6 March 2012
An expanded meeting of the Women’s Committee of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), which represents hundreds of thousands of women workers, discussed the issue of guaranteeing that women’s rights are included in the draft constitution, as a failure to take swift, practical action in this respect may lead to women’s social and constitutional marginalisation for decades to come. We are perhaps not saying anything new if we emphasize that this question is as important as other contentious issues which must also be decided now. For once the constitution has been enacted and endorsed in a referendum it will be difficult or even impossible to change it which protects women from oppression. And we note that there is barely enough time remaining to fulfil such a noble task and make a Constitutional Drafting Commission, a committee which is dominated by individuals who have a tendency to adopt positions which do not completely support women’s rights, and therefore because the process of drafting the constitution will begin during the next few weeks after which the referendum will begin, all of which means the time we have left is only a few months. In this short time we must mobilize as actively as possible to ensure that explicit and categorical statements of women’s rights are included in the draft constitution. This is better than allowing a draft to pass which lacks such statements, and then mobilizing a campaign to modify the constitution during debates at a later stage.
We should be aware of the almost complete absence of women, and especially of women workers from the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions who would refuse to be simply a token presence alongside the men of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, and who would also reject the low representation of male defenders of women’s rights on the committee. This is what makes the task more difficult, and the drafting process should involve the activists in the women’s movement within the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions who have a long history of struggle as union activists in the heart of Egyptian society, rather than simply acting in an advisory capacity. The Federation, through its Women’s Committee will organise meetings to mobilize public support for the inclusion of women’s rights in the constitution. Perhaps the progressive press and the satellite channels are the best means to do this because of their wide audience. It should also not be necessary to remind people that women make up half of society and are the first electoral power. May those who fail to work for women’s rights now pay the price of electoral failure in future.
In order to achieve this those responsible for the composition of the Constitution Drafting Committee need to include those with a history or identity which has had an impact on society, like the women workers of the Egyptian Federation Independent Trade Unions. Those members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee should be aware that women will be mobilised for the coming elections, whether for the parliament, the Shura Council, or the local councils, and even for the presidential election, God willing!
The Women’s Committee of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions will use every possible means to mobilise civil society groups in a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of this issue. We will also initiate a dialogue with all groups of a liberal democratic inclination who have an ethical background in all faiths, in order to co-operate to achieve our common goals and in particular the issue of guaranteeing women’s rights in the constitution and the laws which will be later based upon it.
There is no doubt that a constitution which includes clauses guaranteeing all human rights will be the primary legal guarantee of women’s political, economic and family rights.
None of these questions are simply matters of academic debate, nor are they of concern only to women: there is no progress, no freedom and no justice where there are no guarantees that women’s human personalities can flower, supported by a balanced constitution which protects the rights of women just as its does the rights of men.
Long live free Egyptian women!
Long live the Egyptian revolution!
Long live the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions