Arab Spring: Harsh and unfair to Egyptian women's rights

by Mervat Tallawy | National Council of Women-Egypt
Sunday, 21 July 2013 00:16 GMT

A woman, who opposes Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shouts slogans during a protest by Egyptian women at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 8, 2013, International Women's Day. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Women wrote the story of victory but reaped few gains

It all started with a dream …. for a better future for our kids, for social justice for all citizens and for the kind of proper democracy and freedom that can stand up to the name of Egypt.

Egyptian women of all ages were at the heart of the 25th January 2011 revolution as well as the 30th of June revolution this summer. Their voice was described as the voice of the revolution.

Women also suffered all the consequences of the revolution. They not only endured the loss of loved ones martyred in the violence or saw fathers, husbands, sons and brothers wounded, but they themselves were among the martyrs as well. Amira Samir, Liza Mohammed, Christine Sylla and others were lost.

For two years since the January 25th revolution, women have struggled to maintain their hard-won gains, especially with the emergence of new types of socio-economic oppression and marginalisation targeted by the Islamic conservative parties who rose to power.

Evidence of marginalisation was clear, as the following actions were taken against women since 25th January 2011:


-          Only men were appointed to draft an interim constitution,

-          The 64-seat quota for women's representation in parliament was abolished,

-          Very low representation of women—7 out of 100--in the Founding Committee for Drafting the Constitution,

-          The number of women in the first people's assembly was 9 out of 508,

-          Radical Islamist members of the previous parliament attempted to cut back women's recognised rights.

-          Women lost rights acquired in previous constitutions. A new constitution defined women's rights within the rules of Islamic Sharia law, a law subject to  different interpretations.

-           The first and only woman among the 19 members of the Supreme Constitutional Court was removed,

-          The new draft election law for parliament declined requests to put women’s names in the top one-third of the lists of political party candidates, a request designed to promote the participation and inclusion of women in politics.

-           Islamist groups call for veiling women; approving early marriage for girls; decriminalising female genital mutilaton; revoking the Khoul law (women’s right to divorce without men’s permission) and lowering the age of a mother’s custody of a child from 15 to 7.

-          Documented cases of violence against women were reported, especially at protest demonstrations, as a means of preventing women from participation in politics.  

-          Famous women public leaders were removed  from their posts: Zeinab Saleh and  Kausar Issa Nagwa Ashry who were Undersecretaries at the Ministry of Awqaf; Nagwa Ashry, a Chief of Qanater City; Ahlam Abdel Aal, Ismailia Governor Assistant Secretary General and Aziza El Said, Local Unit Chief of Moshtoher.

Moreover, women endured the burden of the negative effects upon their families after the revolution due to bad economic conditions. They faced high rates of unemployment and many lost their jobs. Families also had to deal with price inflation on basic commodities and an overall lack of security. The situation caused more isolation of women as they became increasingly occupied in securing basic needs for their families.

Again, as through history, women wrote the story of victory but reaped little of the gains.  In Egypt’s case, they reaped only suffering and losses.

However, the National Council for Women and other active women’s NGOs worked very hard during the last two years to protect women’s legal rights from being negatively altered by the parliament.  They also actively campaigned to raise public awareness by providing training, issuing booklets and legal materials to counter misinterpretations of Islam.  

The National Council for Women stood firmly against the wrong actions taken by various ministries against women, such as changing the school curricula, removing pictures of historical female leaders and preventing reference to reproductive rights and services.

All these efforts gained momentum with the REBEL movement, carried out by young people who succeeded in collecting 22 million signatures leading up to the 30th of June  revolution, when more than 33 million Egyptians took to the streets around the country to reject the regime. Therefore, this is a popular revolution, not a coup d’etat.

Gender equality as a fundamental human right is a prerequisite for the establishment of democratic societies. The transitional period offers a  better chance for the new government to achieve democracy through gender equality that requires strategies, policies and programs to be tailored in accordance with the realization and understanding of the challenges women are facing to enjoy full and equal participation with men.

The hope lies now at the corrective revolution where women's full participation is essential to re-write the Egyptian roadmap for the future. Egypt is now at crossroads. The coming transitional period will witness an amended constitution that respects women’s rights, presidential and parliamentary elections, and other steps to attain our dream of a democratic nation.

--Mervat Tallawy is chair of the National Council for Women in Egypt


Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation