No revolution for Egyptian women

 
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By Marwa Rakha

Despite the political earthquake that has rid Egypt of its patriarch-in-chief, attitudes to gender remain largely the same. Now women must stand up for their rights.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

As a woman, I would like to be realistic about my expectations after the revolution. Nothing changes overnight or over a few months. People’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour are very difficult to change.

Yes, we had an iconic revolution where a corrupt regime was toppled, but did that affect how men view women? No, it did not. Despite the fact that women stood next to men on Tahrir square chanting against corruption, men still do not see women as their partners – I do not like to use the word ‘equal’ to describe the ideal relationship between men and women.

Before the revolution, women were objectified and treated as things that should be covered up or eye-candy that should be exposed to please men.

Before the revolution, women were the victims of sexual harassment on the streets and on public transport. It is ironic how they were also blamed for it.

Before the revolution, your average Egyptian would not trust a political opinion voiced by a woman. “Women know nothing about politics and should stay out of the political arena,” they advocated.

Before the revolution, female political and public involvement was kept down to the bare minimum – in the parliament and in the judiciary system, for example.

Before the revolution, young girls were still subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) – even though there is a clear law against the practice.

Before the revolution, a mother’s most important concern was marrying off her daughter “before it is too late”.

Before the revolution, married women were subjected to emotional and physical abuse in the name of “obeying God”.

Economic factors cannot be ignored when talking about Egyptian women – many of them are dependent on ‘a man’. Social factors also play a role – no one wants to be the single spinster or the divorcee.

The secularists and the conservatives are two faces of the same coin when it comes to women. Most of the politicians in both currents objectify women – one side want to cover us and lock us up, while the other wants to strip us naked and show us off. Show me a party that does not focus on gender and I will listen to them with more interest.

During the revolution itself – those three weeks that made history – such points were eliminated. They just disappeared. Men and women stood together, hand in hand – as Egyptians regardless of their gender – and won the battle against corruption.

Now the revolution is over and everything is back to normal. Attitudes towards women have not been affected by the historic victory. After the revolution, how many girls decided to move out of their family homes and become fully independent? How many abused women ‘revolted’ against their abusive/negligent husbands? How many more women decided to pursue further education? How many additional women decided to join the workforce? How many men were able to link their personal revolution against a dictator in power and a potential revolution at home from their wives?

On 8 March 2011, many women’s rights activists marched through Tahrir Square – the same place where men and women stood together for three weeks – and demanded equality. They were attacked. Men chanted slogans against them like: “Men want to topple feminists” and “Since when did women have a voice?” They were asked to go home and obey God.

They were let down by the average Egyptian man and woman alike. Their demands simply did not ring any bells with the ‘submissive’ women who got used to being used and abused. Personally, I was against this march. I am against fighting for women who would not lift a finger to fight harassment or abuse.

As for sexual liberation, political and economic uprisings are in one box and social and cultural revolutions are in another box. The two boxes are so far apart that you can barely see one when you are standing on the other.

Patriarchal values, religion, and traditions are not as easy to topple. It was easier to break free from Mubarak’s regime than to break away from decades of preaching. Virtue, honour, and integrity lie between a woman’s legs – this is the subliminal message that propagates through sermons, movies, songs, novels, or shows. The woman who has premarital sex is doomed and we get to see her suffering in whatever medium that message is disseminated.

Men, on the other hand, are reprimanded gently for their promiscuity and when they repent, they are rewarded by getting married to the pure, untouched, innocent virgin. Such hypocrisy and duality is a fact of our society and it will take more than a revolution to bring about sexual liberation, autonomy, and freedom of choice.

For real change to come about, it must come from within … from a woman’s own self-respect and self-esteem. Change will only happen when women have more faith in themselves, get a better education, have goals and interests other than men, and become more involved in the community.

This article is based on an interview with Marwa Rakha. Published here with her consent. ©Marwa Rakha.

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  • Don

    I have not been in Egypt for almost three years now. When I was there, it was the pre-revolutionary Egypt and Mubarek was in power. I felt that women were better off in Egypt than any other Muslim country. I am an American and a foreigner in the last years of my life at 81.
    The people that fomented the rebellion were mostly men as I recall. I can imagine that, if women want the same kind of change that has happened so far, you will have to recreate the scenario for change based on what women want. Women in Iran tried for that and failed to get it. There are, today FAR more Iranians living outside of Iran than within its borders.
    To change attitudes, you need to reeducate women from early childhood in cultural understanding. Your male centric society reflects the indoctrination of women at every level. You need to re-indoctrinate the society at every level. Equality should be uniform and universal. Everyone is equal, not just men, not just women, etc.
    I wish you the best in this effort. I am sure that you need to put a lot of thought into which goals you set and that you find and adopt the ideas and principles that fit the women of Egypt and their lives.
    I wish you the best on this.

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  • Yasmine

    It’s almost impossible to have things change over-night. Although I cannot understand how men and women were both hand in hand during the revolution,and things were back to square 1 right after that. I don’t get it. But what I do know is that,moving out of your parents house isn’t the only form on independency.People in western countries do it,they’re not all independent,and some may even engage in co- dependent relationships.Personally I think it is how youngsters are brought up in their early years that makes them dependent or otherwise.
    I think things will change when the lives of the people are better. When young children receive proper education,have better schools and teachers and living standards become generally better.
    Also,when there is Law and order. Many women refrain from going to police stations to report abuse or sexual harassment,not because of how society will regard them,but because they know that their abuser will not get his deserved punishment.The same applies in divorce cases and stuff like that…
    So in my humble opinion,women should never cease to work at achieving better standards and equality with men,they have to fight for it,and fight for better laws to ensure their rights and their well being
    This is when women can break free,join the work force,and have a sense of fulfillment.

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  • Tonya

    and as long as women do nothing more than dote on the men hand and foot and do whatever the men want even if its against the womans own wishes the men will always think that “love” from a woman is a woman that will do anything and everything he wants no matter what.

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