Inspiring Stories
Mervat Tallawy

Mervat Tallawy

Class of 1974
Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (2000-2007)
First Woman Ambassador of Egypt to Austria (1988-1991) and to Japan (1993-1997)
Founder, Egyptian Social Democratic Party

Egyptian diplomat and politician Mervat Tallawy is the first woman to receive the Alumni Association’s lifetime achievement award. Ambassador Tallawy served as Deputy Director of the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (now known as UN Women) from 1985 to 1988. As head of the Egyptian delegation to the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2012, she dedicated herself to preventing rollbacks on hard-fought gains such as the international recognition of women’s reproductive and sexual health rights. 

She surprised delegates from more than 130 countries when she ignored the Egypt Muslim Brotherhood and announced that Egypt would join a consensus on a document setting global standards for action to prevent and end violence against women.

At the time of the negotiations Ambassador Tallawy said, “We are saying that for the gains that we reached during the 1990s, we should not lose them now, or take a step backwards. And why are we saying so? Because there is a conservative mood in the world, not only the Islamists, the developing countries, but also in the developed countries”.

Mervat Tallawy was formerly Ambassador of Egypt to Austria and Japan, and the first woman to occupy such a position in Egypt. In 2017, she received the Order of the Rising Sun Gold and Silver Star by the Japanese government in appreciation of her fight for women’s empowerment in Egypt, as well as her position as Egypt’s Ambassador in Japan from 1993 to1997. 

On 22 November 2000, Mervat Tallawy was the first Arab woman to be appointed Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). 

Mervat Tallawy was the Deputy Director of the Arab Women Organisation (AWO) from 2014 to 2018. The AWO pays great attention to the issue of refugees and displaced persons from the Arab countries as a result of armed conflicts. Ms Tallawy pointed out that the AWO recognises the extent of violence, including sexual violence, that these female refugees face during the conflict while fleeing and when they arrive to their refuge destination. She also highlighted the efforts exerted by the AWO to support and protect female refugees, and she condemned all forms of violence against Palestinian women residing under occupation.

Ms Tallawy is a founding member and executive member of the left liberal Egyptian Social Democratic party. The political party was founded after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and is now part of the Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists. Ms Talawy’s husband, Ali Abdel Rahman Rahmy, is an Institute alumnus.