News / Middle East

Egyptian Women Search for Place in New Government

Egyptian women chant slogans as they attend a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, April 1, 2011
Egyptian women chant slogans as they attend a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, April 1, 2011

Multimedia

Audio

Egyptian women played a critical role in the revolutionary protests that brought down former president Hosni Mubarak last month. But as Egypt transitions toward a new government, questions are being raised about whether women will gain a stronger role in politics.

Social activist Zakeya el-Nahas was among the protesters who helped break years of political silence for Egyptian women. She says something changed when those protesters took to the streets on January 25.

"I couldn't resist except going every day," said el-Nahas. "You know I have to go every day. I mean the spirit was quite different. There was a bond between all the people there."

Women experienced a new level of freedom and equality during the 18 days of protests, as they demonstrated beside men and celebrated their success in bringing down the Mubarak government.

But Human Rights Watch researcher Nadya Khalife says that as the jubilation subsides and the reality of rebuilding the government takes hold, women are facing exclusion from the political process.

"There have been several groups who are opposing women's presence in politics," noted Khalife.  "They are opposing women's presence, who are demonstrating for equality. So I think it's not going to be an easy transition. But I think Egyptian women are adamant that they be included in these political processes."

She says no positions were given to women on the transitional council, known as the Committee of Wise Men, responsible for drafting amendments to the constitution.  And Article 75 of the constitution was written to imply that the head of state will be a man.

On International Women's Day, March 8, a mob of men attacked women who were demonstrating for equal rights in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of last month's anti-government protests.

Although women in Egypt's upper classes achieve professional and academic success, Human Rights Watch says family law discriminates against them in marriage, divorce, guardianship, custody and inheritance.

Valentine Moghadam, an expert on social change in the Middle East and North Africa, says cultural understandings limit many lower class women from getting jobs.  She says professional and technical jobs, held by middle and upper class women, are deemed more appropriate for women in Egypt.  But she says politics are not considered appropriate for women of any class.

"The world values survey and other kind of opinion polls do suggest a large proportion of the populations regard women's participation in politics and as political leaders as inappropriate, and that men make better leaders than women do," noted Moghadam.

Egyptian teacher Samah Khamis agrees.

"You can call most of the Egyptian women as politically illiterate," said Khamis.  "Two things were actually confined to men: sports and politics."

Moghadam, a sociology professor at Purdue University, says women have not had many influential allies in the government in the past, and it seems unlikely for the future.

"I don't think that it will be substantially different," noted Moghadam.  "The indicators and the signs at present do not lead me to be hopeful about any substantial presence on the part of women or representatives of women's groups."

Egypt's new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, has appointed only one woman Cabinet member, although he said he will create a committee for women to take part in rebuilding the country.

Egypt became the first Arab nation to elect a woman to parliament in 1957. But nearly 50 years later, in 2005, the 782-seat bicameral parliament only had four women members.  In 2009, 64 seats were designated for women in the lower house of parliament.

Moghadam says women are at a disadvantage for September's parliamentary elections.  She says women do not have enough time to mobilize and be heard against political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and groups associated with the former government.

But some Egyptian women feel now is the time to focus on creating a democratic state. Khalife describes the opinion of one woman whom she approached in Tahrir Square on International Women's Day.

"She basically said that this is not the time for women to be demonstrating. It's time for the institutions to be built in the country, and then women's rights will come later," added Khalife.

Khamis, who was raised in a well-educated Egyptian family, believes it is critical for women to take part in government. But she says women have been excluded from politics for so long that they need to be educated about politics before they get involved.

"They first need to learn more about politics," said Khamis.  "They should first work again at a slower pace, slowly but surely to understand more about the society and how things are. Because we have been deprived of that for a very long time. You have to grow some kind of credibility first. I am not against the idea or concept, I am against the timing."

Khamis and social activist el-Nahas both acknowledge that Egyptian women and minorities have a long battle for equality ahead, but they are hopeful for change.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated Monday that women should be included in "every aspect of political and institutional reform" across North Africa and the Middle East. She says no government can succeed if it excludes half its population and does not respect the human rights of all its citizens.

Several women U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution this week, calling on leaders in the Middle East and North Africa to include women in constitutional and political reforms.

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid