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

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora