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Survey Slams Egypt on Women's Rights

  • Edward Yeranian

FILE - An Egyptian woman is seen in front of a group of soldiers as they stand guard during a protest near Cairo University.

FILE - An Egyptian woman is seen in front of a group of soldiers as they stand guard during a protest near Cairo University.

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation says Egypt ranks the lowest of 20 Arab states in the area of women's rights. Trafficking in women, harassment, genital mutilation, and generally conservative attitudes prevailing in parts of the country led to the ranking.

Egyptian women are faring far worse than their Arab counter-parts, according to an annual Thompson-Reuters survey. That survey canvassed more than 300 experts on gender relations in the Arab world.

The criticism of attitudes and behavior towards women focused on several key points, including the practice of genital mutilation, widely carried out across the country, especially in provincial areas. A United Nations report says more than 27 million Egyptian women have been subjected to genital mutilation.

An Egyptian woman screams in July as a crowd of men physically harass her during one of many protests in Tahrir Square since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. She was surrounded by a crowd of men which dragged her away from her friends, before assaulting her.

Egypt has taken steps to improve the treatment of women, officials say.

A highly publicized women's initiative to track and curb physical harassment has given women a voice. A campaign calling itself HarassMap has been documenting, publicizing, and working to eradicate harassment.

Despite the critical reports about women's rights in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country has long had a reputation for women's participation in all walks of life, unlike in many other Arab states.

Since the era of socialist-leaning President Gamal Abdel Nasser, women have held prominent positions in the country's bureaucracy. Many work outside their homes and education for young girls is compulsory.

Egypt has many women judges, professors, journalists and several ministers in the current interim government.

Bouthaina Kamel, ran for president in 2011, but was eliminated in the first round of voting. She ran on a platform criticizing harassment and various sorts of inequality in the country and has long spoken out for women's rights.

"There must be a secure environment for women either in the home, at work or in the street. That means there should not be any physical or verbal harassment," said Kamel.

American University in Cairo political sociologist Said Sadek says the position of women has been strengthened in many respects since the 2011 revolution.

"The feminist movement in Egypt in the last two years has become even stronger. Look at women's participation in demonstrations, despite the weapon of sexual harassment that was used against women to drive them away from political participation. They did participate in all Egyptian revolutions and protests and that shows you that they are not weak or destroyed," said Sadek.

The Thomson Reuters report also gave low marks to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen for their treatment of women.