On August 19 at 9 am EDT iKNOW Politics organized a webinar on Women's Participation in Constitution-Building processes in Egypt and Tunisia. 

A country’s constitution provides the framework for its legal system, which shapes not only the political status of women, but their economic and social status as well. Significant advances in the participation of women in recent constitution-building processes have contributed to increasingly gender sensitive constitutions. It is, therefore, imperative that women be involved and participate throughout the entire process. During this webinar, Najla Abess, Besma Soudani (Tunisian League of Women) and Ms. Mozn Hassan (NAZRA Egypt) shared their views on recent constitution building processes in Tunisia and Egypt.

This is a brief summary of the three presentations:

Ms.Mozn Hassan, Founder and President of Nazra for Feminist Studies spoke about the Egyptian post revolution constitution building experience:

  • It is particularly interesting to examine constitution building in Egypt as 2 constitutions have been drafted since the January 2011 revolution.
  • The revolution also resulted in the creation of a new public space/ public discourse, with citizens and civil society thinking of a new Egypt after 30 years of the Mubarak regime.
  • In 2012 a Muslim Brotherhood dominated government and a correspondingly composed constituent assembly drafted and passed a constitution which was more derogatory in terms of women’s rights than its 1971 predecessor.
  • A growing civil society came together and created a group called “women and the constitution” which after reviewing 60 international constitutions as well as Egypt’s previous constitutions developed a list of recommendations which comprised 14 articles to be included in the constitution.
  • This work was overlooked by the Muslim brotherhood government. In fact the constitution that was drafted was much more derogatory for women that that of 1971. And even the article guaranteeging gender equality in the most general sense in 1971 text was dropped.
  • After the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood President in July 2013 a new constitution was developed and passed in a referendum in January 2014. The constitution was drafted by a 50 member constituent assembly which included Dr. Hoda alSada, a prominent Egyptian feminist and the head of the Women and Memory Forum.
  • The committee reinstated the 1971 constitutional article guaranteeing gender equality. Civil society was able to lobby further for a new commission against discrimination which was established, a quota for women in local councils was proposed but was not accepted by parliament, an enhanced role for women in the judiciary.

 

Ms.Najla Abess, Co-founder and Programs cordinator of the Tunisian League of women spoke to us about the role of civil society in the constitutional drafting process in Tunisia:

  • While the new constitution is considered a notable step forward for women, there remains a discrepancy between theory and practice.
  • In 2011 women emerged as truly equal citizens active in both real and virtual spaces. Tunisian society became quite polarized between secularist (democrats) and the Islamist and the debate about women’s rights and women’s political participation became a strong point of debate among these two factions. Women’s rights were used for ‘branding’ of groups.
  • On April 11, 2011 the constituent assembly of Tunisia made history by passing a gender parity bill. A first in the region the bill declared that men and women must feature in equal numbers as candidates on the electoral list. The bill acknowledged the work of Tunisian women and awarded them an equal opportunity to participate in the country’s new, post-revolution electoral system.
  • As a result of strong campaigning on behalf of women’s rights organizations and women activists, the constitution was drafted to include provisions guaranteeing gender equality including Article 45 which outlines equal representation in politics, alternate lists and equal opportunities.
  • However, in practice only 1political party respected parity vertically (alternating on lists) and horizontally (women heading lists): 16 women and 17 men head party lists. Altakatol party only presented 4 women headed lists out of 33. Alnahda (Islamic) had only 1 unveiled woman head out of 33 lists. All parties respected the vertical equality: alternation on lists but not all implemented horizontal equality meaning most lists were headed by men.
  • In spite of the lists, women’s actual representation in the new assembly will not reflect their proportion of the national population. Women headed only seven percent of the more than 1,500 candidate lists.
  • 59 women made constituent assembly but most (42) were from alnahda Islamic party.  There was no real feminist coalition because most from one party and serve party interest not women interest. For example voting on article 45 of the constitution was a very close race and 9 women from the alnahda party rejected the article.
  • In preparation for next elections - legislative and presidential which will determine the direction for Tunisia we must work to strengthen women’s representation and the first step is through enacting electoral laws. The revolution was started by men and women alike and there is no reason why this should not continue.
  • Obstacles to strengthening women’s representation include male domination of media space – it appeared that all TV and radio debates were between male candidates while women were sidelined. Additionally women candidates faced resistance from Islamic groups who labeled their campaign posters with “do not vote for the unethical”.

To see the complete presentation please click here.

 

For more information on women and constitution building or more information about women's political participation in the Middle East.

 


On April 30th, 2014 at 9 am EDT iKNOW Politics organized an inspiring webinar on the use of ICTs to empower women in politics. NDI presented their Survey “The use of ICTs for women in politics”, Ms. Oyungerel, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism and President of the Democratic Women’s Union of Mongolia and Member of Parliament , shared her experience during the “Women CAN Campaign” and Ms. Danya Bashir Hobba, a Libyan activist and Executive Director for “Social Media for Change”, spoke of the power of social media in reshaping societies.

