News / Africa

    Many Egyptian Women Prepare for Greater Role Behind Veil

    A veiled Egyptian woman displays her ink-stained fingertip after casting her vote for a referendum on constitutional amendments at a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, March 19, 2011 (file photo)
    A veiled Egyptian woman displays her ink-stained fingertip after casting her vote for a referendum on constitutional amendments at a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, March 19, 2011 (file photo)
    Al Pessin

    As Egypt moves to write a new constitution, many are looking to secure more rights for women. That effort comes after decades of growing traditionalism in the country, including more use of Islamic veils. Many Egyptians do not see any contradiction, however, between the increasing use of veils and the push for more women's rights.

    All across Cairo, women of all social and economic strata are wearing various types of Islamic veils - and the practice has increased markedly in recent decades.

    Nearly 100 years ago, Egyptian women fought to get out of the veil.

    But Egyptian Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim said the practice has made a comeback.

    "Well, first of all, the observation is accurate, that there are more women in veil, or behind the veil, than ever there were in modern Egyptian history," said Ibrahim.

    Professor Ibrahim wrote a book about the early days of the return of the veil among students and professionals 30 years ago.

    "The veiling was, in a sense, a compromise to be able to participate as fully as possible in public life without being perceived as lacking in ethics or morality or being loose. If veiling is the price, many women, many young girls, have accepted to pay that price," said Ibrahim.

    That is evident on the streets of Cairo, where lawyer Noha Samir said she has been wearing a veil for many years.

    "A hijab looks nice and makes me feel comfortable. I am committed to Islam, but I can also follow fashion - within limits," she said.

    Other women have adopted the veil later in life, like social worker Magda Abdo el Zayad. But she said her unmarried daughter already is wearing one.

    "As we got older we started to learn about things, about our religion that we did not know growing up. But my daughter is already veiled.  Even when I urge her to go out sometimes without it, she refuses. She says she would feel naked."

    Experts say some of Egypt's increased social and religious conservatism came from Saudi Arabia, conveyed by millions of Egyptian men, who went there to work and came home with different views of how women should behave.

    But Azza Soliman of the Center for Egyptian Women said the change also came from women themselves, and is related to the country's recent history.

    "There was a gap between what the people needed and what the government provided, so many people turned to religion to fill the gap," said Soliman. "And many women chose to express their new religious feeling by putting on the veil."

    But most Egyptian women do not wear the full 'niqab,' which covers all but the eyes. Most wear some version of the 'hijab,' covering the hair and neck.  

    And many are quick to point out that they can be fashionable, even with a veil.

    "Why not be elegant and at the same time be veiled? Why not? The hijab does not have to limit you," said homemaker Samia Hegazy.

    "Just because a person is veiled doesn't mean she wears bad clothes. There is also very good clothing for the veil," said Dina, a homemaker.

    Newspaper editor Rania Al Malky said for her, there is no conflict between being covered and being a successful professional, or a political activist.

    "To me, I don't think this in itself represents anything really in this society. On the contrary, sometimes women feel empowered by their veil because it protects them somehow from being targeted. Some of the leading youth figures, who are women in the youth movement that led to this revolution, were young, veiled women," said Al Malky.

    Veteran Egyptian Journalist Hisham Kassem agrees that what's important is not a woman's clothing, but rather whether she has full rights in society.

    "In some cases you had women who were not veiled, but basically played no role in society. But when I see veiled a woman who's out there demonstrating, this is somebody on the move to play a role," said Kassem. "The attire is not going to be the issue here. It's the role they are going to play. And that eventually will lead to full equality, as opposed to women simply taking off the veil, but playing no active role."

    That does not conform to Western ideas about women's liberation. This woman was detained by police in France in April for wearing a veil, in violation of a law designed to promote women's rights.

    As Egyptians work their way through the early stages of democracy, though, many believe the veil can, and even should, be part of it.

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora