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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Welcome Lifting of State of Emergency in Egypt and Ask about Restrictive Measures Facing Women Human Rights Defenders

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its consideration of the combined eighth to tenth periodic report of Egypt, welcoming the lifting of the state of emergency in Egypt and asking about restrictive measures facing women human rights defenders.

A Committee Expert welcomed the history of Egypt in empowering women and its lifting yesterday of the state of emergency.  Another Expert asked about the measures taken by Egypt to protect human rights defenders, including female journalists and other activists.  Restrictive measures and laws faced women human rights defenders, in particular those that they faced in the context of the state of emergency, the lifting of which the Expert welcomed.  She asked how Egypt intended to strengthen the inclusiveness of Egyptian civil society. 

The delegation said that the state of emergency was lifted yesterday, but that even in the previous period, all necessary assurances had been taken to guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of all.  Regarding human rights defenders, the delegation affirmed that all measures were taken to ensure the protection of these representatives.  Egypt took all necessary measures to protect all victims of violence, including guaranteeing the right to a fair trial.  There were no restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations and they were free to operate, including regionally. 

Мaya Morsy, President of the National Council for Women and head of the delegation, presenting the report, said that in June 2014, a new era began, when President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi assumed the presidency, demonstrating a conscious and enlightened political will that respected and valued women.  The National Human Rights Strategy was recently launched, where women were a main focus area, consistent with the objectives of the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030.  The constitutional rights of women had been translated into laws, strategies and executive programmes.     

Several Experts praised the work of Committee Expert Naela Gabr of Egypt in the Committee.

The delegation of Egypt was made up of representatives of the National Council for Women, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eightieth session is being held from 18 October to 12 November.  All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The meetings summary releases prepared on the public meetings of the Committee can be found here.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at  http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet at 10 a.m.  on Wednesday, 27 October, to start its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Yemen (CEDAW/C/YEM/7-8).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined eighth to tenth periodic report of Egypt (CEDAW/C/EGY/8-10).

Presentation of Report

МAYA MORSY, President of the National Council for Women and head of the delegation, said she was pleased to introduce Egypt’s report after an absence of more than 10 years, during which Egypt had witnessed many political, social and economic events and developments.  Women’s achievements had been subjected to a setback following a year of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.  On 30 June 2013, the revolution had commenced, where women led and proved to be the primary and first line of defence for their rights.  The 2014 constitution was issued and included more than 20 articles regulating the issues of citizenship and equality, and criminalising violence and non-discrimination.  In 2016, the National Council for Women was reformed to include for the first time representation of women with disabilities, rural, and young women. 
  
In June 2014, a new era began, when President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi assumed the presidency, demonstrating a conscious and enlightened political will that respected and valued women.  The National Human Rights Strategy was recently launched, where women were a main focus area, consistent with the objectives of the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030.  A national review of the statistics was also conducted, to set priorities and produce accurate data.  The constitutional rights of women had been translated into laws, strategies and executive programmes.  A constitutional quota guaranteed the presence of 25 per cent of women in Parliament, 25 per cent in local councils, 10 per cent in the Senate, as well as tangible representation in the boards of directors of financial companies and the banking sector.  At the same time, several campaigns were launched to empower women and protect them from all forms of violence and crimes, by making them aware of their rights and the services provided by the Government to them. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a programme had been adopted to raise awareness of the repercussions of the pandemic, and the development of referral systems and hotlines to provide economic and psychological support in addition to electronic awareness campaigns.  Moreover, campaigns to combat cybercrime were launched in partnership with Facebook and Instagram platforms.  The National Coordinating Committee for Combatting and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons was established and headed by a woman.  The first hosting shelter for victims of human trafficking was established, lines were allocated to report these crimes, and a presidential campaign was launched to raise awareness on the dangers of illegal immigration.  A significant study on the issues related to the situation of domestic workers, as well as a draft contract to improve the conditions of female workers in this sector was also presented. 

The complaints office of the National Council for Women included a network of legal supporters, who provided legal, psychological and social support services and referrals to the concerned authorities.  Reporting lines were also opened to assist victims of violence in all its forms.  Training was organised for all public officials who provided services to women subjected to violence.  The First National Committee to eradicate of Female Genital Mutilation was formed in May 2019.  The Committee had succeeded, with the cooperation of all partners, in achieving 81 million awareness contacts and outreach until September 2021.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, intensive awareness and media campaigns were organised to raise awareness of the dangers of this crime, while legislative amendments were issued and activated to increase the punishment to prevent committing the crime.

The percentage of women’s representation in the Egyptian public and political life had increased.  Awareness raising programmes had been launched for women on the importance of participating in elections, the right to vote, and training and mentoring programmes, as well as the issuance of national identity cards for women.  The National Training Academy was established, also led by a woman, aimed to achieve human development requirements for youth in all sectors of the State and to improve their capabilities and skills.  The percentage of women graduated of public and private universities, the rate of girls’ enrolment in pre-university education in the rural areas, as well as the retake of refugee and migrant students had also increased.  The numbers of women’s unemployment rate had decreased. 

Egypt had amended a number of relative pieces of legislation to promote women’s rights in the country concerning persons with disabilities.  Periodic visits to the women’s prison were organised, providing awareness raising meetings about health care, basic services such as literacy classes, and the possibility of female prisoners to complete their studies.  Egypt placed the agenda of women, security and peace at the heart and centre of its international and regional efforts to achieve peace, in light of the strong political will and sincere commitment to empowering women and girls.  With regard to climate and environmental change, environmental camps had been set up, aimed at training women and encouraging them to engage in environmentally friendly industries such as waste recycling projects, organic farming, biogas production and alternative energy. 

Questions by Committee Experts

TAMADER AL-RAMMAH, Committee Expert, noted the history of Egypt in empowering women and the ongoing progress of the State party in launching numerous initiatives in the legislative and public life to ensure the protection of women’s rights.  She welcomed the lifting of Egypt’s reservation to article 9, paragraph 2 of the Convention and the lifting yesterday of the state of emergency.

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Member, encouraged Egypt to lift the reservations on the Convention, as well as adopt the Optional Protocol.  The Committee had great expectations for the Women’s Security and Peace Council.  With regard to legislative work, Ms. Ameline asked about the measures taken by Egypt to protect human rights defenders, including female journalists and other activists.  Restrictive measures and laws faced women’s human rights defenders, in particular those that they faced in the context of the state of emergency, the lifting of which the Expert welcomed.  She asked how Egypt intended to strengthen the inclusiveness of Egyptian civil society.

Ms. Ameline noted that the Constitution did not directly evoke indirect discrimination, adding that intersectional discrimination particularly affected women.  She asked how Egypt planned to ensure that intersectional discrimination did not occur, including when it concerned vulnerable people. 

Ms. Ameline asked about the measures and policies for economic recovery applied following the COVID-19 pandemic.  As for Parliament, it appeared there were no quotas for women.  Did Egypt attempt to cooperate not only on the ministerial level, but also on the ground, with civil society organizations?  Ms. Ameline noted the demographic problem in Egypt, asking about problems undertaken to improve the situation. 

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, asked about the timeframe to reach the 30 per cent quota of women in politics.  She also asked for measures in other areas where women were underrepresented. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation recalled that the state of emergency was lifted yesterday, but that even in the previous period, all necessary assurances had been taken to guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of all.  Egypt’s reservations concerning articles 2 and 16 of the Convention were related to the Islamic Sharia or law and must be read in the light of the explanations presented by Egypt when it made these reservations.  In any case, Egypt regularly undertook periodic reviews of its position on reservations. 

Regarding human rights defenders, the delegation affirmed that all measures were taken to ensure the protection of these representatives.  Egypt took all necessary measures to protect all victims of violence, including guaranteeing the right to a fair trial.  The Ministry of Justice had strengthened the support of women and persons with disabilities.  A centre was established to protect women and people who suffered domestic violence.  Training was provided to persons dealing with victims of domestic violence and new measures were adopted.  An awareness-raising campaign was launched to inform the society about domestic violence and how perpetrators were punished.  The results of this campaign were followed closely.     

The National Council for Women cooperated with religious leaders.  Regarding COVID-19, there was a draft policy prepared at the beginning of the pandemic that took into account the human component and social affairs for women and women with disabilities, education, violence, and others.  It also took account of the Covenant on Equal Opportunities.  A few surveys were carried out between the first and the second wave, as well as the third wave on the effects on Egyptian families and the economy.  The surveys took into account the needs of women.  Regarding coordination, there were 27 departments within the Council, which together with civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations were invited to participate in the civil society forum.  The delegation affirmed Egypt’s determination to reach the 30 per cent quota for women representation in politics.  Several initiatives had been undertaken in sectors to improve awareness of health matters such as COVID, female genital mutilation and child marriage.  Women were represented in different judicial bodies as a clear demonstration of the political will to implement the provisions of the Convection. 

