In Egypt, many of the organizations that address women’s issues, particularly preventing violence against women, were created in 2011 following the Egyptian revolution. Few groups have been working on these issues as long as the New Woman Foundation (NWF). Founded in 1984, NWF was one of the first organizations to produce research in this area. Since its inception, NWF has worked on almost every element of women’s rights, from employment to reproductive health, and has engaged all available avenues – economic, social, cultural, political, and legal – to accomplish their goals.
Preventing Violence against Women
One of NWF’s three main focuses is on violence against women, particularly sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and rape. Drawing upon their existing relationships with Egyptian women, NWF began mentoring and observing the subject. The findings of their research showed that violence against women tends to be well-organized and calculated, intent on terrorizing women and limiting their presence in the public sphere.
NWF has engaged in other studies that have had significant impact in Egypt. They were able to push for the inclusion of two new modules in the 1995 National Demographic and Health Survey, one on FGM and the other on domestic violence. The survey, later affirmed by a validation study, showed that 97% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM. As a result, policymakers admitted that the issue of FGM was a major problem in Egypt and designed policies to address and prevent it.
Earlier this month, in honor of the Official 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, NWF teamed up with the Centre for Women Legal Assistance (CEWLA) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network to issue a joint Factsheet on VAW in Egypt. The document details how the Egyptian government has failed to institute sufficient policy or legislative frameworks to adequately address violence against women. In response to increasing pressures, the government launched the national strategy to combat violence against women in June of last year. A facilitation and an executive committee were created to review laws and administration decisions and to monitor and implement the plan, respectively. Although NWF is one of the few civil society organizations to have been invited to provide input into the process, the committees are mostly composed of government bodies. NWF has not yet been given access to review the final draft of the strategy. In light of this, and in an effort to develop a comprehensive and holistic national strategy, NWF has signed onto a joint statement with three other feminist organizations (CEWLA, El Nadeem Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and Nazra for Feminist Studies) that have agreed to work together to develop a more effective national strategy, including suggestions on the general framework, the role of state institutions and implementation.
Taking it to the Streets
“8th of March” Protest: After the revolution, NWF started working more closely with women to promote their presence in the public sphere. Part of this effort included collaborating with other organizations around the March 8th protest marking international women’s day. Being involved in this event brought NWF closer to the women activists on the street that had begun their activism with the start of the Revolution. Through this experience, NWF managed to establish direct contact with victims of mob assaults. In an effort to educate the world about what was happening to these women, NWF created a book of personal stories. Together with the El Nadeem Center, they collected testimonies from victims and created online booklets to highlight the horrendous nature of these mob sexual attacks.
“The Street is Ours”: To honor all the women who have been sexually assaulted and who have risked their lives to fight for a better Egypt, NWF participated in organizing “The street is ours” campaign on February 6, 2013. On this day, people in over 20 countries stood together in solidarity with Egyptian women and called for an end to sexual assault against female protesters in Egypt.
Collaboration as a Cornerstone for Pushing for Women’s Rights
NWF recognizes that it is important to push for change on women’s rights through collaboration and collective power. As such, engaging with like-minded organizations in Egypt and in the region is a cornerstone of their approach to ensuring women’s rights and equality. To this end they have a number of partnerships and actively participate in several Egyptian networks, including:
- As a member of “Aisha”, a broad-based coalition of grassroots organizations promoting gender equality and the legal rights of women;
- As part of a larger coalition of CSOs advising on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR); and
- As one of the founding members of the National Committee to Combat Violence against Women, a taskforce working to change the laws pertaining to violence against women. In this capacity, NWF ensured that the views of civil society were considered during the Committee’s formation. They did this by gathering and incorporating NGO commentary on the organization and structure of the National Committee before submitting their recommendations to Dr. Sakina Fouad, the President’s Advisor for Women’s Affairs.
Global Eyes on a Common Cause
NWF further distinguishes itself from other NGOs through its emphasis on collaboration with other national and international groups. In December 2014, NWF became one of the founding members of a regional declaration calling for the elimination of violence against women in North Africa and the Middle East. This statement is the result of a regional seminar with organizations from Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, looking at best practices for fighting violence against women. In addition, NWF recently joined 14 other organizations in signing a joint statement calling on the Egyptian government to urgently adopt 10 measures intended to end violence against women in the public sphere.
As members of the regional coalition “Equality Without Reservation”, NWF joined forces with eight other Arab countries in an unprecedented international effort to campaign for the lifting of reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In addition, they fought together for the ratification of the CEDAW Optional Protocol, which, for the first time ever, allows the Committee to hear allegations brought forward by individuals and to inquire into “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.
The broad scope of NWF’s work is a testament to their commitment to ending the spread of sexual violence across Egypt. From organizing marches on the ground to lobbying high-level lawmakers and members of the international community, NWF has for 30 years fought relentlessly for equal rights for all women in Egypt, and will continue its efforts until Egyptian women have achieved full equality.
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