Women’s Human Rights In Egypt—Cautious Optimism and the Way Forward

Lucinda Marshall

For a few brief days during the Egyptian uprising, women felt relatively safe on the streets of Egypt where sexual street harassment has, for many years, been a problem of epidemic proportions.  As The Daily Beast reports, “A survey released in 2008 by the Center for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 pe

For a few brief days during the Egyptian uprising, women felt relatively safe on the streets of Egypt where sexual street harassment has, for many years, been a problem of epidemic proportions.  As The Daily Beast reports, “A survey released in 2008 by the Center for Women’s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had experienced harassment.” But unlike past demonstrations where sexual harassment was rampant and women were discouraged from attending, this time, women were emboldened to take to the streets.  It was a heartwarming image.  And then CBS reporter Lara Logan was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted*.

People everywhere (including in Egypt) were horrified and her attack serves as a reminder that while the participation of women in the uprising has certainly fueled much optimism, improved rights for women in Egypt is anything but assured. As I pointed out recently on the Feminist Peace Network blog, “there is no real evidence at this point that indicates that violations of women’s human rights will be substantively addressed or ended by a new government”.

While we should be tempered in our optimism, there is certainly a real opportunity to advocate for substantive change.  One of the best tools for achieving that change and assuring women’s human rights is United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), which among other things stresses that, “the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly stated the importance of this resolution in her remarks on the 10th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325,

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“The only way to achieve our goals – to reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to eliminate rape as a weapon of war, to combat the culture of impunity for sexual violence, to build sustainable peace – is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building

Now, women’s participation in these activities is not a “nice thing to do.” It’s not as though we are doing a favor for them and ourselves by including women in the work of peace. This is a necessary global security imperative. Including women in the work of peace advances our national security interests, promotes political stability, economic growth, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Just as in the economic sphere, we cannot exclude the talents of half the population, neither when it comes to matters of life and death can we afford to ignore, marginalize, and dismiss the very direct contributions that women can and have made.”

It is paramount that we adhere to Clinton’s well-spoken words and not allow them to become empty rhetoric.  Last week Clinton,

“dispatched a team of diplomats to help in the hunt for Egyptian protesters who sexually assaulted CBS news reader Lara Logan.

According to the State Department, Mrs. Clinton has turned up the heat on Egyptian authorities searching for the attackers, and is said to be taking a personal interest in the case.

The Secretary of State has made violence against women a top priority since she took office, and the latest incident is said to be of ‘paramount’ importance to her.”

Unfortunately, Clinton missed a golden opportunity to point out that sexual assault in Egypt is a major problem, and that women in Egypt are assaulted and harassed with impunity every day.   Instead she chose to focus only on the attack on Logan because she is a reporter working for American media. It is certainly important that the attack on Ms. Logan be investigated, but what happened to her is only a part of the much larger problem of blatant disregard of women’s safety and rights in Egypt.

Women’s human rights in Egypt need to be addressed and women need to participate fully in the formation of a new government.  The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights reminds us that women participated fully in the uprising and, “They have every right to participate in building the Egyptian nation.” As the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) U.S. Section’s Human Rights Committee pointed out in a statement released during the uprising,

“Egyptian women are playing a fundamental part in the revolution, and they have long mobilized movements based on gender equality and human rights. As Egypt turns its present corner, women must be included, in equal numbers with men, at all negotiating tables with a full voice on the direction of their country. In line with obligations under UN Security Resolution 1325, the U.S. government should ensure that women are represented in any and all talks to which our country is a party, and Egyptian women’s and girls’ specific needs accounted for in the future governmental, political, and social structures determined by the Egyptian people as they reconstitute their country.”  

As WILPF notes, the inclusion of women in decision-making going forward is essential.  However, as I write this, it seems highly questionable that this will happen. Reuters ominously reports that so far there is a lack of women on the committee that is working to amend Egypt’s constitution. 

Egyptian feminist Nawla Darwiche described beautifully the reality of the harassment of women during the uprising telling the Associated Press, “All the men were very respectful during the revolution. Sexual harassment didn’t occur during the revolt. It occurred during that night.” 

The question going forward is whether the human rights of women in Egypt will continue to see the light of day.  The most critical element in achieving this is to ensure the full participation of women in the process of forming a new government and there is little if any evidence at this time that this will happen. 

There are however a number of useful tools that can be utilized to advocate for women’s human rights in Egypt. In addition to UNSCR 1325 there is also CEDAW, The Convention On All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women.  While the U.S. is one of only a handful of nations that has not ratified CEDAW, Egypt ratified this critical human rights declaration for women in 1981. 