Questions by the Committee Experts 

FRANCELINE TOE BOUDA, Committee Member, noted the advances made on gender-based violence in Egypt.  She noted that the Public Prosecutor had taken measures to arrest women for having made online publications because they were women.  Also, peaceful demonstrators had been killed without any follow-up, trial or investigations to find those responsible.  Sometimes, women were required to be accompanied in their travels by men.  What was the State party doing to put an end to these serious violations of women’s rights?  What was Egypt doing to put an end to early marriages, violence against women and female genital mutilation that affected the lives of so many women?

NAHLA HAIDAR, Acting Committee Chair, noted the challenges faced by migrant women in Egypt, often becoming victims of human trafficking.  According to the statistics provided, it was not possible to see how many of them were women, so further desegregated data was needed.  Would the State party consider the detention of pregnant women?  

The Committee asked about the lack of shelters, as well as lack of resources to support these women.  The delegation was asked for the current definitions of rape in Egyptian law. 

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation informed about a draft bill in Parliament to ban child marriages.  Currently there were already some provisions which would prevent these marriages.  Regarding enforced disappearances, the term did not exist in legislation.  There was a definition of kidnapping and other provisions, which would ensure that the necessary measures would be undertaken.  In Egypt, all citizens were equal before the law.  Therefore, if women were victims of violence, the Government would ensure that their rights were safeguarded.  Regarding human trafficking, the issue was important for Egypt, as an increase of the number of cases was observed in the past years.  There was a legal framework in Egypt, which had a methodology, acknowledging international laws which were applied in these cases. 

Regulations were in place to secure fair employment contracts, including on women’s rights.  Regarding polygamy, Egypt had provisions and was working on further developing them to not allow a man to marry more than once.  The Ombudsman of the National Council for Women provided all forms of support to women victims of violence.  The Office had 12 technical teams, specialised in different areas, including violence against women and migration, among others.  It also had a voluntary legal counsel which attended hearings.  Awareness raising campaigns were launched to help women in dealing with these problems.  It cooperated with all relevant institutions to achieve this aim. 

The delegation explained that there were clear definitions on violence and violence-related crimes in Egyptian law, but it was up to the discretion of the judge on how to proceed in the different cases.  However, these provisions were revised, as new forms of violence were being discovered.  The law on domestic workers was also undergoing some changes.  The Government ensured that all women subject to violence were protected by ensuring that the relevant legal, psychological and social support was provided to them.  There were new centres established for sheltering victims of human trafficking. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, asked about the specific measures to increase the representation of women at all levels of Government, in the parliament, on local councils and in the judiciary, in public posts, in senior management posts and academia.  Ms. Akizuki asked about qualitative evaluation of the trainings conducted on women entering leadership programmes and what was the impact of those trainings.  The Committee asked for further details on the conditions and requirements for the registration of non-governmental organizations in Egypt, how the new framework prevented imposing restrictions on civil space, and if there were gendered impacts or additional barriers that women human rights defenders may face in registering.

LOUIZA CHALAL, Committee Member, noted matters related to the acquirement of nationality, especially in respect to children in Egypt.  How did the Government ensure that women had the same rights as men when giving their nationality to their children in cases when an Egyptian woman was married to a foreign man?  The Committee noted that the law stipulated that the man automatically transferred his nationality to their children, while women were allowed to do so, if they “wished to do so”. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government worked with the private sector to ensure that women were represented at senior management levels in the public and private sectors.  With regards to support for women candidates during electoral processes, the Council had opened operational centres to receive complaints by female candidates or women who were already elected to eliminate any obstacles to facilitate their inclusion in the electoral process.  There was also a need to mobilise men so that they could promote the process.  Therefore, the Council was working with men to bring a change in terms of behaviour.  The various impacts during electoral campaigns were also studied to suggest relevant measures for improvement.  As regards to the idea of having more women judges and prosecutors, the Government was taking the relevant measures to encourage the process of increasing these appointments. 

With regard to the question of women transferring their nationality to their children, it was a right fully covered by the Constitution of Egypt.  Furthermore, the country had lifted some reservations in accordance with the Covenant.  There was a legal centre to which the State contributed to consider international matters.  The creation of non-governmental organizations was ensured by the relevant legislation, ensuring that international funding was possible.  The law facilitated matters for those who worked locally without the need to have an independent office.  Up to 25 per cent of the management boards of non-governmental organizations could be international.  There were no restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations and they were free to operate including regionally. 

