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Karama Program Commences at National Workshop in Egypt

12/12/2005

Egypt National Workshop
15-16 November 2005
Four Seasons, First Residence

The V-Day Karama Program recently held its first National Workshop in Egypt to discuss the impact of Violence Against Women on politics, economics, health, education, art, culture, religion, media, and the legislative/judicial system. The workshop took place at the First Residence Four Seasons Hotel in Giza on the 15th and 16th of November 2005.

The 2-day workshop is one in a series of events taking place throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa where the Karama Program will be working in nine countries to support local efforts to stop violence against women. The Karama Program works with different groups: women’s rights advocates, policymakers, academia, media, religious leaders, lawyers, and others. The Egypt workshop discussed the impact of violence on their different realms, and how these realms can help end violence against women.

Ms. Hibaaq Osman, the Special Representative of V-Day and Chair of Karama, opened the workshop by emphasizing, "The Karama Program has no other agenda than the one announced, which is to work with the local groups and based on their priorities work on ending violence against women, looking at violence from several perspectives." Ms. Osman added, "The issue is that violence is always looked at from a legal viewpoint alone, disregarding other important angles of life. The Karama Program will try to integrate all these overlooked aspects in the fight against violence." Ms. Afaf El Jabiri, the Karama Program’s Regional Coordinator, highlighted how the Program will strengthen a network between women’s organizations and the eight realms to come up with a common agenda in fighting violence against women and girls.

Art, Culture, Media Perspectives on Violence Against Women:

The discussion of Art, Culture, and Media conveyed how cultural violence, including violent content in entertainment, creates many other forms of violence. Facilitated by Ms. Afaf El Sayyed, the presentations pressed for awareness campaigns that target individuals working in the media, and campaigns that challenge the unquestioned rights given to men to practice violence against women under the umbrella of religion.

Health and Education Perspectives on Violence Against Women:

Dr. Hala Sakr from the World Health Organization reported that social norms, lack of education, and poverty for women and girls are contributing factors for victims of violence: "The decreasing income and educational level of women, along with societal pressures under which she lives with her partner (the man), do not assist women in stopping the violence they are subjected to." Deprived of the resources or prospects necessary to be able to leave and support her children on her own, a woman may have no alternative except to abandon hope and endure abuse or control by her spouse or relative.

Dr. Doaa El Derwy and Ms. Sabah Hosni Khofush reported violence's risks to women's health: injury, hospitalization, fatality, miscarriage, missed workdays, loss of self-esteem and independence, depression, suicide, addiction, and alcoholism. The impact on a mother's health can bring secondary harm to the education of her daughters—older girls are withdrawn from school to care for younger siblings in lieu of their injured or murdered mother. In this session all participants agreed that a study of the financial and mental costs of violence against women vis-à-vis the harm to women's health, could help them campaign against violence against women with new and innovative approach.

Political Perspectives on Violence Against Women:

"Violence puts direct and indirect restrictions on women’s political participation rights as a candidate or as a voter, especially when the rules of the game are laid out to marginalize a certain segment of the society such as women and the poor and give unjust opportunity to the rich and strong. These are the reasons hindering women’s political participation," said Dr. Huda Badran from the Arab Alliance of Women. As a candidate, a woman may face threats and social costs from home or community. As a voter, she may face pressure and coercion from her household, community, local police and politicians. Protection from violence may be withheld by authorities for the purpose of intimidation. Mr. Ashraf Abdel Monem from The Hope Village Society confirmed the politicians and legislators' negligence of street girls and children, noting that this phenomenon is on the increase. The session also discussed the gender gap among policymakers across the country leading to many overlooked issues in women’s rights. It is rare to find any women in the high positions of either the government’s institutional or policymaking level.

Economic, Religion, Legislative/Judicial Perspectives on Violence Against Women:

Representing the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, Ms. Zenat Mahmoud explained that women’s restrictions from owning property are directly linked to their financial limitations. Then placing a macro lens on economic priorities, Ms. Amal Mahmoud imparted that "the investments in consumer products and services at the expense of basic and much needed human services profoundly affect the quality and the amount of direct services offered to women, such as medical attention for victims of violence and the administrative expenses to end the violence."

The discussion of the impact of religion on violence against women called for more in-depth research to be made on the interpretations of Quranic verses related to women. Regarding judicial code and laws, Ms. Hala Abdel Kader from the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance articulated how the judicial system implicitly contributes to gender violence and 'honor' crimes through the reduction of perpetrators' sentences, reinforcing the idea that this kind of aggression belongs in the private sphere. Participants resolved to exert more effort to end the gender imbalance and influence of cultural values on legislation, policymaking, and the judicial system.

Next Steps

The participants agreed to meet again to select each realm's highest priority for the issue of violence against women, and form prospective solutions. In a wrap-up of the eight realms discussed, three main challenges were echoed in each one of the sessions: 1) The constricted availability of information—an insufficiency of statistics and studies regarding violence against women in Egypt, and constricted accessibility to information on the issue; 2) Limited influence on public policymaking; and 3) Limited existence of sustainable social and public mechanisms to support the needs of women after raising their awareness.

To strategize the work on violence against women, several key priorities were suggested such as:

- the need for more in-depth research in each of the eight angles in order to develop effective and forceful prevention and protection measures, and

- the urgency for developing a comprehensive plan targeting different groups in the society: women, men, policymakers, and judges.

V-Day Karama is working closely with these representatives to form eight coordinating groups that will tackle the issue in each of the eight realms discussed in the workshop. The goal is to move from acknowledged concern about violence against women to tangible actions—allocating the necessary funds to develop more informed understanding, testing interventions for effectiveness and reliability, and addressing the problem of violence against women in a realistic, multi-angle approach, and cost-effective way.