Tag Archives: Egypt

“Sharing your knowledge could change the life of a woman you have never even met“


Justine Mbabazi has worked for years in various post-conflict countries on issues such as rule of law, transitional justice and gender equality. As a lawyer she was involved in drafting the Rwandan constitution and contributed significantly to the fact that Rwanda today counts with 64 percent women in parliament. In May 2015, she participated in the National Dialogue Forum on Women’s Participation in Egypt, organized by PeaceWomen Across the Globe (PWAG), and gave her expertise to Egyptian women’s rights activists. Caroline Honegger, PWAG communications manager, interviewed her right after the event in Alexandria.

What motivated you to participate in the Dialogue Forum?

When you look at the headline news about the Arab spring, you immediately think: What is happening with women? How are their lives being protected? And what happens after it? At the end of the day, women have to be part of the reconstruction; they have to get an opportunity to be the change if change is needed.

In 2013 already, I have been in contact with Egyptian women. I provided my inputs on the new constitution and on what claims they should bring forward to the government. Participating at the Dialogue Forum was for me the possibility to reconnect – with people and with the process: What happened since? What are their plans? I thought that my inputs based on Rwanda’s experience would probably be useful to them. I also really wanted to know how the women are coping with the situation: How involved are they? How frustrated are they? All that comes with the package of being an activist.

Did the Forum meet your expectations?

In many ways it did and in many ways it left me hungry for something. I was impressed by how many women and men participated, that was incredible! I think the major point in the process is to be there and to learn from other individuals, from different fractions of the Egyptian women, and from different organisations. So for me that exceeded my expectations! I was especially impressed with th57e young people who took part. Many countries are suffering from a generational gap between the pioneers of gender activism and the younger generation growing up in a global world. In this conference there was a mixture of different ages, views, understandings and they were all in the same room ready to take action.

What left me hungry is that Egypt still is so behind in terms of building up instruments. It seems that the constitution of 2014 is very vague and does not provide a framework for really building institutions for implementing women’s rights. The will is there, but I think the process is still somehow behind in terms of really providing a platform. When I went to the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, women from Egypt were on fire! They had the torch, they had the education, and they had everything we needed. And I thought: “I want to be like them when I grow up.” I don’t know what happened in between. I would like to learn more about what went wrong and about how the young generation can mitigate it. But Egyptian women are still active and understand what they want. So I am really looking forward to the follow-up after the conference and to see how we can share best practices.

Talking about best practices… Rwanda has a gender quota and over 60 percent of parliament members are women. This is incredible! What was the key to this achievement?

There are many factors. One of them is that you need women activists who understand what gender mainstreaming is all about. You need women who are interested in understanding gender analysis and gender budgeting. I think one of the best practices, and we share it with Egyptian women, is that you have a mass of women willing to push their claims in the political agenda. In Rwanda, women made a decision to work together. You cannot achieve equality if you don’t have a unifying voice around the issues you are trying to advocate.

The most incredible thing I remember during my early years of activism is also that we made a very conscious decision to say: when we meet, we meet because there is a problem. And when we meet, let’s talk about solutions. Because talking about problems over and over again does not help. I heard from the Egyptian women yesterday that they are all frustrated that things are not working their way. And in the dialogue discussions they spent a very good 50 percent of the time talking about the problems, repeating problems again and again. That isn’t helping! When you meet, talk about solutions! Those solutions don’t have to be effective, but they have to be there on the table. And every solution you have on the table, honestly, is the best that you have. Tomorrow you might come up with another solution. But don’t ignore it, don’t devaluate it, don’t despise it, because that’s what you have.

Another thing that frustrates women is that they are afraid of not knowing enough. But you don’t have to know it all from the beginning; you just have to know a little. When you are a member of the parliament, you don’t have to perfectly master how the parliament works. You are there because women in the community, in the grassroots, in the rural areas, have problems. And those problems can be solved by reforming the laws, initiating other laws and drafting new legislation. That’s why you are there. So if you care too much about whether you are smart enough or not to do the job, you are putting yourself in the centre of the problem. But actually, the problem is women’s lack of fundamental rights, and that’s why you push yourself to do what you can.

What are the most important institutional reforms that Egypt needs for women’s rights to be implemented?

