Monday, June 11, 2012

Women in Egypt

There is a recent story that had been popular on the internet recently about how women who were protesting against street harassment in Egypt were attacked by a violent mob that chased them, groped and tried to beat them.

There is no denying that Egypt has a problem with street harassment, the article quotes a study by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights that said two-thirds of women in Egypt experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis. Personally, I've seen the leering that men directed towards my sister when she was a sixteen year old blond girl walking around in Egypt. While some would argue that this is a result of Arab, male-dominated culture or even religion, I argue that this sort of action is grounded much more deeply in the economy and politics.

Egypt is a relatively young country with just over thirty percent of the population below the age of fifteen and a median age of twenty-four (compared to the United States with twenty percent and thirty-six, respectively). It's also a relatively poor country and one that has not seen economic improvement in a long time. Additionally, the average marrying age is also pretty young, about twenty-five for most Egyptians. What this all means is that Egypt has a very large group of unmarried, unemployed young men with very little to live for, especially before the protests last year. Unfortunately, things like harassing women on the street tend to be common when you have groups of single, unhappy men with nothing better to do. To put this into perspective for a Western audience, think about the stereotype of women walking by a construction site or walking past a group of teenagers on the streets, getting jeered at and catcalled by these groups would not be incredibly surprising either and that is what is going on in Egypt. Talk to a lot of Egyptians, especially young men, and they will tell you about their struggle to find a job in the country and their inability to afford to get married. I have personally had many family members leave the country just to find a decent paying job in Dubai or Germany. 

The protests in Egypt showed a different side of the country. Women in Tahrir last year reported that they finally had a space where they were free of harassment and claimed that about fifty percent of the crowd was women. The military and the police force, backed by Mubarak's regime did their best to discourage women from being among the protesters. They beat women as they did the rest of the protesters but they also forced some of the women who had been arrested to undergo "virginity tests" as a way to humiliate and shame them. Last year during a mass women's protest of up to ten thousand women, a picture of a woman being nearly stripped in the street and being stomped on the chest in the middle of the streets went viral around the world. These actions against women are not happening from the protesters or even from the average people in Egypt, they are happening by the former government and those that are controlled by the former government, including the military. These are political tactics done to scare women to get them out of the streets and to minimize the amount of protesters.

This also is not unrelated to the fear surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood gaining control in Egypt. There has been a very large campaign by both the liberals and the supporters of Shafiq, the candidate from Mubarak's regime, to argue that a win for the Muslim Brotherhood means the complete deterioration of all rights of minorities in Egypt, especially women and Copts. Unfortunately, this fear of the Brotherhood has led more people to vote for Shafiq which considering his role in Mubaraks government and their actions against those very groups during the protests, seems to be even worse than the option of the Brotherhood. At the very least the Brotherhood has shown itself to be swayed by public opinion and the strong influence that women in the Brotherhood have shows that even a win by an Islamic party would be far better than the thirty years of divide and conquer tactics used by the dictatorship. Additionally, it is important to focus not only on the rights that affect women exclusively because the actions that are taken to better Egypt as a whole and to get not only the women in private and government employment but also their brothers, husbands and sons in those positions as well.

The women in Egypt have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with in the country. The fact that they are being seen as a threat by those in power can be seen as a good thing. And as long as they continue to have the support of the Egyptian people as a whole, they can continue to be a part of the change and the move forward for the entire country. 

No comments:

Post a Comment