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Egyptian Women: Small Steps Ahead on a Very Long Journey

Women were pivotal cogs in the wheel of Egypt's political development over the past four years. Whether it was the popular uprisings against former President Hosni Mubarak or Islamic rule, or referenda or elections, women were called upon at times of the country's greatest need and never failed to heed the call. Now that the country is gearing up for parliamentary elections, will women's efforts finally be recognized with appropriate political representation and will their voices be heard?

Date & Time

Feb. 10, 2015
12:00pm – 1:00pm


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Egyptian Women: Small Steps Ahead on a Very Long Journey

Moushira Khattab, former Minister of Family and Population in Egypt, discussed the status of women in Egypt over the past four years and the prospects of recognizing their efforts in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

On February 10, the Middle East Program and the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event, “Egyptian Women: Small Steps Ahead on a Very Long Journey” with Moushira Khattab, the Chair of Women in Foreign Policy Group, Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs; former Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; and former Egyptian Ambassador to South Africa and to the Czech and Slovak Republics. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Khattab opened by explaining that women were instrumental in the success of the Egyptian Revolution.

She stated that although Egyptian women’s sacrifice was not adequately recognized politically as the country embarked on its transitional phase, they still made some political and social gains. Khattab argued that laws are not enough to improve women’s status. The only way to achieve solid development in women’s rights in Egypt is by re-education in schools, religious institutions, and the media and by reshaping the cultural mindset, including religion, to regain what she characterized as authentic Egyptian culture.

According to Khattab, there have been efforts to transform words to action on the policy level under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Examples include the appointment of a woman as the National Security Advisor and the recent appointment of three female deputy governors. Khattab asserted that women now are in a better position than they were 18 months ago because their rights are guaranteed by a constitution which criminalizes discrimination and commits Egypt to international human rights standards. Moreover, two major gains for women are the criminalization of female genital mutilation (FGM)—highlighted by the recent sentencing case of a doctor practicing FGM—and the increased penalty for sexual harassment.

Regarding the upcoming elections, Khattab noted that after the revolution women have formed a strong voting bloc. She stated, however, women’s representation will depend on the liberal parties’ ability to unite. Replying to Esfandiari’s question about women’s quotas, Khattab confirmed that the quota was applied on a local council level but not at the parliamentary level. The current parliamentary law requires party lists to include three women, or a total of 60 women. She expected women to win at least 10 percent of the seats and said this percentage could increase between 12 and 15 percent depending on women’s agency.

In the question and answer portion of the event, two questions raised the issue of reconciling current violations of human rights in Egypt and the improving status of women. Khattab responded by asserting that the state acknowledges its accountability and questioned the dividing line between collective and individual rights as the country is engaged in a war against terrorism. In response to a question on women’s participation in political parties, Khattab affirmed that Egyptians in general and women in particular have been increasingly joining parties since 2011. She referred to the example of the head of Al-Dostour Party, Hala Shukrallah, who is the first female head of party in Egypt. Khattab concluded by expressing her optimism in the future of women and Egypt.

By Khadiga Omar, Middle East Program



Moushira Khattab

Moushira Khattab

Former Public Policy Scholar;
Former Ambassador of Egypt to South Africa and to the Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia; and Former Egyptian Minister of Family and Population
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Hosted By

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Global Women's Leadership Initiative

The Global Women’s Leadership Initiative has hosted the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center since June, 2012. The Women in Public Service Project will accelerate global progress towards women’s equal participation in policy and political leadership to create more dynamic and inclusive institutions that leverage the full potential of the world’s population to change the way global solutions are forged.  Read more

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