Well, for women’s rights to ever be effective they have to go through different channels. Those channels have to be initiated by the government. And the government must have a structure for those channels. Egypt has a National Council for Women as we have one in Rwanda. It is a good thing but not enough. Egypt also needs a Ministry of Gender: the National Council for Women is not an executive body, it does not participate in the cabinet meetings, it does not have a voice every week in front of the President, it does not meet with the judiciary. The Minister of Gender on the other hand, if you have one, meets with the president, participates in the cabinet meeting, and her (because most of the times it’s a woman) agenda is to push women’s rights little by little every week through the cabinet affairs. That’s how you penetrate. I think Egyptian women’s rights activists also need to deepen their understanding of the structures of a democratic government and of the international legal framework. The Egyptian government has signed international conventions and so it can be held accountable. It’s a hard process but women need to do it.

What do you think will be the main challenges for Egypt’s women during the next years?

During the Arab spring women were on the streets claiming their rights. Now, these women still have the opportunity to change things but they are lacking a strategy. And even once they have a strategy, pushing the political agenda will not be easy. The government is already overwhelmed with other problems, and to persuade it you got to act quickly, you have to be clear in your messaging and you have to be short and precise. “Women’s rights” is a broad and a vague sort of terminology. But if your issue is education, approach the education and talk about what women are facing. If the issue is employment, tell the government to change something that is tangible, visible, right there.

You are a women’s rights activist with a long-time experience. What would be your advices for other, younger activists?

Being an activist is an endless process: you are advocating one thing today, you go through with it, you don’t relax, you pick up the next issue. If the issue you are advocating doesn’t go through, don’t be discouraged, just find a different strategy. Don’t relax and think that things will just work themselves out. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Just feel comfortable that you have the right calls and you are doing what you can.

I also learned that you have to share your knowledge because you cannot deal with issues by yourself. You have to share the knowledge with other women, with the next generation… My other learning experience is that every generation, every time comes with other challenges. When I started in the early nineties, we didn’t have easy communication, emails, WhatsApp and everything. We have to keep ourselves updated about how to communicate and how to share the knowledge. Now that we really share a global platform, as global citizens, I don’t even see myself as belonging to a country anymore. Sharing the knowledge might not change the life of a woman in your country, but it could change the life of a woman that you have never even met.

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„Wir müssen trotz aller Unterschiede gemeinsam für unsere Rechte einstehen“


> Read the article in english

Vom 13. bis am 15. Mai 2015 organisierte FriedensFrauen Weltweit, zusammen mit ägyptischen und internationalen Organisationen, ein Nationales Dialogforum zur Frauenpartizipation: „Mehr Rechte für Ägyptens Frauen: Von den Empfehlungen zur strategischen Umsetzung“. Während drei Tagen arbeiteten zwischen 70 und 100 Teilnehmende aus den verschiedensten Bevölkerungsgruppen und Sektoren an einer nationalen Strategie, wie politische Gleichberechtigung in Ägypten umgesetzt werden soll.

Ganz hinten in der Schlange

Am Eröffnungsabend näherten sich die Teilnehmenden auf eine künstlerische Art dem Thema der Frauenrechte an. Während einer Stunde führte der Ägypter John Milad und seine Theatergruppe Wlessa die ZuschauerInnen durch verschiedene Situationen im Leben von Frauen in Ägypten und malte dabei ein sozialkritisches Bild der ganzen Gesellschaft. Mit und ohne Worte gelang es den jungen SchauspielerInnen Gefühle wie Freude und Liebe, aber auch Schmerz, Trauer und Scham, auf eine sehr berührende Art darzustellen: zum Beispiel zwei Geburten – während der Junge unter Applaus und Hurrarufen auf der Welt begrüsst wird, wird das Mädchen mit Tritten wieder in den Leib der Mutter zurückgetreten.

