Monday, March 21, 2011


I could just link to this but then it would get taken down at some stage, and it's too good and too historic for that:

Women of the revolution should be shaping the future

Ruby Hamad
February 26, 2011
As the euphoria of Egypt's revolution fades and the world's attention is captured by the massacres in neighbouring Libya and Bahrain, it is worth taking a moment to acknowledge that for Egyptians - particularly women - the battle is really only just beginning.
On February 15, Egypt's military ruling council appointed an Islamist judge, Tarek al-Bishry, to oversee the constitutional panel that will be responsible for drafting the new constitution. The panel, handpicked by Bishry and consisting mostly of fellow judges and politicians, does not feature a single woman.
Bishry has been referred to as ''moderate'' in his views, although Wael Abbas, a popular and influential blogger, calls him a "worrying" choice. "There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," Abbas warns. "We want equality for all Egyptians, including Christians, Jews, Bahais and those who consider themselves atheists." Even from Abbas, as progressive and secular a figure as there exists in Egypt, there is no mention of equality for women.
It is a testament to how marginalised women are that there is more dismay that the panel features only one Coptic Christian (a judge) than there is that it features no women. Ten per cent of Egyptians are of the Coptic faith; at least 50 per cent of Egyptians are women.
Given 10 days by the military council to ease the transition into civilian rule, it is unlikely the panel will draft a new constitution so much as hastily amend the old one. This means the dreaded Article 2, which proclaims Islam the state religion and shariah the main source of law, is unlikely to change.
While minorities such as Copts are directly affected by Article 2, so too are women, and despite their marginal status, women are not a minority.
The fact that no women have been asked to help set Egypt on its future course is particularly galling when one considers the large role women played in the revolution itself.
On January 18, 26-year-old blogger Asma Mahfouz posted a video of herself on her Facebook page, telling of her intention to march to Tahrir Square on (the now legendary) January 25. In the video, Mahfouz implores her fellow Egyptians to help her overturn the 30 years of "humiliation and degradation" that characterised Mubarak's reign. Her video proved so popular, she was credited with awakening the revolutionary spirit in thousands of young men. After all, if a girl was brave enough not only to protest but also to make public her intention to protest in a regime known to crack down ruthlessly on dissenters, then they had to show their manhood by joining her, right?
Then there are Gigi Ibrahim, one of the ''Facebook youth'' who were instrumental in disseminating the images from Tahrir Square via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Vimeo, and the activist Mona Seif, who gave one of the most harrowing live interviews of the revolution on al-Jazeera English. Witnessing the invasion of the square by pro-Mubarak goons, she cried out through tears that leaving was not an option for the protesters because they knew if they gave up, the regime "would hunt us one by one".
Even outside Egypt, women led the way. The New York-based Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy undertook what she dubbed a "media uprising" in the United States, crisscrossing the country in an effort to relay to confused Americans - audiences and media alike - what was actually occurring on the ground. In fact, Eltahawy was credited with prompting CNN to change its framing of events from ''chaos'' to ''uprising''.
So why are Egyptian women being excluded now? These early days are pivotal.
Without a female voice to influence the constitutional reform, it is unlikely that any reforms will be made that improve the rights of women, particularly given the short time frame. Egypt has unacceptably high levels of sexual harassment and low levels of female employment (in 2007, women's activity rate was only 23 per cent). While the two may appear unrelated on the surface, the fact is that the status of women in Egypt, as in the rest of the region, is one where they are largely relegated to the private sphere. As long as women are viewed primarily as wives and mothers, then their roles - and their bodies - will be regarded primarily as sexual.
Reforms that improve the status of women, giving them options outside the home and an identity outside of their strict gender roles, are needed to change the attitude many men harbour towards women.
Without these changes, for the women of Egypt it could be a case of the new boss looking remarkably similar to the old boss.
Ruby Hamad is a freelance writer.


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