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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid