|Pharaonic women figures by artist Alaa Awad represent Egyptian women who led movements for social change in Egypt's history and the role of women in the Revolution today|
I have no idea why, but an article I did last summer on the struggles of women in Egypt has been getting loads of hits this last week. With that in mind, I decided to return to the subject. While a survey around the time of last summer's article found that 95% of Egyptians thought sexual harassment was a serious problem, and while another survey by the UN reported that 99.3% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment or assault, it also seems that a large number of Egyptians continue to blame the victim for provoking the assault. H.A. Hellyer has written,
Sexual harassment was not always at the level it is now – but as it becomes more acceptable, it becomes more widespread. It is not simply about the way in which a woman dresses that provokes harassment – the data shows clearly that substantial numbers of victims were wearing very conservative clothing, including the headscarf or even the face veil. The presence of the woman, it seems, is enough in and of itself.
The recently adopted Egyptian constitution contains, according to Hibaak Osman of the organization Karama,
...more than twenty articles relating to women and discussing their equal rights under the law. For instance, Article 11 grants equality of women and men with respect to all rights, including political rights, social rights, cultural rights, and economic rights. The article from the 2012 constitution referring to the traditional Egyptian family was removed. Meanwhile, women’s equal representation in parliament and in public positions (mayoral, local councils) has also been adopted in the new constitution.
That is good news. However, the question is will it matter? The constitution is unclear on how those who fail to implement it can be held accountable. The constitution will be powerless without active implementation. It must be supported by national and local infrastructures, beginning with stringent laws that reinforce its articles and intentions.
Well, right now that infrastructure does not exist and without it, without penalties, women will enjoy freedom only in theory, not in reality. Again from Osman:
Without action, words are just that – words. We are now at a critical juncture, not only in Egypt and Tunisia, but also in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, where discussions of peace and transition are ongoing, and in Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan, where women continue to face vulnerability due to the absence of hard-hitting laws. Establishing ‘red lines’, holding conferences, announcements and denouncements – these are the warm blankets that governments and their institutions have used to cover the glaring need to work beyond textual commitments and to find new ways to galvanize sustainable action at the local, national, and international levels.
Meanwhile, women are not only struggling in the streets, they are struggling in the home. Israa Said Thabet, a 26-year-old mother of two children who lives in Asyut, 375 km from Cairo says,
We are witnessing a revolution against every traditional aspect. We still have a long journey ahead, but we are becoming increasingly aware that there is no more such a thing as ‘a weak woman’.
Despite the strong battle being waged by women in Egypt, the patriarchy hangs strong.
Lorenzo Kamel and Maha Ezzat ElKholy write,
This increasing awareness does not imply that local women have experienced practical improvements. On the contrary, women’s growing contribution to the household and their increased involvement in activism did not in fact lead yet to greater power: the harmful aspects of patriarchy have in some contexts worsened and a new patriarchal structure has emerged.
Doaa Salah, a 23-year-old mother from Sandibis (Qalyubia Governorate), represents in this respect another powerful example. She got married after finishing her high school, but soon divorced and started her personal struggle against old traditions and “one-sided rules.” Doaa wanted to regain her freedom.
“I totally disliked the cultural impositions and the routine imposed on me by this society,” she said.
In villages like the one in which she lives, to get divorced is still considered an outrage. “Men”, she argues, “are used to treat me and the other divorced women as if we were public properties.” Despite these traumas and the huge pressure exerted by her family, she is determined to continue to fight for her rights. “I chose what I wanted,” she concludes with pride, “I am a free woman.”
But are the women of Egypt in general and what does this freedom mean?
Meanwhile, sexual harassment, cultural patriarchal beliefs and structures are not the only ways to oppress women in Egypt these days. What you will read below is something, unlike all that I have written so far, you likely have not heard before.
The following is from the Cairo Post.