Egyptian women cast votes and rally for their country’s future

“Even if I am not going to live for very much longer, I am voting for the future of my grandchildren.”

So states one elderly lady as she waits in front of a polling station in Cairo, voicing the hope and resolve of a nation going to the polls.

Over 50 million voters are eligible for Egypt’s 2012 presidential elections, the first since the country’s inspiring revolution, and of them, 23 million are women. Recent UN Women’s analysis has shown that 90.3 per cent of women surveyed are willing to participate in the upcoming presidential election.

Having stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the men in Tahrir Square, many women flocking to the polling stations are more aware than ever of their critical role in their country’s future, and the issues at stake. ”Our dreams are with the future president,” said one woman voter. “It will not be an easy presidential period but we are not passive anymore. We are going to raise our voices, disagree and comment for the sake of a better quality of life.” One woman, a new mother, told UN Women,“I have to vote to see Egypt in a better state”.

Since the January 2011 mass uprising that toppled the former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, many women feel that they have been pushed back into the shadows and marginalized. This relates in particular to their involvement in the public and political affairs of the country. There are currently only nine women in Egypt’s parliament, after a previous gender quota that reserved 64 seats was scrapped.

Leading up to the presidential elections, UN Women has worked to support the priorities of Egyptian women in the country’s future. Many of these have been identified through workshops and discussions with the women’s groups, which have aimed to empower potential women candidates for local councils and legislative body elections, and to help set the tone for election-period advocacy at all levels.

UN Women recently produced a short documentary in partnership with Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW), which has aired on several television Egyptian channels. In What Egyptian Women Want from the Next President, many express a fear of significant setbacks, despite the momentum of the Arab spring. High on their list of concerns is the fate of personal status laws in Egypt, which govern mostly family related issues, and the revival of support for the tradition of Female Genital Mutilation.

Agreed recommendations have emerged from the women’s forums held over the last year. These include the need for Egypt’s new president to cement his commitment to women’s rights by honouring international agreements, such as the UN Woman’s Convention (CEDAW), ratified by Egypt. It also included the need for a minimum of 30 per cent representation of women at all levels, which would open up their paths to key decision-making positions, such as political posts of Vice-President and Prime minister. The recommendations also advocate for gender equality in job opportunities and education, the equal inclusion of women in legislative bodies and the Constituent Assembly, and better high-level focus on the priorities of impoverished women.

Meanwhile, by analyzing surveys and public opinion polls through a gender lens with the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, UN Women is connecting key findings on attitudes and practices related to gender, with decision-makers.

As voters pin their hopes on the weeks to come, the country’s women will continue to unite, to stake their place in what they hope will be a democratic and just regime for all Egyptians.

Egypt i/ˈiːdʒɪpt/ (Arabic: مصر, Miṣr, Egyptian Arabic: [mɑsˤɾ] ; Coptic: Ⲭⲏⲙⲓ, Kīmi ; Sahidic Coptic: ⲕⲏⲙⲉ, Kēme), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة (help·info), is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world. Covering an area of about 1,010,000 square kilometers (390,000 sq mi), Egypt is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.

Egypt is one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East. The great majority of its over 81 million people live near the banks of the Nile River, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq mi), where the only arable land is found. The large areas of the Sahara Desert are sparsely inhabited. About half of Egypt’s residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centres of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.

Monuments in Egypt such as the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx were constructed by its ancient civilization. Its ancient ruins, such as those of Memphis, Thebes, and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings outside Luxor, are a significant focus of archaeological study. The tourism industry and the Red Sea Riviera employ about 12% of Egypt’s workforce.

The economy of Egypt is one of the most diversified in the Middle East, with sectors such as tourism, agriculture, industry and service at almost equal production levels.

In early 2011, Egypt underwent a revolution, which resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power.

Presidential elections are scheduled for May 2012.

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