Questions by the Committee Experts 

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Member, noting the achievements of Egypt in education, asked about the provision of computers and digital improvements.  She also asked about alignment of education to the job market.  Ms. Gbedemah asked about sexual education and sexual harassment in schools.  What was the reporting structure on sexual harassment cases?  Was privacy ensured in these cases?  The Committee asked about cooperation with the education sector to raise awareness about female genital mutilation.  The Committee asked about statistics on the improvement of general literacy in the State party. 

Replies by the Delegation

The COVID-19 pandemic had affected the education system in Egypt, including the dropout rate of children from school.  The Ministry of Education was working on developing vocational training in partnership with enterprises.  Regarding sewing, the head of the delegation pointed out that it was not insulting that women were encouraged to carry on with this traditional activity.  There was a hotline to report cases of sexual harassment.  Digital improvements had been carried out to improve the education system, including infrastructure ensuring that laptops were provided to pre-university stages. 

As regards to sexual education, there was education in place informing about sexual hygiene and sexual protection.  Campaigns were conducted throughout the country to raise awareness among education and social workers on the rights of girls, especially in terms violence and bullying.  The Government worked on digital literacy for girls in Egypt, including in rural areas.  The delegation expressed hope that they would have more girls who studied engineering, but they were aware that many women never worked after they finished their education as they got married and never had the opportunity to work in non- traditional sectors.  Egypt was trying to put an end to stereotype practices, as well as to establish a dialogue with rural women.  The Government had managed to involve women in larger projects, and these dialogues had been very effective in terms of raising their awareness of questions such as the importance of literacy, the need to combat female genital mutilation, and others. 

Question by the Committee Experts

ELGUN SAFAROV, Committee Vice-Chairperson, noted developments in Egypt concerning the right to work and equal pay.  However, improvements in the area were still needed.  Statistics showed that there were very few women taking managerial positions.  The salaries of men were reported to be over three times higher than the salaries of women.  Half of working women were employed in the informal sector.  What were the steps taken by the State party to ensure that women’s rights were safeguarded in the workplace?  The Committee asked about sexual harassment in the workplace and measures taken to protect pregnant women, and women with children. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Constitution of Egypt guaranteed equal pay.  Sexual harassment in the workplace was provided for in law as well.  Egypt had participated in drafting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The Government had reviewed the legislation in order to check for gaps in national laws before ratifying the Convention.  With regards to people with disabilities, the Government imposed financial penalties for people making fun of persons with disabilities.  The Council had launched an initiative to raise awareness of issues of women and children with disabilities.  As a measure of prevention, the Government had launched the first of its kind manual to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities in the workplace and other places of social life.  Training to seek jobs as well as other business training for persons with disabilities was also provided.  The Council also cooperated with various institutions in order to combat discrimination in all its forms. 

The Ministry of Justice had equipped court buildings with access for persons with disabilities.  All necessary services were provided to persons with disabilities to ensure that they were treated fairly and without discrimination.  Offices were set up to train professionals on how to work with people with disabilities, including training on sign language.  Exemptions from taxes, and other measures were introduced for persons with disabilities.  The first code of conduct was implemented by the Ministry to establish rules about relations with people with disabilities.  Regarding children’s participation in the labour market, it was often done in the informal market.  The law did not allow them to work unless they were 15 or older and had completed primary education.  Sanctions could be imposed in the case of violations.  The regulations of the Labour Code were monitored by regular visits of the labour inspectors. 

Regarding day care centres to encourage women to go back to work, the idea was raised by the resident of the Republic, the Government had started opening new places of childcare.  However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the day care centres were closed and this situation had put a lot of pressure on women in Egypt, like in many other countries around the world.

Questions by the Committee Experts 

TAMADER AL-RAMMAH, Committee Member, noting statistics about healthcare, asked about the measures taken by the Egyptian Government to ensure equal access of women to healthcare.  The Committee asked for the desegregated data on HIV treatment and dealing with different diseases, while ensuring there was no discrimination to women who had HIV or another sickness.  Ms. Al-Rammah asked about the measures taken by the State party to ensure that access to healthcare was provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.  She also enquired about the provisions for abortion in Egypt.  There was lack of data on access of women with disabilities to healthcare.  What measures were taken by the Government to protect women with mental health and addiction problems. 

