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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Heba Hesham

Originally Published by Bikya Masr, May 2, 2011

CAIRO: The New Woman Foundation (NWRC) launched a campaign concerning the demands of Egyptian women in employment titled “Together for fair working conditions without violence and discrimination” on Sunday in an effort to bolster women’s role in Egyptian society.

The past 10 years have witnessed a significant increase in the percentage of female participation in the labor force. In 2002, the percentage of women in the labor force jumped from 21.8 percent to 23.9 percent in 2008, according to the Foundation’s report.

A Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) report points to the high proportion of the contribution of women in economic activities, education, public administration and defense sectors. But the NWRC says more work is needed.

On the other hand, the representation of women is still weak in the mining and quarrying sector, hotels and restaurants, electricity and gas sectors, not to mention the contribution of women in the private industrial sector and also the informal sector. Information and statistics is limited due to the absence of fixed employment contracts, said the NWRC.

“Despite the increase in the economic role of women as 33 percent of Egyptian households are headed by women, it is not accompanied by women’s access to any privileges in the workplace,” said a statement from the organization.

“There is a clear derogation of the women rights in the workplace, including denying women access to maternity leave in most private enterprises, and non-availability of crèches in most governmental and private institutions.”

The Foundation added in its statement that there are some areas of work that deprive women of opportunities for promotion and training on the basis of gender.

An example of this is what is known as the “State Council crisis,” which is considered “blatant discrimination” against women in Egypt.

In its statement, NWRC also stressed their rejection of most companies and factories owners to appoint women in some jobs such as engineers. At the same time they seek the help of women workers who are young and prefer the unmarried, mostly with medium education, to work in the textile, clothing and food industries. Those workers are dealt with as “cheap labor with a weak ability to resist.”

The current laws exclude domestic and agricultural workers from the application of the provisions of the law upon them, keeping them without any legal guarantees even in determining working hours or wages, leave or injury insurance, as well as their protection from physical or sexual violence, stated the NWRC.

Thus, it is clear that women in the workplace are subjected to various forms of violations related to being “women”, according to NWRC, not to mention that they share the same public demands with their male colleagues.

Some of the demands that both gather around are the cancellation of the law that criminalize strikes, the release of trade union freedoms, the implementation of judicial decisions to disband the boards of the official union and its syndicates, the determination of both minimum and maximum wages in order to ensure a decent life for workers and staff members and ensure lessening the disparities between incomes, along with fixing all temporary employment.

Whoever signs the statement of the New Woman Foundation confirms his support for these demands, the Foundation continued.

In addition, the subscriber agrees on demanding for taking the necessary measures to ensure equal opportunities between women and men in different areas of work as in payment, promotion and training.

The statement also calls for activating articles on reproductive rights for women in the labor laws to ensure women’s access to maternity leave and child care along with the stipulation of nurseries.

NWCR demands amending the labor law to allow the extension of the legal protection of women workers in the informal sector including domestic workers, agricultural workers and others.

Moreover, it calls for adopting policies to enable women to take public positions in the state ranging between governors, Ministers and Ambassadors.

The subscribers in the signature campaign calls for taking the necessary measures and procedures to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace and to highlight the economic contribution of women in the national gross.

Anyone who would like to contribute and share these demands with the New Woman Foundation and those who signed the statement should provide the foundation with “his or her name, the profession, the governorate and a channel of communication,” according to the NWCR.


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