Obstacles hinder women candidates in parliamentary elections

Sunday 18-10-2015 02:35 PM
Obstacles hinder women candidates in parliamentary elections

(ARCHIVE)Egyptian women wait in line to cast their votes on the new constitution. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters


By Rahma Deyaa

When Egyptians head to the polls today and tomorrow to choose their representatives in the 2015 legislature, they will probably find very few women's names on the ballots, even though women account for almost half of the electorate.

The parliament law stipulates that the House of Representatives must include at least 70 women through the party and coalitions lists system and quotas allocated for "special groups" as well as five percent among the 28 representatives appointed by the president.

Women candidates running independently outside those quotas, however, have faced many obstacles in the campaigning period. Often their self-perception has made them refrain from running altogether. Indeed there are only 308 women candidates out of over 5,400 running this year.

The obstacles are huge and include women's inability to compete with men in spending on campaigns or confronting sabotage and rumors.

A candidate in Daqahliya said that her rivals are trying to win votes through electoral fraud, adding that "a candidate offered a photocopy machine and office furniture to a school in my constituency," decrying how the use of "political money" affects equal opportunity. 

She also complained of the high cost of advertising saying that what used to cost EGP 100 now costs five time that amount.

"I'm fighting a tough battle. Thugs are being hired by candidates to tear down my banners and spread rumors that I belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not true," she said. 

She believes that chances for women competing over single-member constituency seats are very slim.

"We were hoping for 150 seats for women, but the Mubarak-era regime candidates have returned in this fierce competition and are spending millions on their campaigns which affects our chances," she explained.

"We need to change the social discourse that views parliamentarians as service providers and ignores his legislative and observatory role," she added.
Unlimited Spending

One candidate, running for an individual seat in Alexandria, faces similar obstacles, saying that "contenders are spending unlimited amounts of money and there is no room for me to hang my banners. I rely on my continuous presence in the streets to remain visible."

She explains that she was only able to afford one electoral conference but compensates with discussions in coffee shops and which give her the opportunity to present her platform. 

Women versus thugs

A candidate running in Imbaba constituency, an over-populated semi-informal area in the heart of Cairo, says that "women are wronged in the elections in many ways. Voters think we are not qualified to represent them because we are woman. We are also unable to compete with those pumping huge funds into campaigns without regulation." 

Another candidate in Giza complained that rivals either tear down her banners on a daily basis or cover them up with by banners belonging to other candidates.

She accused others of "collecting identification cards from voters to buy their vote for EGP 150." 

While she believes that there won't be any forgery specifically against women, but that women's poor performance will be because they are not supported by the big families that will offer them political and financial backing.

Confronting Obstacles

Karima El-Hefnawi, member of The National Front for Egyptian Women, an NGO, says that the circumstances have imposed the need to use different forms of campaigning to be able to compete.

"We need door-knocking campaigns, women should talk to people in rural areas, try to understand their problems and present a solution in order to earn their trust and give a good impression instead of spending on banners," she suggests.

She advised candidates to organise seminars on the premises of non-governmental organisations and to choose adequate personal photographs and catchy slogans so voters would take them seriously.

She adds that women candidates must be able to convince members of their constituency that the only difference between them and their male counterparts is their ability to express their causes and find solutions to change the social discourse against their candidacy. 

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