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Women's Rights in Question in New Egyptian Constitution

Women's rights activists are protesting the draft constitution proposed by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that will be voted on by the general public on December 15th, 2012. Many activists are worried that the draft constitution does not protect women's equality under the law and instead inserts women into the law as defined by traditional roles.

One of the most controversial aspects of the constitution is the assertion of Sharia, Islamic law, as the primary foundation of legislation. Many secular and women's activist believe that this assertion will allow for religious extremism to become the basis for laws restricting women's rights.

In addition, women activists believe that women's rights are not protected fully and the constitution reasserts women to traditional family roles. Article 10 provides free maternal and child health services, but also states the government will "enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work" which many fear is an indication the government will push women back into the home. Article 11 empowers the Egyptian government "to safeguard ethics, morality..." which could lead to extremist controls on women's freedoms under the guise of "morality." While proponents of the constitution argue that women are included as part of an equality article, many critics feel this article does not sufficiently protect women from discrimination under the law.

In a press conference, the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights said "The current draft constitution does not represent Egyptian women in any way, but progressively ignores their rights as citizens." An activist group, Nazra, issued a statement declaring: "The draft constitution ignores political participation of women, it did not adopt an electoral system to ensure their effective participation or that women are represented democratically within different elected assemblies."

"Women have not been mentioned in the constitution, only in family and divorce. Seventy-five per cent of Egyptian women work and there is no mention about their rights in the constitution," protester Mona Elwakel told the Toronto Star from Tahrir Square.

In December 2011, thousands of women gathered in Cairo as part of the "Million Women March" to protest police brutality towards female protestors. The march followed a widely broadcasted incident in which security forces brutally beat, kicked, and dragged a woman protestor. According to the New York Times, "Historians called the event the biggest women's demonstration in modern Egyptian history, the most significant since a 1919 march against British colonialism inaugurated women's activism here, and a rarity in the Arab world." Women were also a large population of protesters in the 2011 revolution protests in Tahrir Square that lead to the fall of former President Hosni Murbarak.

Media Resources: Women's e-News 12/13/12; Washington Post 12/12/12;All Africa 12/10/12;Toronto Star 12/10/12; Time 12/9/12; Feminist Newswire 12/22/11

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