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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs