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"The objective now is not to renegotiate our dreams, but to emphasize the accountablility of all actors. We are no longer seeking promises, but are demanding action."
-- Ms. Farkhonda Hassan,
UN Economic Commission for Africa.

WOMAN HERO:
FARKHONDA HASSAN

Image from Al-Ahram
Farkhonda Hassan is a multifaceted woman in every possible sense of the word.

She is a celebrated scientist, a university professor, a prominent politician, a development specialist, and a popular Egyptian television personality. Tying it all together is her role as a women’s rights activist, passionately dedicating all of her various career endeavors to women’s causes.

Holding a Bachelor of Science in both Geology and Chemistry, a Master’s in Solid State Science, a PhD in Geology, and a Dip in Psychology and Education, Dr. Hassan is highly educated and highly respected within the international scientific and scholarly communities.

She is a knowledgeable geologist and a popular Geology professor at the American University in Cairo, simultaneously juggling her scientific pursuits with her political roles and activism, and intertwining all her various endeavors flawlessly.

Image from Al-Ahram

Having been elected to the People's Assembly (Parliament) in 1979 and serving from 1979 to 1984, Hassan has been on the Second House of the Egyptian Parliament (the Shura Council) since then, currently serving as chair of the Commission on Human Development and Local Administration. She was also named an honorary life member of the International Parliamentary Union, becoming the first woman in a Third World nation to receive this distinction. She is also co chair of the Gender Advisory Board of the United Nations commission! Hassan’s various international affiliations, associates, and peers serve in her crusade towards the empowerment of women.

As if all that weren’t enough, Hassan is currently the secretary-general of the National Council for Women, having left the position of women's secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to take on this new role. Headed by Suzanne Mubarak, the NCW focuses on improving the lives of Egyptian women by giving them a voice in a society in many ways riddled with controversial issues stemming from long-running gender and societal traditions.

Pennsylvania Governor's Conference for Women 2006 Keynote speaker
Through the NCW, Hassan helps implement policy benefiting women’s issues, both through governmental facets and through various public and private organizations. Serving as a public policy advocate, the NCW promotes gender equality, and the integration of women’s issues into mainstream Egyptian culture.

Of key importance to Hassan is the education of females in Islamic society. Studies show that there is still a clear disparity between Muslim men and women in terms of education, particularly so in the subjects of science and technology.

As part of the advisory council of Scientists Without Borders which works to 'advance the understanding of science, technology, and medicine,' Farkhonda Hassan works to promote scientific education and careers, particularly for women and minorities.

Societal and cultural barriers often limit access to higher education for women, and gender biases and stereotypes within the educational structure make fields like science, math and technology considered male-appropriate subjects, creating self-inhibition in females.

This is particularly poignant given the fact that today 16-22 percent of Egyptian households are headed by women, who evidently need to somehow overcome gender bias in order to provide for their families.

Foremost, she hopes to narrow the gap between boys and girls in basic education as she feels that this will set girls on a lifetime course towards education, as it will make them better aware of societal wrongs and the errors of gender stereotypes.

In order to promote advanced education for women, the nationwide problem of illiteracy needs to first be overcome. A recent international report ranked Egypt very low in terms of illiteracy, placing it at 119 out of 174 countries.

Gender disparities still exist. Such disparities undermine not only women's capacity to participate in and benefit from development, but also the effectiveness of development as a whole. This is the reason for the president's insistence that illiteracy must be eliminated within a short period of time.

Image from Al-Ahram
She also feels that the general public still doesn’t view women as fully credible within the political spectrum. Likewise, she is an advocate of reinstating the ‘slate system’ within elections, wherein people would vote for a party list as a whole, rather than individually, allowing more women to represent in parliament. Likewise, during elections women would become better supported by their party. She feels that women are far underrepresented within the political parties and that likewise, these parties should also implement programs promoting the contributions and capacities of women to help sway the general public away from archaic male-biased ideologies.

Working with the NCW she also hopes to rid Egypt of long-standing laws that place women in the position of second-class citizens.

One key issue under debate is the fact that currently only a child from an Egyptian father is given Egyptian nationality, but not those of foreign fathers, regardless of whether the mother is an Egyptian national or not.

Another pressing issue is the law that requires women to receive permission from their husbands in order to receive a passport or to travel. Hassan feels that limiting the freedom and mobility of women is a violation of human rights, and in a sense, a form of imprisonment. These issues, amongst a variety of others, place Hassan at the helm of the current women's right movement in Egypt and throughout Islamic nations.

In everything she does, Farkhonda Hassan is devoted to promoting the advancement of women. She uses her various career pursuits, her political prominence, her Egyptian and international connections, as well as her passionate grass-roots approach -- towards supporting female empowerment in public policies, education, science, technology, public service, culture, and within society as a whole.




Last changed on: 8/25/2011 8:41:31 PM

Essays on Science and Society: Islamic Women in Science

More work for women: Representation and participation: these seem to be the watchwords that will shape women's future. Reem Leila speaks to a determined and influential advocate, Farkhonda Hassan.

Getting tougher on women's rights The National Council for Women says it is getting tough on illiteracy and the personal status law.

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