I’ve recently had the honor of attending the Arab-U.S. Association Communication Educators’ 22nd annual conference at the American University in Cairo. This year it was focusing on Journalism and Mass Communication in the Age of Instant Information. I attended many panels including those on Photojournalism in the Age of Instagram and on Activism and Politics in the Digital Era.
The one that intrigued me the most was the panel on the Empowerment of Egyptian Women in an Evolving Era. It was moderated by Mervat Abou Oaf with speakers Mona Omar, Marianna Azer, and Manal Maher El Gamiel. These ladies’ come from backgrounds in Egyptian Parliament, activism in NGOs, and membership in the National Council for Women. I will be summarizing this panel and describe what I learned. It should be noted that during the two-hour panel, there were no more than three men in the room.
Mona Omar was the first lady to present. Egypt is the first country to have developed a strategy for the empowerment of women. Their goal is to treat transformative social norms that promote women’s rights as a collective responsibility. It was stated in the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 that women will have equal and fundamental rights, protection, and it had prohibited discrimination. These plans are a strategy that will be in effect until 2030. It is the wish of the Egyptian government that women contribute to Egypt’s development and have economic, social, and political empowerment.
Manal Maher el Gamiel opened the second presentation by stating that, “The woman is the symbol of struggle in Egypt.” However, Manar claims, this is the year of the Egyptian woman. They are taking initiatives to improve the quality of life for all women throughout the country including political and economic rights. Miss el Gamiel spoke of many influential women who protested and took of their veil and stated that there is an active encouragement for the engagement of women in parliament. In 2010, women represented 64% of Egyptian Parliament, but that went down to 25% in 2015.
Marianne Azer spoke about the need for women in the tech industry. This reminded me of a similar panel I attended at the Chatham House Cyber 2017 conference that was hosted in London this past June. There is research that shows that there is a lack of women in technology for many reasons. The mindset and discrimination of stereotyping are one. Women tend to appear less confident, reluctant to take on leadership roles and to discount their performances. Notably, women only apply for a certain job if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply with just 60% of the qualifications. At Cyber 2017, many speakers from the technology stated that they are willing to hire women with fewer qualifications and will train them to fit the company’s needs instead. Ms. Azer said, “Teach girls bravery, not protection.” I believe she was quoting another woman.
She recommended that women emphasize their branding and presence. They should strive to be an expert in some area to be professional and to find mentors and internships. Marianne Azer ended the Women’s panel with a quote that said, “The most beautiful thing a woman can wear is confidence.”
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