The Egyptian women who recently led wide demonstrations on what was called the ‘Friday of Dignity’ were protesting not only against
The Egyptian women who recently led wide demonstrations on what was called the ‘Friday of Dignity’ were protesting not only against the beating and dragging of a young Egyptian woman at the hands of the Army during an earlier demonstration, but also the constant attempts by political parties, officials and even revolutionaries to exclude and marginalise them since the 25 January Revolution.
The lady’s laws
In the wake of the revolution, there were calls to annul all women’s-rights related laws enacted under the previous regime, on the pretext that Suzanne Mubarak, as part of her women’s-rights-defending campaign, had pushed for the enactment of these laws. Many Egyptians think that since “the lady”—a title bestowed on her by those who resented Mrs Mubarak’s alleged involvement in some major decisions in Egypt—was toppled, ‘her laws’, which they say corrupted family life, should follow suit. Others, however, are attempting to promote the importance and magnitude of these laws and urge they should not be related to the old regime.
Women’s rights reports show that the problem is not just that Egyptian women have been marginalised from political participation and pivotal posts following the revolution, but also that the rate of violence against women has increased because of the security chaos since last January. During the first six months of 2011, reports recorded 94 cases of violence against women, among them 51 cases of murder, 15 rapes, 11 serious injuries, 12 kidnappings and five suicides.
According to a recent report by the Children of the Earth Centre for Human Rights (CECHR), domestic violence topped the violence against women survey. Honour crimes alone numbered 59.5 per cent of all the violent crimes in the first half of 2011, while rape came second with 20 per cent of the crimes of violence against women.
Taking the initiative
The CECHR report points out that the role of women during and immediately following the revolution was applauded, but that lately this role was denounced and even scorned by groups and individuals who do not approve of women’s participation in political life. Islamists believe that women are better off at home attending to their families’ needs rather than playing a communal or political role.
Judge Tahani al-Gibaly, vice-president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, believes that last month’s incident involving violence by the military against a young woman demonstrator as the protestors were being dispersed by the army was a one-off occurrence that should not be put to the account of the military. Nonetheless, she told Watani it was obvious that organised violence was being used by foreign elements to destroy Egypt and, in the process, Egyptian women’s role in running the country.
Judge Gibaly proudly recalled that women from all walks of life were in the front line, passionately participating in the revolution. “But sadly, the role of these women was not valued,” she said. “Unfortunately it was not just the extremist streams which curtailed the women’s role in this decisive period of Egypt’s history, but all political forces collaborated to overlook their calibre.” She thinks this may be due to political immaturity.
“To confront attempts to marginalise them, women should work to assert their role in building society, ” Judge Gibaly told Watani. “They should take positive initiatives on all fronts, economic, social and political. In short, women should impose their presence and participation. Then and only then will no one be able to marginalise them.”
“Women had their share of suffering, tear gas bombs, rubber bullets and live bullets during and after the revolution,” says Mohamed Farahat, a law professor at Zagazig University. “Equality during the struggle means equality in rights and duties,” Dr Farahat believes that whenever men come close to reaching power, discrimination against women increases. “But,” he argues, “after the revolution, marginalising women is no longer acceptable.”
In addition to the religious extremist streams which aim at curtailing the role of women, Awatef Abdel-Rahman, professor of mass communication at Cairo University, pointed to an Egyptian cultural heritage that viewed woman as the weaker party in the family and deliberately tended to deprive her of her rights. Dr Abdel-Rahman said some Upper Egyptian families even deprived women of their just entitlement to inheritance solely on grounds of gender.
“Allegations that the laws dealing with women rights were only enacted because ‘the lady’ called for them are untrue,” Nihad Abul-Qumsan, head of the Egyptian Council for Women’s Rights (ECWR) told Watani. “These laws came after many appeals in society to appease women’s sufferings.” Dr Qumsan said it was the Tagammu Party that in 1983 had called for a law to bestow Egyptian nationality on the children of an Egyptian woman who had married a foreigner. Personal Status Laws had been in place since 1920, she added.
A recent ECWR report recorded the active role played by women in the 25 January Revolution, and reported that in spite of this they were excluded from the scene directly afterwards. They were kept out of the revolution youth coalitions, the report said; no women were elected as governors and the current Cabinet only has one woman minister, despite the fact that the previous government included four women. The report also mentioned the calls for annulling the laws defending the women’s rights on the grounds that they represented the old regime. Some men have even created Facebook pages to advocate this cause. “The coalition to protect the Egyptian family” and “Do not marry an Egyptian woman until the Personal Status Law is modified” are examples of the Facebook pages created by the men.
According to a member of the former parliament, journalist Amina Shafiq, the upcoming parliament will be “a disaster” because it is based on foundations that do not allow diversity. It was very sad to see the retreat of women’s roles and rights in light of the rising radical Islamist streams, she said.
Ms Shafiq said the controls that the Islamists talked about imposing on the community since they gained a majority of seats in parliament were sure to create conflicts between the parliament, the community and SCAF. Any attempt to curtail women’s rights regarding their work, dress code or liberty to move freely, Ms Shafiq said, would definitely not pass easily, especially because women are as much breadwinners as men are and working is no luxury.
Kamal Mughith, an activist and education curriculum expert, told Watani that it was unacceptable to impose a Bedouin-type culture on women who had become a major component in national production. “We cannot just rule out some three million women who work to support their families,” Dr Mughith said. He said Islamists were the ones who should reconsider their view of the community and what it gained from Copts, women and modernisation.
However, journalist Farida al-Shobashi blamed the society as a whole, which she claimed was not doing enough to support the Egyptian woman in this serious phase. She said that the community should have supported women against the radical currents that are trying to impose a fundamentalist culture alien to Egyptians.