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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora