Women rights activists in Egypt have been all in an uproar lately. As though the physical and moral violence against Egypt’s women with the outright support
Women rights activists in Egypt have been all in an uproar lately. As though the physical and moral violence against Egypt’s women with the outright support of Islamists were not enough, there has been recent talk of attempts by political Islam parties to shift the dependence of the National Council for Women (NCW) to the Shura Council, the Egyptian parliament’s upper house which enjoys a sweeping Islamist majority.
Margaret Azer, Secretary General of The Free Egyptians Party, warned that the move would be an obvious attempt to cut back on women’s rights and their social and political role. Controlling the council and infusing it with an Islamic character, she said, only serves the interests of the Islamists and constitutes a huge setback to Egyptian women.
The NCW, Azer said, was a government organisation which must be affiliated to the executive not the legislative authority for it to enforce plans, policies and programmes. She assured that Egyptian women are holding out, no matter how costly the price they have to pay, against attempts to constrain them and wipe out their cultural identity. The Egyptian woman’s contribution to human civilisation since, and even before, the first Egyptian queen Hatshepsut (ad 1508-1458BC) can never be erased, she said.
Women rights un-Islamic?
Last week, the National Salvation Front (NSF) announced the formation of the Committee of the Rights and Freedoms of Egyptian Women. The committee, according to the NSF, aims to fight the unprecedented assault on the accomplishments of Egyptian women throughout the years and their work to improve the lot of women in rural and urban areas. The move came in retaliation to President Mursi’s initiative to “support the rights and freedoms of Egyptian women” which the NSF announced it does not trust because of the “hidden agenda” involved. This should come as no surprise, since President Mursi belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), itself a movement of the political Islam which vocally denies women their rights even while it touts its support of women.
The NSF stated that the last few months have witnessed an unprecedented increase in assault against women and violation of their rights in Egypt.
“Violence against women,” the NSF said, “has become an integral part of the violations that Egyptian citizens endure on daily basis. But it is important to focus on the assault against women in particular because it is exercised on different levels and takes various forms. The peak was on 25 January 2013 when women were subject to sexual violence right in the middle of Tahrir Square. The incidents of violence against women and especially female political activists has gone on uninterrupted since then; the last took place when an MB member fiercely slapped female activist Mervat Moussa on the face during the Muqattam demonstration on 22 March.”
According to the NSF, speeches of hatred and incitement against women abound, and no action is taken against the initiators of the hatred.
Most alarming, said the NSF, is the call for Egypt to refrain from complying with international treaties that protect women’s rights and of which Egypt is signatory, under the pretext that these rights are un-Islamic.
On 14 March the MB issued a statement against the new declaration on the prevention of violence against women issued by the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The NSF said it saw the MB statement as a direct assault against women’s freedom and dignity, and gave a negative image of Islam.
The Front condemned all acts of violence against women and said it considers them crimes against all Egyptians. It announced its full solidarity with Egyptian women who are subject to moral or physical assault and vowed to pursue those who commit such crimes in Egyptian and international courts of law.
The NSF said it holds the President of the Republic and the State institutions responsible for protecting all citizens, and refused all attempts made by the ruling regime to back up from Egypt’s commitment to international treaties protecting human and women’s rights.
Forced to wear the veil
Violations against women in Egyptian schools came under fire by rights activists and, in one case, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW said it was monitoring with great concern incidents that occurred in Egyptian schools and that constituted obvious violations to women’s rights. These actions aimed to undermine the role women play in the Egyptian society and their contribution to political and social life during the period from 1919 until the 2011 revolution.
The Ministry of Education deleted many parts of textbooks which praised the role of pioneer women in different walks of life such as activist Hoda Shaarawi, first female cabinet minister Hekmat Abu-Zeid, MP Amal Osman and first Egyptian female judge Tahany al-Gebali.
Among the incidents criticised by CEDAW was one that occurred in October 2012 in Luxor when a primary school teacher who wears the full face veil niqab cut the hair of two 12-year old girls who refused to wear the hijab.
In Giza, an Arabic language and religion teacher, Nagwa Fouad, filed a report against a Ministry of Education inspector, Gamal Metwalli Abdel-Hamid, who humiliated her in front of her students and scorned her for not wearing the hijab. He also dismissed three young boys from class because their hair was long and harshly ordered them to cut it.
CEDAW called upon the Prosecutor General to investigate the filed reports and asked for the dismissal of the Minister of Education Ibrahim Ghoneim as the main person responsible for the protection of teachers and students. The Committee urged the NCW and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood to protect women and children from violence, and encouraged parents to stand up to any violations.
Standing up to violation
CEDAW urged the Egyptian government to approve the new declaration on the prevention of violence against women issued by the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. CEDAW assured that the declaration does not violate the Islamic sharia but rather protects women.
In the same vein, the Cairo Centre for Development (CCD) issued a statement condemning assaults against students and teachers. CCD acknowledged the right of teachers to adopt the dress code that suits them and denounced pressures exerted on them by ministry officials or their own peers to adopt the Islamic dress code. The statement called for the protection of teachers and students against all forms of discrimination and assault.
31 March 2013