United Nations Committee Calls Upon Egypt to Exert Greater Effort to Promote Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Egyptian Women
UN identifies key steps to satisfy Egypt’s international human rights obligations
Geneva—Today the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Center for Reproductive Rights urged the government of Egypt to take immediate measures to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in relation to the protection of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. This call to action follows the United Nations body’s recent review of Egypt’s compliance with its international obligations to protect and promote the rights of women.
“The Committee has acknowledged that the reality of sexual and reproductive rights of women in Egypt is not in compliance with the country’s international obligations,” said Soha Abdelaty, Deputy Director at the EIPR. “This is an unacceptable situation and we therefore welcome the Committee’s much-needed recommendations,” she continued.
The International Advocacy Director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Ximena Andión, further stated that “Signing on to a treaty to protect women’s reproductive health is important, but honoring those commitments makes the difference to the health and lives of women in the country. It’s time that the Egyptian government set an example as a leader in its region and take immediate steps to guarantee women’s safe access to a wide range of reproductive health services.”
The Committee’s recommendations closely track the areas of concern raised by the EIPR and the Center for Reproductive Rights in a joint shadow report presented to the CEDAW Committee when it met in Geneva from 18 January to 5 February for its 45th session. After Egypt presented its periodic report to the CEDAW Committee, the experts recommended that the government address issues such as the failure to protect women from sexual violence, inadequate family planning services, insufficient public information on maternal mortality and morbidity, and deficient adolescent reproductive health services.
In its Concluding Observations, the CEDAW Committee said it was greatly concerned by the increase in incidents of violence against women – both in the public and private spheres, including incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Committee agreed with the assessment of the two organizations that such violence was “socially legitimized and accompanied by a culture of silence and impunity,” so that most of these incidents remain unreported.
The Committee therefore called upon the Egyptian government to enact a comprehensive law “criminalizing all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment, institutional violence and crimes committed in the name of honor,” in addition to adopting a national plan of action to combat violence. The Committee further recommended that Egypt expand social services available for victims of violence and increase the number of shelters for domestic violence victims, ensuring access for all women.
On the subject of women’s health, the Committee acknowledged a severe shortage of sexual and reproductive health services for rural women, a subject that was also raised by the two organizations in their joint report. The CEDAW Committee called for measures to improve women’s access to family planning information and services, including strengthening efforts to increase knowledge of, and access to, affordable contraceptives methods. It also urged the government to promote awareness of emergency contraception, highlighting its benefits for rape victims. The recommendations also included a call to widely promote sexual education “with special attention to the prevention of early pregnancy and the control of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.” Finally, the Committee called upon the government to conduct comprehensive national surveys on maternal mortality and morbidity in Egypt and “publish all findings and include, in its next report, gender disaggregated data on morbidity rates, both at the national level and in urban and rural areas,” as EIPR and the Center for Reproductive Rights proposed in their shadow report.
While the CEDAW Committee took note of the 2008 Egyptian law criminalizing female genital mutilation, the experts decried the persistently high rate of the practice. It therefore asked the government to ensure effective implementation of the law and to “increase its awareness-raising and educational efforts targeted at both men and women, with the support of civil society organizations and religious authorities.”
Finally, the CEDAW Committee expressed its concern at so-called tourist or temporary marriages – whereby rich wealthy men from neighboring countries marry young Egyptian girls for a limited duration. The Committee urged the government to prosecute all perpetrators and launch awareness campaigns “on the negative implications of these “temporary marriages” for the girls involved and their families.” The Committee was also concerned about the high number of early marriages in general, especially in rural areas, and the situation of girls living in the street.
The Egyptian government is expected to report back to the Committee on steps taken to realize those recommendations in four years’ time.