Der erste Diskussionstag wurde mit Reden der Organisatorinnen (PeaceWomen Across the Globe, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, National Council for Women, UN Women) und des Bürgermeisters von Alexandria eröffnet. Immer wieder betonten die RednerInnen, dass die neue ägyptische Verfassung eine ausgezeichnete Ausgangslage für Frauen bietet, aber dass es jetzt darum geht, die verschiedenen Verfassungsartikel auch zu aktivieren: Denn was nützen Regeln und Prinzipien, wenn niemand sie kennt und niemand sich daran hält? Ruth-Gaby Vermot, Co-Präsidentin von PWAG, ermutigte die anwesenden Frauen, dabei hartnäckig zu bleiben:

„Überall auf der Welt stehen die Frauen oft ganz hinten in der gesellschaftlichen Schlange und müssen warten, bis sie mit ihren Anliegen an die Reihe kommen. Es ist manchmal schwer, den Mut nicht zu verlieren und unsere Enttäuschung konstruktiv zu nutzen. Wir müssen uns motivieren, die immer gleichen Anliegen einzubringen – möglichst friedlich, denn Gewalt kann nicht unsere Sprache sein.“

IMG_2094 Die ehemalige Parlamentarierin erzählte davon, wie es war, auf einer Frauenliste zu kandidieren und gewählt zu werden – ein Thema, das bei den anwesenden ägyptischen Kandidatinnen für die Parlaments-wahlen ganz offensichtlich auf grosses Interesse stiess: „Ich bewundere, dass es in der Schweiz eine Liste nur für Frauen gab und dass so die Wähler und Wählerinnen die Beste der Frauen wählen konnten. So hatten diese eine echte Chance, gewählt zu werden und zu zeigen, was sie können. Dann ist es viel einfacher, das nächste Mal wiedergewählt zu werden. Es braucht diesen kleinen Anschub beim ersten Mal, sonst klappt es nicht“, sagte Dalia Al Aswad, die bei den nächsten nationalen Parlamentswahlen kandidieren möchte.

Das eigene Potential ausschöpfen

Der erste Workshopteil zum Thema “Bridging the Gap between Empowerment Policies and their Implementation” wurde von der südafrikanischen FriedensFrau Thulisile Madonsela eröffnet. Als Public Protector kontrolliert sie die südafrikanische Regierung in vielen Bereichen und ist in ihrer Heimat unter anderem als „Anti corruption watchdog“ bekannt und respektiert. Thuli Madonsela eröffnete ihr Referat mit einem Verweis auf den Lieblingsfilm ihrer Töchter – Mulan – der von einem Mädchen handelt, das gegen den Willen ihres Vaters in den Krieg zieht und schlussendlich ihr Land rettet. Empowerment, so Madonsela, bedeute, dass alle Menschen die Möglichkeit hätten, ihr volles Potential zu nutzen und damit so gut wie möglich zum Wohlergehen der Gesellschaft beizutragen. Die Frauen selber hätten dabei eine wichtige Rolle zu spielen:

„Es ist keine Frage, dass Frauen führen können – das haben sie immer schon gemacht. Wenn es irgendwo ein Problem gibt, dann kommen Frauen und setzen alles daran, es zu lösen. Aber sobald man dieses Problem mit einem konkreten Namen und einer Position benennt, haben viele Frauen die Angewohnheit, einen Schritt zurück zu machen und nach einem männlichen Kollegen zu schauen.“

IMG_2138Frauen müssen sich selber auch zutrauen, Verantwortung und Macht zu übernehmen. Daneben sei es zentral, dass ein Land nicht nur eine gute Verfassung und Gesetze habe, sondern auch Strukturen, um diese Gesetze konkret umzusetzen: „In Südafrika gibt es zum Beispiel meine Stelle als Public Protector und eine Gleichstellungskommission. Wir sind permanent daran, uns gegenseitig zu kontrollieren und Rechenschaft abzulegen, ob und wie die Verfassung umgesetzt wird“, so Madonsela.

In diesem Sinn setzten sich dann die Teilnehmenden zusammen und arbeiteten daran, wie verschiedene Empfehlungen zur Frauenpartizipation konkret umgesetzt werden können. Die Empfehlungen wurden im Vorfeld der Veranstaltung zusammengetragen und stammten aus den drei Dialogforen, die 2014 in verschiedenen Regionen Ägyptens organisiert wurden.

Die Arbeitsgruppen waren in verschiedene Gesellschaftssegmente unterteilt. Anwesend waren VetreterInnen aus: Medien, Wissenschaft, Regierung, ParlamentkandidatInnen und politische Parteien, Zivilgesellschaft/NGOs, Jugend, ExpertInnen, Wirtschaft, muslimische und christliche FührerInnen.