The 21st century has seen an unprecedented increase in the percentage of internet users around the world. 27.5% of people in Asia are now internet users, in Latin America and the Caribbean it’s 42.9% and the increase in internet users from 2000 to 2012 has been highest in the African continent, with an approximate 3,606.7% increase. Over 1.11 billion Facebook users communicate across borders every day. At least one-half of the world’s population has a mobile phone, and the number is increasing every day. Texting is the number one most used data service in the world, with 8.6 trillion text messages sent worldwide in 2012. In developing countries, two in three people have mobile phone subscriptions. Interestingly, the most remarkable innovations that have come from the use of mobile phones were where internet coverage was poor.  

While it is doubtless that current communication technology has a lot to offer any activist or politician, it may be of particular value for women in politics since mobile phones, the internet and social media channels have the potential to, not only serve as an equalizer for women politicians and activists, but to also increase their political participation. Often discriminated against in traditional media, women have started going around traditional communication outlets, such as television and radio, to adopt more direct and interactive communication tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, SMS, promotional videos, podcasts, and blogs, which have proved very effective, eliminating the use of intermediaries in communication and allowing the women themselves to be ‘the news makers’.

Women members of parliament are increasingly using these different technology platforms during their political campaigns and careers to generate dialogue with their constituencies as elected representatives. Political leaders are catching on to the crowd sourcing possibilities that these technologies offer. 

Blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have been created for many women politicians and activists. Additionally, text messages are used to alert journalists and to create viral campaigns during public rallies, televised debates and press conferences. YouTube videos are also supplementing paid television spots for political messages and breaking dependency on mainstream media sources. Political activists are using these social networks to personally organize events and disseminate information on public policy issues and communication between individual citizens and their government is increasing through online petitions, discussion forums and platforms.

 

This is a brief summary of the three presentations:

 

 Oyungerel Tsedevdamba is Member of Parliament in Mongolia; Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism and President of the Democratic Women’s Union of Mongolia. Oyungerel shared with us the following onMongolia’s experience in increasing women’s visibility in Parliament using Internet and Social Media:

  • In 2010 there were no women in parliament and no quotas were set so women, from 3 political parties, came together and headed a “women can” campaign to get women in parliament through a memorandum of collaboration. 
  • They began by asking other women to google themselves to see how they are coming up online as well as other high-level politicians to draw their attentionto the fact that they weren’t visible online which created an incentive to start using social media and contacting people through the internet.
  • A code of conduct were developed between women establishing that they do not slander other women online.
  • As a result of the one year campaign, a 20% quota for women was adopted and according to a national poll 78% of the female population would vote for women
  • Women came together and supported each other to increase their online visibility and understand the resources available to women
  • After establishing a strong concensus among women to support all other women in politics, the campaign reached out to men.


Our second presenter was Danya Bashir, a Libyan, author, activist and the Executive Director for the Middle East and North Africa of Social Media for Change which is an innovative NGO working to utilize social media to create positive democratic change. Danya shared her experience on how social media platforms are used to create positive democratic change in the MENA region.

  • During Gadaffi’s regime Libya was a black hole in terms of social media censorship and repression was high.
  • Social media is now widely used but it’s a double-edged sword.
  • Libya does not have a high penetration of social media users but the message does get spread around quickly through word of mouth.
  • People are understanding that it is their right to be part of the community.
  • Connecting people online and knowledge-sharing tool have made women more independent and helped them assert themselves as important members in society.


And our third presentation was given by Susan Kemp who is a senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) where she works on designing, implementing and evaluating programs that promote women's political participation. Susan  spoke about the NDI “Women and Technology” Survey.

 

  • NDI works to promote the political participation of women by engaging women in legislatures, political parties and civil society and by engaging men regarding the importance of women’s participation.
  • There are real benefits to using technology and social media to promote women’s political participation. For example, women are using technology to convey messages, develop networks, increase visibility, and reach a broad audience at a low cost.
  • There are also challenges to be aware of—particularly accessibility and safety issues. Research from Intel indicates that the gender gap in Internet usage is nearly 25% globally, and this figure is higher in certain regions, such as Africa (43%), the Middle East (24%), and South Asia (37%). Societal constraints and limited political space can impact physical and virtual security for women.
  • NDI is conducting a survey to better understand how women in politics use ICTs for personal and political purposes. The survey explores access, technology usage and preferences, and barriers to technology usage, among other areas. The purpose of the research is to develop recommendations so that future programs are tailored to women’s needs, interests and resources.

 

 

We invite you to participate in the NDI survey on Women and Technology by clicking here for English, Albanian and Serbian and here for Arabic, French, Georgian, Spanish and Urdu.

For more inspiring stories on the use of ICTs to empower women in Politics visit our Special Feature. 

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