The Committee asked about the purpose of virginity tests, and whether measures were considered to stop these practices.  Also, was access to COVID-19 vaccines provided to all?  And what measures were taken to promote family planning. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that each woman had a file with the Ministry of Health and she could follow up with her file.  To detect any health problems, the necessary screening was provided to citizens.  Regarding women working in the healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, the President had increased the salaries of those women who worked during the pandemic.  Initiatives had been taken up to provide healthcare services in the households.  Exceptions for abortions could be accepted in particular circumstances, for instance, if there had been rape.  On HIV/AIDS, the Ministry of Health had implemented some coordinated strategies, which aimed at covering the healthcare of these people as well.  With regards to mental care, there was a hotline providing for support for people who had these problems.  There were also special centres who provided for health services for young girls and women. 

There was a Committee, where a few institutions worked together on developing measures for better family planning.  Egypt would launch a new programme to help family planning, as well as to adopt a new law to prevent child marriages.  Non-registration of births would be sanctioned in accordance with new legal provisions.  The Government raised awareness on the benefits of a small family among Egyptian society.  Vaccines were provided without any discrimination to all the members of the population.  The Government also ensured that the importance of vaccination was explained to all citizens, as some women were afraid to get vaccinated.  There were no virginity tests in Egypt.  However, such a test could be performed in the cases where a crime was committed, and it was conducted in special laboratory for the purposes of proving a crime. 

Question by the Committee Experts 

LIA NADARAIA, Committee Member, asked questions related to access to financial aid.  It was estimated that women had only 10 per cent access to financial resources and aid.  She asked about reforming strategies to support women’s rights financially. 

TAMADER AL-RAMMAH, Committee Member, noted concerns about rural areas, including on land ownership, illiteracy of rural women, and lack of access to computers and the Internet.  What measures were being taken by Egypt to improve the economic development of women in rural areas, including protection ensured by the labour laws. 

Replies by the Delegation 
   
The delegation said that the Government had put in place economic packages and integration by improving the programmes for loans and savings, as well as to promote the use of loans in Egypt.  The Government had also provided financial support for campaigns promoting digital literacy, as well as using electronic platforms to improve access.  Egypt constantly reviewed its budgetary policies and ensured that leisure and sports had to be available to all citizens in the country.  As for rural women, the National Strategy of Women ensured they were encouraged to increase their productivity and provided with all the necessary services to ensure that a special focus to women’s rights was in place.  The Government was also working on measures to improve agricultural productivity. 

The Government provided support for small programmes, and many of the beneficiaries were women.  Regarding the treatment of prisoners and detainees, the law made the judges and the prosecutors responsible for the supervision of the prisons.  The Human Rights Council, as well as the Council for Women visited the prisons regularly to ensure that all measures were taken to protect human rights.  There were also services provided to people with disabilities.  Campaigns specifically devoted to female genital mutilation were also sponsored and developed by the relevant authorities.  There was a hotline established to ensure the safety of women and girls from female genital mutilation.  It was important to have coordination between the various entities to be effective in their work.  Sexual harassment and child labour were combatted through legislative changes and other measures.  Egypt did not have any problems with refugees and all of them were provided with access to education like any other citizen in Egypt. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Member, asked about the procedures of divorce laws in Egypt and how women were protected when they got divorced.  The Committee asked about the provision that a woman had to ask her guardian to approve her marriage, which was contradictory to her being an equal citizen.  Some Egyptian women were married off by their families to foreign men for money, including girls under 18.  Ms. Leinarte suggested that this could be treated as trafficking of girls or child marriage.  The Committee asked for the marital rights of the Christian community in Egypt. 
  
Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation said that many laws in the Arab and Islamic world were being revised and many working sessions had been conducted with the involvement of numerous institutions working in the domain of women and children’s rights.  The proposals had not reached the law stage.  The President had stated that he would not sign a law that did not do justice to women and children.  There had been an increase of divorces in Egypt.  There were different laws in Egypt, acknowledging the different religions, while ensuring respect for the Constitution.  When a woman remarried, there were different arrangements for the guardianship of their children in accordance with the different religions.  The law always took into consideration the child’s interest.  The delegation provided for detailed information on factors considered when amending the law and regulations related to marriages and divorces, pointing out to the fact that at the heart of this was the interest of the family and the children.  Regarding the reservation to article 16, they were only in regard to provisions that would be contradictory to Islamic law. 

Concluding Remarks

МAYA MORSY, President of the National Council for Women and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the fruitful discussion and ensured that all the recommendations of the Committee would be taken into consideration. 

NAHLA HAIDAR, Acting Committee Chair, expressed her gratitude for the fruitful dialogue and encouraged the State party to acknowledge the recommendations of the Committee.