So wurde zum Beispiel am Tisch der Zivilgesellschaft darüber diskutiert, wie denn die Kommunikation und die Zusammenarbeit von Frauen- und Gleichstellungsorganisationen verbessert werden kann: Gefordert wurde eine Datenbank, die alle Projekte und Organisationen auflistet. Am Tisch der KandidatInnen für die nächsten Parlamentswahlen ging es darum, was gegen die weitverbreitete Gewalt während der Wahlen unternommen werden kann, und wie die Kommunikation zwischen Kandidatinnen und den politischen Ministerien verbessert werden soll. Die Diskussionen waren angeregt, manchmal laut und chaotisch, manchmal konzentrierter. Und es war deutlich, wie viele Frauen (und auch einige Männer) sich engagiert für ihre Rechte und einen gesellschaftlichen Wandel einsetzen. Und dass viele von ihnen langsam aber sicher die Geduld verlieren.

„Ihr müsst nicht die besten Freundinnen sein, um zusammenzuarbeiten“

Am zweiten Tag leitete die FriedensFrau Justine Mbabazi aus Ruanda den Workshop zum Thema „Egypt as a Leading Country in Women’s Empowerment: The Way Forward“ ein. Die versierte Genderexpertin und Menschenrechtsaktivistin hielt die anwesenden Frauen in einer fesselnden Rede dazu an, sich nicht in unnötigen Machtkämpfen zu verlieren. Ruanda ist mit 64 Prozent Frauen im Parlament ein absoluter Spitzenreiter in Sachen Frauenpartizipation und Justine Mbabazi erinnerte an die spektakuläre Wandlung des Landes, in dem 1994 während des 100 Tage dauernden Genozids eine Million Menschen grausam ermordet wurden:

„Ich erinnere mich sehr gut, als ich nur gerade neun Monate nach dem Genozid mit einer ruandischen Delegation an der UNO-Weltfrauenkonferenz in Peking teilnahm. Wir waren am Boden zerstört und schauten zu den ägyptischen Frauen auf, die uns so stark, erfolgreich und gebildet vorkamen. In Peking realisierten wir, dass wir zusammenarbeiten müssen. Und dass wir, um in Ruanda weiterhin ein Leben führen zu können, stark sein müssen. Wir hatten gar keine andere Wahl, als uns mit aller Kraft für gleiche Rechte und eine bessere Gesellschaft einzusetzen.“

Die ruandischen Frauen hätten realisiert, dass sie nur gemeinsam etwas verändern können: „Keine Frau hat es gewählt, mit einem Mann verheiratet zu sein, der andere Menschen umgebracht hat. Und keine Frau hat gewählt, dass ihr Mann umgebracht wurde. Wir mussten sprechen miteinander und trotz unserer Unterschiede und Probleme gemeinsam für unsere Rechte einstehen“, so Mbabazi.

Um zu überzeugen, müsse man die Ziele zusammen definieren und dann die Forderungen klar und knapp kommunizieren, so dass sogar der beschäftigte Präsident diese schnell verstehen könne. Ihren ägyptischen Kolleginnen riet sie ausserdem, die Männer in diesen Prozess miteinzubeziehen: „Viele Männer meinen es nicht böse, sie wissen es einfach nicht besser. Ihr müsst Ihnen aufzeigen, worum es geht, und dann stärken sie euren Rücken.“

Gespräche über alle gesellschaftlichen Gräben hinweg

Anschliessend trafen sich die Teilnehmenden wieder an den Diskussionstischen, um an der konkreten Umsetzung der Forderungen weiterzuarbeiten. Dieses Mal wurden die elf Gesellschaftssegmente gemischt: So diskutierten Journalistinnen mit Wissenschaftlern oder NGOs mit Regierungsabgeordneten und Jugendlichen.

Ein solcher Austausch über alle Alters-, Religions- und Parteigrenzen hinweg ist für Ägypten ein absolutes Novum. Die ägyptische Gesellschaft ist stark gespalten, und konstruktive Gespräche und gar eine Zusammenarbeit gehen selten über die eigene Gruppe hinaus. Dass FriedensFrauen Weltweit zu einem Aufbrechen dieser Grenzen beitragen konnte, stellt für uns ein Erfolg für sich dar.

