Women’s groups relaunch Egyptian Feminist Union

Egyptian women’s organizations announced Saturday the reestablishment of the Egyptian Feminist Union, a group that dates back to 1923 when it was originally founded by activist Hoda Shaarawy.

Former Chilean president and head of UN Women Michelle Bachelet, who attended the launch, said the event marked a historic moment, not only for Egyptian women but for all women and men around the world.

The Egyptian Feminist Union is the result of the cooperation of more than 1000 women’s organizations across Egypt. Prior to its first official meeting, the union met earlier on Saturday to elect its board of directors and committee members.

Newly elected chairperson Hoda Badran is already engaged in the Alliance for Arab Women and said she was very happy with this new opportunity to change conditions for Egyptian women.

“I can’t just sit and complain about how things are,” Badran said. “I have to do my best to change things and to try and mobilize others and convince them of the importance of these issues.”

Besides electing the union’s board, the meeting earlier on Saturday also addressed what visions the union should adopt for the future.

Badran said the union decided to first focus on the upcoming elections. “We want to make sure that enough women are running for the elections and that the women are qualified,” she said.

The union’s plan is to find powerful Egyptian women and convince them to run for elections, either with a party or independently.

“And we want to raise awareness of women’s right to vote and vote independently. That is, we will try our best to avoid that women vote what they’re told to vote, and to avoid proxy voting,” said Badran.

Badran explained that in the long term, the union wants to participate in the public debate in two ways.

“We partly want to address problems that are particularly problems for women – the 40 percent illiteracy among Egyptian women for instance. But we also want to address issues that are not particularly women’s issues, like developing the Sinai and how to make a better educational system. The idea is that women may have a different and more practical view on such issues than men,” said Badran, who sees religious fundamentalists and the ruling military council’s view of women as the union’s biggest challenges.

“The Egyptian community is not used to seeing women being involved in political issues. They often talk about women’s issues as being of minor importance to men’s issues. But we want to break those assumptions and have no segregation of women’s and men’s issues,” Badran said.

During her congratulating speech to the reestablished union, Bachelet agreed with Badran and discussed women’s participation.

“Women’s participation is not only important for women, it’s important for creating a democracy where men as well as women, boys as well as girls, take part,” she said.

The original Egyptian Feminist Union was banned after the 1952 revolution and has remained dissolved since. However, with changes in Egyptian society this year, Badran said it’s time for a re-gathering of Egyptian women.

“We feel that it’s time for women to participate in the public debate just as much as men,” Badran said. “We were partners in the revolution and we also want to be partners after the revolution.”

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