|SAVE Sister Shahira Amin|
As they continue to fight for equality, women in Egypt are concerned that the gains they've made in recent years may be reversed as a rising tide of Islamism threatens to undermine their rights. Islamists took a commanding lead in Egypt's recent parliamentary elections winning more than 70% of the seats--a prospect that has worried liberals and especially women seeking gender equality. Only a handful of women have taken up seats in the new parliament after a Mubarak-era quota system reserving 68 seats for women was abolished ahead of the September vote. The election results have fuelled fears that many obstacles still stand in the way of women playing a full role in political life.
There are also concerns that the centuries-old tradition of female genital mutilation-- prevalent especially in the rural communities of Egypt-may continue unchecked. This, after recent calls by some Islamists to scrap a 2008 Health Ministry Decree criminalizing the harmful practice. Opponents of the law reject it because they link it to the Mubarak era and perceive it as part of "a set of foreign values imposed on Egyptians by the former regime."
But despite the setbacks, optimists argue there are a few hopeful signs for future progress, like Bothaina Kamel's bid for the presidency. Egypt's first female Presidential candidate realizes that her chances of winning the top post are slim. Still, she says she wants to shatter the glass ceiling and make it possible
for women to compete in future presidential elections.
Kamel travels the country touring deprived neighborhoods and campaigning for equal rights not just for women but also for all minority groups, including Copts, Nubians and Bedouins. Her efforts have earned her a huge following among both sexes, including young girls who tweet that she has given them "a chance to dream.'" Kamel often takes her campaign to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the January mass protests, and leads the chants for "Bread, freedom and social justice!"
But not everyone shares Kamel’s passion and enthusiasm. A year after the mass protests that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians are growing increasingly weary. The country is divided into two camps: the revolutionary forces and what many here call the "couch party", referring to those who do not wish to involve themselves in politics and who opt for stability and a state of normalcy. "The emotional upheavals of the past year have drained us ," says Essam Makhlouf, a taxi driver. "We simply want to get on with our lives." He points at a military tank patrolling the street and shakes his head in dismay.
After reports of widespread thuggery and looting, the Egyptian armed forces stationed military tanks on the streets again in an attempt to restore law and order. This, following a wave of strikes by workers, protests that have spilt out of Tahrir onto other streets, and sit -ins staged outside key institutions like parliament and the Defence Headquarters. The activists are demanding a faster pace of reforms, "qassas" or justice for the victims of violence, and asking the military to immediately transfer power to a civilian government.
The military council running the country in the transitional phase has dealt harshly with dissidents, subjecting seven female protesters to forced "virginity tests" in March 2011 to intimidate them. More recently, female activists were beaten during a demonstration in front of Parliament Headquarters. Images of a young female protesters being stripped to her bra and dragged by the soldiers in a bid to humiliate her went viral on the Internet, triggering a barrage of international condemnation.
|Women Protesting in Egypt- Photo by LA Times|
Recently, three thousand women organized a march from Tahrir Square to the Journalists Syndicate to express their anger. They chanted: " our girls are a red line" and demanded the prosecution of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi (head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces) for crimes against humanity. Dubbed "the girl in the blue bra", the victim has come to symbolize the struggle for freedom and equality but also epitomizes the failure of the Arab Spring as the goals of the revolution remain far out of reach.
|"The girl in the blue bra", an image that shocked viewers worldwide|
While piling pressure on the military rulers to carry out the much needed reforms, the women's march also revealed a widening gap between secularists and conservatives. Feminists were shocked and deeply disappointed to hear some female members of the Muslim Brotherhood denounce the rally and accuse the female protesters of carrying out foreign agendas. Manal Abol Hassan, Head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's women's committee criticized the women who marched in the rally saying their husbands, brothers or sons should have defended them instead.
While encouraging women to work, the Muslim Brotherhood has for decades favored more traditional roles for women . Their role within the movement has largely been limited to charity work and social activities. In the new politically party, the FJP, the women of the Brotherhood--also known as sisters, have not been granted seats on the leadership council.
Many women activists feel betrayed in the new Egypt, declaring that the revolution "has been stolen" from them by the military dictators and the Islamists. Nehad Abo El Komsan, Chairperson of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights is among those dissatisfied with the lack of progress on all fronts but especially on women's issues. A staunch defender of women's rights, Abo El Komsan has been pushing for amendments to the current Personal Status Code derived from Islamic Sharia law and which dictates the rules of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and employment.
Despite amendments introduced in 2000, Egypt's Family Status Law continues to allow for discrimination against women. Abo El Komsan is particularly concerned about widespread sexual harassment on the streets and has been pushing for legislation to curb the practice. "Sexual harassment appears to be on the rise," she laments. "It has been a serious problem for decades in our conservative patriarchal society but is worse today because of the political repression and economic strife."
While women have yet to reap the fruits of the revolution, they are adamant to continue their struggle for equality and emancipation. Women like Kamel and Abol Komsan hope to build on the gains made in recent years. They also hope to seize the moment and ensure that the revolution becomes a turning point for tangible change --not just for women but for the entire society. "We will confront all attempts to suppress us and will not be pushed back to the shadows," says Kamel, her voice filled with determination and hope.