News / Middle East

In Egypt, Women's Rights Advocates Fear Losing Ground

Egyptian women demonstrate in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Feb. 2011 (file photo).
Egyptian women demonstrate in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Feb. 2011 (file photo).
Noel King

Today's Nobel Committee announcement that three women will split an award for "nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and women's rights" may reenergize gender-equality campaigns worldwide.

But in Egypt, women's rights activists say they are experiencing a backlash. With parliamentary elections rapidly approaching, their new role in the post-Mubarak era remains unclear. From calls for greater political representation to increased rights within the family -- to demands for an end to basic incivilities such as groping and catcalling on Cairo's crowded streets -- Egypt's battle for gender equality is varied and ongoing.

Engy Ghozlan, co-founder of 9-month-old Harrassmap.org, a volunteer-run website that enables women to document sexual harassment via texting, Facebook and Twitter, has already received hundreds of messages.

"[In] one, the girl says a man followed her from the metro overpass on road nine near a bakery to an apartment building on road eleven," she says, explaining that another women reported being physical assaulted in Cairo's Ramses Railway Station. "A guy approached her and pulled her blouse from the top down and then smiled and ran away and no one helped her out or even asked if [she] was okay."

For many Egyptian women, however, the struggle isn't restricted to crowded transit hubs, but extends to the halls of parliament, which, advocates say, is perhaps the larger part of the problem. Whether the new Egyptian constitution will guarantee women’s rights is uncertain, and Nov. 28 elections for upper and lower houses of parliament will decide who authors the document. Egyptian Islamist groups banned under the Mubarak regime are now able to organize politically, a fact that weighs heavily on the minds of rights activists. Nawaal al Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist author, says many women fear a backlash from the rise of conservative parties formed in the wake of revolution.

Parties aligned with the Salafis -- conservative Muslims who urge a strict interpretation of the Koran -- are of particular concern. "Nothing is improving in relation to women or the working class or the revolution, because we have a counterrevolution," she says. "There is a revival of Islamic groups, the Salafi groups, [and] whenever you have a revival of Salafi and Islamic fanatic groups, you have a backlash against women."

But Salafis have been quick to point out that they marched alongside demonstrators in the Tahrir Square uprisings, and that they have called for an Egyptian society governed by Islamic law that does not demean women.

A familiar struggle: Setting the political tone of women's rights in Egypt


Concerns about women's rights in Egypt, however, aren't focused exclusively on which party is about to wield parliamentary control. Memories of the former Egyptian first lady are fresh in the minds of many women.

Suzanne Mubarak, a self-fashioned advocate of women's rights, championed criminalization of female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, a practice that Egypt banned in 2007. Ghozlan says the former first lady, whom analysts have described as widely disliked by the public, was an activist in name only.

"She was managing the [political] center for women's rights, but there were a whole lot of NGOs, activists and people who worked all their lives for [this] stuff," says Ghozlan. "We might be losing gains made during the past regime, so there's a lot of pressure on women's rights groups now to prove themselves without any connection to the first lady."

Other activists say what most worries them is a post-revolution discourse that marginalizes women's rights as a political priority.

Rebecca Chiao, an American who also works with Harrassmap in Cairo, recalls numerous positive changes for women since her 2004 arrival. But she says progress has recently slowed.

"You have a lot of people who are repeating this line: 'It’s not time for women’s rights,'" she says. "I don’t think they’ve thought very hard about this. I feel like it’s kind of a slogan that’s being pushed because women’s rights aren’t any different than human rights and democracy and these other things that they’re talking about."

Chiao says the upcoming election may prove a decisive now-or-never moment in the fight for women’s rights. "Now is really the time, I think, when we’ll see who pushes stronger, and right now it’s really a battleground," she says. "I really hope these young women can sustain their effort and pull through."

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid