Guest Blog

Will the revolution betray the women of Egypt?

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Monday, 17 December, 2012

"Since the first sparks of the revolution, women have defied national stereotypes." Emad Karim, a young Egyptian who took part in a debate with the Elders during their visit to Cairo in October 2012, blogs about the challenges facing women in Egypt's patriarchal society, arguing that men and boys should be actively involved in the campaign for equality.

When I was 8 years old, my beautiful teacher Soriya was killed in the name of family honour. She liked someone from another village and ran away to marry him. A young man from her family claimed to have shot her, although may have hired someone to do it. After a few years he was released from prison, got a job in a public school, and is now married with children.

There is nothing in the Koran that permits honour killings or provokes the image of women as property. However, the view of women as housewives with no equal rights of their own – who represent the core of family honor – is deeply rooted in many eastern cultures.

A crowd of protesters in Egypt

Protests in Egypt. Photo: Emad Karim

Since the first sparks of the revolution, women have defied these national stereotypes and have joined the demonstrations. They suffered equally from the police’s massive misuse of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition – but they were also targeted specifically for being women. The so-called ‘virginity tests’ that the Egyptian Military Police conducted on some of the female protestors last March was a clear message for Egyptian women and their families; if you demonstrate again calling for freedom or social justice, we will violate your honour.

After the revolution, all Egyptians with all of their differences wanted to be represented and to have a voice. Yet women are now being marginalised by all the parties, and have lower representation in Egypt's parliament than they did under Mubarak’s government. When Salafi parties were required to include women on their candidates’ lists, they replaced the women’s faces with flowers on their campaign materials. For them, women’s faces on public posters are considered inappropriate – and so is their civic and political participation, let alone their leadership. According to the WEF Gender Gap Report 2012, while women have gained more equality according to health and educational attainment indexes, Egypt is still way behind on the political empowerment indicator.

Although I had higher expectations from the revolution, I am not shocked by these failings. We have not done very much since the revolution to change these stereotypes about women’s roles or the way we campaign for women’s rights. In male-dominated societies like Egypt, feminists should not be the only players campaigning for equality and empowerment. Civil society should include both men and boys as active participants and advocates – not just as target groups that need to be educated about women’s equality.

Women protesting in Egypt

Women protesting in Egypt. Photo: Emad Karim

After 20 years, my friend ‘N’, who is originally from the same southern district of Egypt as I am, and is a PhD student in one of the US universities, has a similar story to Soriya’s. But her family is very important to her, and she is struggling to choose between seeking their approval and doing what she wants. Would any of her family’s young men kill her if she married against their will? This is a possibility! Is the government or civil society going to help her? I doubt it!

‘N’ believes in the revolution and she is going to do what she believes in. Will the revolution betray Egyptian women? Ultimately, what happens to ‘N’ will answer this question.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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