IMG_2232Diskutiert wurde zum Beispiel darüber, wie ein neues Ministerium zur konkreten Umsetzung der Gleichstellung geschaffen werden kann. Soll es „Ministerium für Gender“ heissen? Oder ist das eventuell für viele Ägypter und Ägypterinnen ein zu fremder Begriff? Müssen dafür neue Strukturen geschaffen werden oder reicht es, bestehende weiterzuentwickeln? Eine andere Gruppe beschäftigte sich währenddessen mit den Problemen der Frauen in der Arbeitswelt: Wie kann verhindert werden, dass weiterhin viele Frauen ihre Stelle verlieren, wenn sie schwanger werden? Und wie kann sichergestellt werden, dass es genug Kinderbetreuungsplätze gibt, damit Frauen trotz Kindern weiterhin berufstätig (und somit selbständig und unabhängig) sein können?

„Ihr seid der Wandel – ihr besitzt alle Mittel, die es dafür braucht“, ermutigte die FriedensFrau Fawzia Talout Meknassi aus Marokko die Teilnehmenden in ihrer Schlussrede.

Und jetzt?

Jetzt müssen diese Mittel genutzt werden. Es geht darum, die Ergebnisse aus den Diskussionen zusammenzutragen und daraus in den nächsten Monaten eine klare und griffige Strategie zu formulieren. Diesen Part übernehmen die Ägyptischen Organisationen, namentlich der National Council for Women, UN Women Egypt und die Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Die konkrete Formulierung und Ausarbeitung soll in enger Zusammenarbeit mit den politischen Ministerien erfolgen, damit die Umsetzung der Strategie auch eine reelle Chance hat. Sieben Minister und Ministerinnen haben explizit ihre Unterstützung versprochen.

Es wird keine leichte Aufgabe sein, das ist ganz klar. Es wird eine langwierige Arbeit sein. Auch das ist klar. Aber wie die Südafrikanerin Thuli Madonsela in ihrer Rede treffend sagte: „Es ist besser, langsam vorwärts zu machen und alle mitzunehmen, die ein Teil der Reise sein möchten, anstatt Leute abzuhängen. Wenn man zu schnell vorwärts prescht, wird man früher oder später von denen zurückgeholt, die nie richtig verstanden haben, worum es eigentlich geht.

Caroline Honegger, FriedensFrauen Weltweit



  1. Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Co-Präsidentin von FriedensFrauen Weltweit, bei ihrer Eröffnungsrede
  2. Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa
  3. Am Tisch der Arbeitsgruppe der Zivilgesellschaft
  4. Abschluss-Gruppenfoto

Dieser Text wurde in abgeänderter Form auch in der Zeitschrift RosaRot (Nr. 49) gedruckt.

«If women had a chance, things would be much better»


A conversation with Soad Shalaby*, Director of the Women’s Business Development Center of the National Council of Women (NCW) in Egypt, at the regional Dialogue Forum in Marsa Matruh, November 2014.

The NCW supports PWAG by providing their facilities and ensuring that the dialogue fora can take place. Additionally, you personally have attended every one of the three regional dialogue fora in 2014. Why do you support this project?

It is important to give Egyptian women the chance to meet and to exchange their views. If a woman in Egypt is not given the chance to discuss her problems in a relatively protected place, then nobody will hear her. This applies especially to those women living in remote governorates. Egyptian women are very serious, sincere and dedicated. They are keen about getting a job. If they don’t get the chance to study or work, they suffer a lot – and their families with them. This project targets women in general, whether they are business women, employed in the government or in NGO’s, thus giving a bigger chance for different women to discuss their problems together. This is something that I feel is important. The way PWAG conducts the dialogue fora is very attractive: it’s a new way of generating conversation.


“Women must have a role in preserving peace”– Soad Shalaby at the opening session in Marsa Matruh.

How can one ensure an effective dialogue?

In the first dialogue forum I attended, in Luxor, the participants told me that they had been to many seminars and workshops before, but that this was the best one: “Each one of us gets a chance to talk. It’s not a lecture; we contribute with our own thoughts. Nobody is pushing us to believe in something. We reach conclusions, which we are actually part of. This makes it different.” I agree with what these women told me, they were happy because they were able to contribute. This is an effective way of dialogue.

What is necessary in order to have a real impact on women’s political participation, be it as voters or candidates, in Egypt?

This is the most important and the most difficult part. It is not easy to change a mentality which has been there for many years and is influenced by traditions, religion, society and many difficult norms. But we have the possibility of dialogue. When the outcome of such a dialogue process is presented to the decision makers, you can say that these are samples of the society – the opinions and needs of people that have been subject to that kind of harassment or have been in this specific situation. If the society is supposed to change, then we have to listen to these voices. We have to change our mentalities. How? We have to have an impact. How? We have to really influence those people who are in the decision making processes. I feel that in order to have an impact we will have to work very hard, because nobody is interested in listening. We have to make them first listen, then we have to make them change their mentality and then we have to make them change their laws and regulations. This is a long process.


The team from left to right: Yasmine Arafa (Project Coordinator in Egypt), Soad Shalaby (Director of the WBC, NCW), Tanja Mirabile (Program Manager PWAG), Salima Abdel Rehim (NCW Marsa Matruh).

There are a number of women in Egypt heading large companies and banks. It seems that women can reach higher positions in the private sector, but are excluded from higher ranking in the public sector. Why is that?

In the private sector there is free recruitment and promotion, ‘free’ meaning: whoever is more competent, gets the job. This is not the case in the public sector. There are many sectors of society that are not approving of the fact that a woman can get a higher job in the public sector. Even though the constitution 2013 gives women the right to get equal jobs and to be promoted equally, it’s not happening. Because there are limits, there are ceilings. And it will not happen, unless we have good role models. In all societies in this world there are some jobs that are deprived from women. But the president of Egypt made a very good step by appointing a woman as the National Security Advisor. She is young, competent and she was the Minister of International Cooperation during Mubarak’s regime and the revolution. These are the good models. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 25% are women, and this is a very good percentage in a ministry. Some ministries allow women to reach higher positions, others don’t. That’s why we’re still pushing. In the NCW we are pushing that a woman be elected as governor for the first time. We have influenced many women to apply and we are urging the minister who is in charge of appointing the governors to choose a woman. We still have the hope that there will be a woman at the head of a governorate in the close future.


From left to right: Yasmine Arafa (Project Coordinator in Egypt), Soad Shalaby (Director of the WBC, NCW), Tanja Mirabile (Program Manager PWAG)

What do you believe would change if more women were represented in politics?

A lot would be happening. We have seen here in Marsa Matruh many examples of women who would make a big difference in the society, if they were given the chance. I believe that if women had a chance, things would be much better.

*Soad Shalaby was born in Cairo in 1948. After she got a university degree in economics in 1969, she started her diplomatic career. Throughout the last three decades, socio-economic development as well as enhancing peace and stability in Africa have been her main interests whether in her various diplomatic responsibilities or during her postgraduate studies at McGill University in Canada. She currently holds the position of Director of the Women Business Development Centre (WBDC) of the National Council of Women. Her mandate is to train and recruit 50’000 women from all over Egypt so that they can bring income to their families.

Interview: Andrea Grossenbacher, PWAG Project Assistant

Hidden behind closed doors – women in Siwa


Giving the possibility to women from remote and isolated areas to voice their needs and articulate their demands is an important aspect of the work done by PWAG in Egypt. At the third regional dialogue forum organized by PWAG and the National Council of Women in Marsa Matruh, in the north of Egypt, two women from Siwa – an oasis in the Libyan Desert – were invited to represent the voices of Siwi women. Fatma Ossman, one of these women, gave us insight into the role of women in her community.

The oasis Siwa is considered an extremely conservative society. Its inhabitants are of Berber origin, and live according to centuries-old traditions. Siwa is part of the governorate Marsa Matruh, which belongs to Egypt. Traditionally, women in Siwa have been kept behind closed doors. They are not allowed to leave the Oasis unaccompanied and if they do travel outside their home, they are entirely concealed under flowing robes. Young women in Siwa hardly have any chance of continuing their education after high school, as they cannot pursue their studies outside of Siwa. There is merely one technical school for women in Siwa, where they can study industry or commerce. The prevailing structure doesn’t allow girls to pursue their dreams, says Fatma Ossman, herself born and raised in Siwa. Men, she says, may however pursue their studies anywhere as long as they can afford it financially. Strong restrictions are placed on married women, as they are not allowed to leave their houses for work. Often they do raise income for their families, but only through small projects and endeavors done at home. Whereas single women benefit of more freedom to move, as they are allowed to work outside of their homes – many working in factories or handicraft.

IMG_9527Fatma obtained a degree in commerce and has been working for an NGO in Siwa for many years now. She is 32 years old and single. She was the first woman ever to be elected into the local council. Currently women lack a political role in the community, says Fatma. When asked what she would change if she had the chance to do so, she says: “I don’t want to change our culture, I rather want to add something to it. Women in Siwa need someone to be their representative, so they don’t have to come all the way to Marsa Matruh to voice their needs or opinions. They need a complaints office and women’s associations, which then might initiate some kind of dialogue or discussion.”

Siwi women are deprived of many rights, especially in health and education. This is why Fatma has decided to commit herself to women’s rights. By coming to the dialogue forum in Marsa Matruh, Fatma challenged herself and her environment. She explains why she accepted the invitation nonetheless: “I’m not doing anything wrong. I want something that will actually benefit my country. I want the voice that says women have a role in every aspect of the society to reach my society. Because many claim that women are half the community but in fact they are much more, we say they are the community. The participation in this forum also gives me incentive to confront the difficulties that I might face when I go back.” Her greatest wish for women in Siwa is that one day it be accepted that women participate in the political life.

“Eritrean children don’t have dreams anymore”


Eritrea’s military dictatorship systematically persecutes its own people and those who oppose the system. Many Eritreans who flee are abducted during the journey, brought to the Sinai and tortured for ransom. This October (2014), human rights activist and journalist Meron Estefanos spoke at our event “Trafficking of women in Sinai”* in Berne. She works for the International Eritrean Radio Erena and is a co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees in Stockholm. Estefanos was born in Eritrea and lives in Sweden since the age of 14.

Every day, Meron Estefanos talks to Eritreans in difficult situations: women and men being held captive, the crew of a refugee boat drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as relatives searching desperately for their close ones who have disappeared in the desert call her. Estefanos listens and tries to help if she can. In her radio show, she tells these tough stories because she wants Eritrean people to know them. At our event in Bern, she talked about the case of a woman who was captivated and brought to the Sinai: she was tortured and so was her young child. The little boy has finally been released, but his mother died in the torture camp. This is only one of many stories, an example of the cruel mistreatments that are happening in the Sinai.

Meron Estefanos

Meron, are you satisfied with the event “Trafficking of women in Sinai”?

I am really glad that we had a full house. It is so good to see that a lot of people are interested in Eritrea and human trafficking in the Sinai. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to talk about the root causes of the problem: the dictatorship. The living conditions in Eritrea are very bad. For example, every man and every woman must serve in the military from the age of 15 till 50. Women with children are exempt, but their husbands aren’t. So many women must carry the burden of feeding and raising the children alone.

There is no freedom of religion, no freedom of movement, no freedom of speech. People are even afraid to say that they are hungry, because it might be interpreted as a political statement: “Are you saying there is starvation in Eritrea?” If your brother gets arrested, you are not allowed to ask what he did – asking is a crime. That’s why people flee. In Eritrea, the children don’t have dreams anymore. I asked 8- or 9-year-old children about their aspirations: nobody said “doctor”, nobody said “pilot”. They said: “I’m going to be a soldier.” And the saddest thing is that their career aspirations are very realistic: all their sisters, brothers, fathers and grandfathers are in the military, so it’s all they know.

Many Eritreans who leave their country get kidnapped during the journey and are tortured for ransom. Which are the specific dangers that women face?

They also get kidnapped and tortured. And they face sexual violence too, even the young girls. Even if they are released, it is very tough for them, because they feel ashamed. In our culture we don’t talk about rape because it is seen as something instigated by a woman. So they deny it and say: “it didn’t happen to me, it happened to the other women.” They worry of not having a life afterwards because nobody would agree to marry them. So they hide it instead of working on the issue of the trauma.


In March 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Security and Human Trafficking in the Sinai. Has the situation improved since?

I am very happy about the resolution since I have been lobbying for it for the last 4 years. But it isn’t enough: Egypt still completely ignores the problem! The EU frequently raises the issue on the meetings with Egypt, but all too often the words are only hot air. The same applies for the United States: they tell Egypt to tackle the problem, but continue to give money to the government. Come on, they should tell them: “We are stopping this money until you are stopping the human rights violations in Sinai.” But Egypt is a very important ally to Europe and to the US. So they try to make everybody happy: they grant money so the Egyptian government is happy – they write a resolution so we are happy.

