Egypt: an ancient civilization known for the Nile that divides it’s country into two and the rich history that lies among the Pyramids of Giza.
Despite the Arab Spring in 2011, the arid, Arab nation has still seen political and economic unrest because of its lack of resources and inherent discourse. The civilian’s dissidence and old ways have left their artifacts as well as their female counterparts in the past. According to the Telegraph, “the situation for women has worsened in Egypt since the 2011 revolution”.
The 2015 World’s Women report found that more than 80% of girls between fifteen and nineteen in Egypt have been victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). Overall about 97% of young women experience FGM. In Egypt, about 125 million girls are believed to be victims, and about 60% of all Egyptian women believe FGM should continue. Above all, despite being banned in 2008, FGM has remained a custom and societal norms have strongly contributed to the continuation of this practice.
FGM among several other societal standards have caused Egypt to have one of the largest gender gaps based on the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report.
According to a United Nations study completed in 2013, about 99.3% of women studied reported that they have previously been sexually harassed. You read that correctly: 99.3%. The same report found about 96.5% of Egyptian women studied were physically assaulted in addition to the sexual harassment they had experienced.
The settings of the sexual harassment encounters reported during the study was anywhere from public transit to malls. Some of the sexual harassment noted in the study was being touched, hollered at, stalked, men exposing themselves, etc. Of the women studied, about half reported experiencing sexual harassment on a daily basis, whereas about 75% reported being harassed once a month. About 85% of all the sexual encounters they had experienced bystanders did nothing to support or stop the harassment from occurring.
Egypt is inherently unique in that its women are similarly educated to its men, and have somewhat equal access to health care, but still are consistently ranked one of the worst places to be a woman. It comes down to economic opportunities, political participation, and what goes on inside homes that the government can’t necessarily control.
Egyptian law began criminalizing sexual harassment in just 2014. Even though its astonishing that this was just recently passed, this law is a major stepping stone to securing safety for women during their day to day lives. However, even though this law has been enacted, doesn’t mean the government will enforce or uphold this law— that will take a few years to determine.
Many women decided to support the 2011 revolution in hopes that its outcome would bring a lift to their position in society. The Thomson Reuters Foundation suggests otherwise. In fact they cite that because of a rise in islamic groups, conflict, and instability, there has been a rise in Discriminatory laws and trafficking.
However, this seemingly step back in progress has not stopped Egyptian women from speaking out and advocating against a lot “anti women” of the cultural practices, especially FGM. Nawal El Saadawi is one of the most widely known female activists in Egypt.
She is a victim of FGM and has since criticized the practice in several of her forty published books. Saadawi is trying to explain to the world what FGM is and how despite a recent law banning its practice, it was only passed because a film was creating showing its brutality.
Despite being put on the fundamentalist death list, and going to jail, Saadawi continues to speak out and show the world what is really happening to women in Egypt.
Saadawi has also spoken out against religious modern fundamentalism and described the islamic veil as “a tool of oppression for women”. Further in her interview she continued on by saying “There should be no veils and no nakedness either. The veiling and the nakedness of women are two sides of the same coin. It is the same oppression at work”. Hearing an opinion like this so staunch and blunt from the an activist in the muslim community was almost unbelievable to me.
Learning about Saadawi and the women of Egypt has opened my eyes to a problem I never knew existed. It parallels many Western countries in that even though there may be equal opportunity in education and health care, there are still several obstacles needing to be climbed, whether its paid family leave or abolishing FGM once and for all. FGM is fueled by money and many in Africa especially are victims of the procedure. By educating ourselves on topics that the media may not cover as readily, we are helping cover the issue; knowledge is power. Because of the film covering FGM, the Egyptian law makers banned FGM, now it’s their job to actually enforce it.
“Men are always fully clothed and go unveiled, Why?!”- Saadawi