In Egypt’s most recent parliamentary elections, women won a groundbreaking 87 seats, making up fifteen percent of the total parliament. Women’s rights groups celebrated the victory, but the media was quick to point out that without the quotas for women participation set by the government in 2014, women would only make up for about four percent of the parliament, instead of the fifteen percent they won under the current laws. Some politicians argue that the quotas are necessary, at least temporarily, in order to break down the barrier between women and politics in Egypt, however, on the other side, women are concerned over the efficacy of such measures. Specialists in the world of politics and gender say that quotas are more of a token gesture than the sign of a deep commitment to gender equality: They allow elite political actors to appear concerned about the plight of gender inequality while ignoring deeper issues related to the rights and mobility of women in society. Going further down that vein, women put into parliament by use of these quotas can be led to believe that they are meant to serve only the women, not the population as a whole, leading to yet another “glass ceiling.”
Enforcing these quotas is not enough on it’s own. These integration efforts need to be paired with efforts to resolve other factors that often hold back women’s participation like family role expectations, gender stereotypes, and educational and professional gaps. Going back to the Arab Spring, in 2011 the quotas were removed for the 2012 election, which dropped women’s political participation to almost zero. It seems that the quota is yet another way for Egypt to project an idea of equality to the world, while still limiting women’s role in society.
The issue of women’s rights across the Arab world is so incredibly complex. Through this blog, I do have a better understanding of where it comes from, and how difficult it was, and will be, to reverse. It is exciting to consider women coming into some sort of political power in these countries, but it isn’t that simple. Societal issues remain, and seem to be the lingering root cause for injustice.