Unfortunately, it is probably not realistic, given our lack of support for  CEDAW to advocate for the U.S. to insist on it being upheld in Egypt.  However we should heed Clinton’s very public support of 1325 and let her know that we heard her and that we, and more importantly, the women of Egypt, need her to show that she is concerned about Egyptian women and that those words are not empty rhetoric.

Despite much lip service, women’s human rights have never been a significant part of U.S. foreign policy. Let  Sec. Clinton know that it is time for that to change and that she can and should be a strong advocate for women’s human rights in Egypt.

__________

*In a mostly overlooked part of this story as reported on The Huffington Post, Logan and her crew were detained by the Egyptian military prior to this story and harassed for, in Logan’s own words, for being journalists, as were a number of other members of the non-Egyptian press. While one can’t draw conclusions from this, the possibility that the attack on Logan was instigated if not carried out by the Egyptian military should be investigated. 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Sanders Vows to Continue the ‘Political Revolution’

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) seemingly signaled he is not yet ready to concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton, and he promised to help push for reforms within the party while working to keep presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump from winning the White House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) isn’t bowing out of the race for the Democratic nomination after the close of the presidential primaries, and Hillary Clinton took to the Huffington Post to talk about campus sexual assault and whether women should have to sign up for the draft.

“The Political Revolution Must Continue”: Sanders Vows in Thursday Night Address to Push for Party Reform

Sanders addressed supporters Thursday night after the 2016 presidential primary season ended earlier this week. He seemingly signaled he is not yet ready to concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton, and he promised to help push for reforms within the party while working to keep presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump from winning the White House.

“Election days come and go. But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week, and every month in the fight to create a nation and world of social and economic justice,” Sanders said during the address, which was live-streamed online. “Real change never takes place from the top on down or in the living rooms of wealthy campaign contributors. It always occurs from the bottom on up, when tens of millions of people say loudly and clearly ‘enough is enough’ and they become engaged in the fight for justice. That’s what the political revolution we helped start is all about. That’s why the political revolution must continue.”

“The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” Sanders continued, vowing to soon begin his role in ensuring the Republican doesn’t make it to the White House.

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“But defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal,” he added. “We must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become.”

Expressing his hope that he could continue to work with Clinton’s campaign, Sanders promised to ensure that supporters’ “voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.”

That agenda included raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ending the gender pay gap, defending reproductive rights, and protecting marriage equality in the United States, among other things.

Sanders’ speech came just after campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the campaign is “not currently lobbying superdelegates” and doesn’t “anticipate that will start anytime soon” during an interview on Bloomberg Politics’ With All Due Respect Thursday. The next day, Weaver told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Sanders is still “an active candidate for president.”

Clinton Weighs in on Stanford Sexual Assault Case, Women Joining the Draft

Hillary Clinton took a stand on two notable issues during an interview with the Huffington Post this week, telling the publication that she supported a measure in the Senate to require women to sign up for the draft and her thoughts about the Stanford sexual assault case.

“I do support that,” Clinton told the publication Wednesday when asked about the Senate’s approval of the National Defense Authorization Act, a military policy bill that would require women to sign up for the military draft once they turn 18, earlier in the week.

“I am on record as supporting the all-volunteer military, which I think at this time does serve our country well,” said Clinton. “And I am very committed to supporting and really lifting up the men and women in uniform and their families.”

As the New York Times reported, under the bill, “Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.”

Though the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that women weren’t required to register for the draft as they were not allowed to serve in combat, the Times continued, “since Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in December that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women, military officials have told Congress that women should also sign up for the draft.”

The draft registry has not been used by the United States since 1973, but requiring women to sign up for it has nevertheless been an issue on the campaign trail this election season. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called requiring women to register for the draft “nuts” in February prior to dropping out of the race for the White House, while other then-Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush all signaled they would support it.

During her interview with Huffington Post, Clinton also voiced her support for the survivor at the center of the controversial Stanford sexual assault case, saying she was “was struck by” the “heartbreaking power” of the letter the survivor wrote detailing her experiences.

“It took great courage and I think she has done an important service for others,” Clinton said. “What I’ve heard about this case is deeply concerning. It is clear campus sexual assault continues to be a serious problem. And I’ve said before and I will continue to say it is not enough to condemn it. We must find ways to end it.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee had previously released a platform for addressing the national crisis of campus sexual assault, which promises to “provide comprehensive support to survivors;” “ensure fair process for all in campus disciplinary proceedings and the criminal justice system;” and “increase sexual violence prevention education programs that cover issues like consent and bystander intervention, not only in college, but also in secondary school.”

What Else We’re Reading

Trump’s “endgame” could be launching a “mini-media conglomerate,” Vanity Fair reports.

“He was always very open about describing women by their breast size,” a crew member for Trump’s reality show The Apprentice told Slate of the presumptive Republican nominee. “Any time I see people in the Trump organization say how nice he is, I want to throw up. He’s been a nasty person to women for a long time.”

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando at an LGBTQ club, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director of the LGBT Rights Project, David Dinielli, noted that “candidates on the campaign trail-and even the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party-elevate radical anti-LGBT leaders.”

Fact-checkers at the Washington Post took on both Clinton and Trump’s speeches on national security after the massacre in Orlando over the weekend.

“Regardless of your politics, it’s a seminal moment for women,” said Oprah, who offered her endorsement to Clinton on Wednesday, when speaking about the presumptive Democratic nominee. “What this says is, there is no ceiling, that ceiling just went boom! It says anything is possible when you can be leader of the free world.”

CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Tal Yellin, and Ryan Browne offer a look into the implications of Trump’s proposed plan to “suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.”

Univision penned an open letter on Tuesday expressing their concern over Trump’s decision to revoke press credentials for the Washington Post.

Republicans may have fewer women in the House next year after the election season wraps up.

Texas has already spent $3.5 million fighting multiple lawsuits over the state’s restrictive voter ID law, in what an attorney helping plaintiffs in one of the suits deemed a “shameful waste of taxpayer money.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) moved to make voting in the state easier for some this week, signing legislation that will allow residents with driver’s licenses and state IDs to register to vote online. What’s the catch? According to ThinkProgress, “the option will not be available until early next year, after the presidential election, despite the Republican Secretary of State’s insistence that the Ohio could implement the policy immediately.”

News Politics

Clinton in Friday Speech: ‘Fight Back Against the Erosion of Reproductive Rights’

Ally Boguhn

Just after the former secretary of state ended her speech, the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump took the stage at another event and struck a different tone.

Hillary Clinton defended reproductive rights in a Friday speech, following the news that the former secretary of state had become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. Soon after Clinton’s comments, Donald Trump took the stage at a different event and vowed to protect “the sanctity and dignity of life.” 

In her speech, Clinton detailed her support of access to safe and affordable abortion and contraceptive care.

“It’s been a big week, and there’s nowhere I’d rather end it,” Clinton told the crowd while speaking at an event for Planned Parenthood Action Fund in Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, endorsed Clinton in January, offering the Democratic candidate “its first endorsement in a presidential primary in the nonprofit’s 100-year existence,” according to the New York Times.

“Today, I want to start by saying something you don’t hear often enough: Thank you,” she said, offering her gratitude to the organization for caring for its patients “no matter their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status.”

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Clinton continued: “Thank you for being there for every woman, in every state, who has to miss work, drive hundreds of miles sometimes, endure cruel medically unnecessary waiting periods, walk past angry protesters to exercise her constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time, and as president I will always have your back.”

Clinton then pivoted to discussing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“When Donald Trump says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for ‘Let’s take America backward,’” she said. “Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all. Back to the days when abortion was illegal, women had far fewer options, and life for too many women and girls was limited. Well, Donald, those days are over.”

Citing the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt as proof of the importance of nominating a new justice to the Court’s vacant seat, Clinton called on Congress to “give Judge [Merrick] Garland the hearing he deserves.”

Clinton went on to outline her vision for reproductive rights in the country should she be elected, noting: “If right-wing politicians actually cared as much about protecting women’s health as much as they say they do, they’d join me in calling for more federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Calling to “fight back against the erosion of reproductive rights at the federal, state, and local levels,” Clinton pushed for a host of related priorities, such as ensuring clinic patients and staff can safely access clinics; investing in long-lasting reversible contraception; acting to combat the Zika virus; and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion care.

Just after Clinton ended her speech, Trump addressed the Road to Majority conference, hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America, and struck a very different tone. “Here are the goals … and I wanted it to come from me, from my heart. We want to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

The Republican went on to reiterate his promise to nominate only “pro-life” justices to the Supreme Court should he be elected, before turning to attack Clinton. “She will appoint radical judges who will legislate from the bench, overriding Congress, and the will of the people will mean nothing,” said Trump before claiming Clinton “will push for federal funding of abortion on demand until the moment of birth.”

Though Clinton has championed reproductive rights during her presidential campaign, she told Fox News in March that she would be “in favor of a late-pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”