News

'Virginity Test' Case Highlights Challenges Facing Egyptian Women

Army doctor Ahmed Adel, who was accused of carrying out a forced virginity test on a female detainee, speaks to the media after being acquitted, in Cairo, Egypt, March 11, 2012.
Army doctor Ahmed Adel, who was accused of carrying out a forced virginity test on a female detainee, speaks to the media after being acquitted, in Cairo, Egypt, March 11, 2012.
Elizabeth Arrott

Perhaps more surprising than an Egyptian military tribunal finding one of its own not guilty of forcing a "virginity test" on a detainee, is that the case went ahead at all. There are social, economic and political restrictions faced by Egyptian women, and proposals to advance their rights.

Samira Ibrahim, the woman who lost her case of sexual assault against a military doctor Sunday, not only took on Egypt's leadership but also the nation's deeply conservative attitudes toward women.

Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said the military rulers took full advantage of those views.

“Samira has had many different battles to fight and also has to deal with the kind of reputational smearing that went on in the media, and in particular, as a result of statements by military generals who, as early as April, went on saying the women who spent the night in Tahrir [Square, protesting], or the women who went to Tahrir, were women of bad morals and ill repute,” said Morayef.

Women took a large part in the 18-day uprising last year that brought down long-time president Hosni Mubarak. But according to political analyst Rania el-Malki, “on Day 19, everything changed.”

El-Malki recalled that women being told at a rights march last year that what they were doing was against Islam, and in any case, it was not the time to talk about any female agenda.

“I think one of the main reasons is that women's issues for decades and decades have been associated with the first lady, with Suzanne Mubarak, with the aristocracy, and that at that point in our history, [it was] basically the reason why the Egyptian people revolted against the situation, against the hierarchy, the class hierarchy that was associated with the ruling elite,” said el-Malki.

The unveiled, cosmopolitan first lady over the last few decades became increasingly less representative of Egyptian women, as more of them donned the veil, even the full niqab. Many embraced the fundamentalism spreading from the Gulf via Egyptian men working abroad and wildly popular satellite religious programs.

But not everyone blames the Islamists for lack of progress on women's rights. Magda Kandil, the director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, defends such traditional Egyptian groups as the Muslim Brotherhood as accepting of women in the public sphere. She looks to the nation's changing workplace, where college-educated women were once guaranteed a government job.

“With the past decade or so, once the government stopped this kind of policy, the guarantee for employment, what we have seen is a very subtle discrimination against women in the workplace because most of the jobs in the private sector have been extremely competitive," said Kandil.

The undemanding nature of many government jobs, economists say, meant that much of the real support structures enabling women to compete in the work force - child care, husbands taking up a greater share of house work - were never developed, leaving women decades behind their counterparts in many Western nations.

Kandil argues that Egypt's new parliament can help, by working with employers and shaking up what she calls the rigidity of current labor laws.

“My hope is that the support of these leading political parties, particularly those who subscribe to Islamic views, will not be about 'We are okay about the role of women in the public office or in leading positions.' They have also to be providing a level playing field for women as far as their ability to seek jobs,” she said.

Political analyst el-Malki also feels that those who govern the country can play an important role in regularizing women's place in public life, in particular, parliament.

“There should have been, in my opinion, a quota for women. And this is something I'm hoping that parliament is going to try to introduce in this first session, to demand at least in the next parliamentary session we would have a women's quota, even if it runs just two parliamentary sessions, for people to get used to the idea that women are in parliament and they have something to say,” said el-Malki.

Women's rights activists say these practical steps giving women more of a voice in Egypt's political and economic life eventually will help give them a stronger, more secure position in its social world. And, they hope, branding female political activists immoral will one day provoke more outrage, and less agreement.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site -
Middle East Voices
. Follow our Middle East reports on
Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xiayang
March 20, 2012 7:11 PM
VOA, Is it possible to translate this news into Lao, I hope a lot of Lao will like this news including me. I don't understand all in English.

by: Rouffian
March 13, 2012 7:28 AM
The official reason for the test was to prevent any claims of rape in custody, so it's hard to imagine what failing the test would actually achieve. Would they therefore assume that she had been raped while in detention? It also makes you wonder how hard it would have been to find a woman to do the tests. Apparently all it involves is a visual examination of the hymen, so it's not necessary to be a doctor to do it, just have at least one working eye.

by: Francis murphy
March 12, 2012 8:26 PM
What would have happened if she is found to be not a virgin.?

by: @ Tony
March 12, 2012 6:00 PM
You may invent some device to test virginity on men, until that day, how can you prove a man gulty for loss of his virginity ?

by: Mel
March 12, 2012 10:55 AM
What is the purpose of the virginity tests? What would in practice happen if the 'tests" show the woman is not a virgin?

by: Tony
March 12, 2012 9:45 AM
How pathetic it is that patriarchal societies still live in a hypocritical double standard when it comes to female sexuality. Women in those societies are expected to remain virgin until their wedding night whereas young men can experience premarital sex as often as they want.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs