in recent months by both activists and political leaders in favor of what they have called “universal human rights.” A number of activists have argued that to push women’s issues directly would be “divisive” and split the unity of the revolution.
Nehad Abu Komsan of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), in a previous interview with Bikyamasr.com, said that women’s rights must be pushed harder by political groups and activists alike. She echoed Amnesty’s argument that women were vital to the uprising last year and said her organization was determined to ensure women’s rights are on the agenda.
“We will continue to push for greater women’s freedom and justice in the country because now is the time when women can have a voice for change and can create a better life in Egypt,” she said.
But as conservative groups take control of parliament, their are worries still that the future for women in Egypt could be hit hard by new legislation that could restrict their movement and freedom.
The ultra-conservative Salafist al-Nour Party has already said it would like to see the veil a requirement for all women in the country and has repeatedly called for bikinis to be banned from beaches.
This has left many wondering where Egypt is heading.
“The real test for political parties will be to translate these pledges into initiatives in parliament to abolish repressive Mubarak-era laws, reform the police and security services, and pass laws which protect human rights and break with the legacy of abuse,” said Luther. “One of the first measures should be the lifting of the much-decried state of emergency.