Is there a thing Switzerland could do about it?

Many Eritreans flee to Switzerland. And every time I come here, Swiss politicians tell me that they cannot be integrated. This is weird because German politicians always tell me that Eritreans are the ones who easily integrate into the system. I doubt that the Eritreans are the problem. So Switzerland should look at its system and ask where it is failing. Any human being can integrate, but you have to know how.

Eva Andonie (FIZ) and Dr. Fana Asefaw (doctor and psychologist, Zurich) discussing at the event

Do you have an idea what the problem might be?

Well, let’s start with the media. How many rapes happen here in Switzerland by Swiss men? If a single one is done by a migrant, the media only write about that one. In Sweden, things are different: media are not supposed to generalize. They write “one man stabbed another one,” but they don’t write about their backgrounds. There is no law about it, but it simply is inhumane to generalize that much. So they don’t. The generalization incites hate; it helps people to hate other people. Every human being is different and people should start looking at each case individually. And Eritreans also need to find a way to learn about Swiss people, about their food, about their culture. In Sweden for example, they have to go to practices. They have to work or take classes. It is important that the society invests in them. It is too easy to say: “they cannot be integrated.”

What is your dream for Eritrea?

In Switzerland, people vote four times a year. We’ve never voted, we’ve never had one single election. My dream is a country where we can elect our president, where we have a parliament, where people are judged by the law. For this to happen, Eritreans have to stand up for their rights. But they also need help. Only a few countries implemented the sanctions of the UN-Security Council. As long as there is money going to the Eritrean government, the suffering of Eritrean people will not end. So the only way is to stop supporting and to take drastic measures against the Eritrean government.

Interview: Caroline Honegger, PWAG Communication Manager

Pictures: taken by Corinne Wenger in Berne on October 30th at the event “Trafficking of women in Sinai”

*The event has been jointly organized by PWAG and the Swiss Observatory for asylum and foreigners law (SBAA).

Promoting participation and dialogue in Southern Egypt


From the 6th to the 8th of March 2014 the first regional Dialogue Forum (DF) organized by PeaceWomen Across the Globe (PWAG) emphasized women’s political participation and how to overcome the challenges facing Egyptian women in politics by conveying leadership and communication skills. Given the current political situation in Egypt our cooperation with the National Council for Women (NCW) from Cairo turned out to play a crucial role in the success of the Dialogue Forum in Luxor.

On the occasion of the event being held in Luxor the secretary general of the governorate of Luxor, General Alaa Harras, honoured the DF by welcoming the participants officially in the name of the city mayor. Ambassador Soad Shalaby, manager of the Women Business Development Center of the NCW, and Maha Maaz from the Center for the Study of Democracy and Social Peace of the Biblioteca Alexandrina, stressed the importance of engaging in a dialogue on the political participation of women in the Egyptian society. Ambassador Soad Shalaby talked about the Egyptian woman as a distinctive and effective lady in the civil society and highlighted the necessity to activate her role in political life.


To begin the first session of the DF, Dr. Nada Thabet, the moderator, stressed that the main goal was to promote participation and dialogue between the parties through interactive and practical sessions and to come out with applicable proposals. Zahra’ Langhi from the Lybian Women’s platform for Peace led the first workshop, an introduction to dialogue processes and approaches to effective dialogue. In a second workshop Fawzia Talout Meknassi from Presma, a morrocan Press Agency, talked about communication and the use of mass media. The knowledge and experience of our PeaceWomen proved once again to be of utmost value. Even Ambassador Soad who is used to writing media communiqués was impressed by how much she learned in the workshops.

The following two days were dedicated to the dialogue. Due to different factors, among them the fact that there were no Islamist women present, the composition of the participant group could have been more diverse. Nevertheless the discussions were intensive and the participants very motivated. At the end of the three days the participants were divided into two groups (Luxor and Aswan) from which one person each was chosen to be responsible for the respective region. These women will coordinate further meetings and the communication with PWAG and the NCW in order to guarantee the transfer of the acquired skills and tools into practice and the continuation of our cooperation.

Authors: Tanja Mirabile, PWAG Project Manager and Andrea Grossenbacher, PWAG Communications Assistant