This is a summary of an event with Emily Dyer, Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, and Nervana Mahmoud, commentator and blogger, on 17 December 2013.
A transcript for the event will be uploaded here
Addressing an audience in the House of Commons on 17th December 2013, Henry Jackson Society (HJS) Research Fellow Emily Dyer discussed the decline of women’s rights in Egypt with commentator and blogger, Dr. Nervana Mahmoud. Dyer presented the findings of her latest report, Marginalising Egyptian Women, about the Egyptian state’s role in the reversal of women’s rights and roles within the public sphere. Both Dyer and Mahmoud focused on how problems facing women in Egypt have become worse in recent years, and how the state has played a significant role in this.
Marginalising Egyptian Women: findings and analysis
Sexual violence and Egypt’s culture of blame
- While sexual harassment and violence are long-standing problems in Egypt, the situation became worse under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
- FJP representatives held women as responsible for sexual harassment, often blaming their physical appearance and attendance at public protests for attacks.
- In fact, the proportion of veiled women who have been harassed is almost directly proportionate to the percentage of veiled women in wider society, showing that modest dress has no apparent relation to the rate of harassment. In some cases, men have targeted veiled women rather than unveiled, due to their belief that veiled women would be less likely to report the case to authorities
- The FJP also used sexual harassment as a political tool in blaming the opposition for carrying out the attacks in an attempt to discredit its cause.
- This culture of blame has played a major part in creating a culture acceptability surrounding sexual violence towards women.
- Police officers often act as attackers rather than protectors. Egyptian law and the constitution prevents sexual attackers from being successfully brought to justice and, according to Dyer, the legal system “protects the man from sexual temptation, rather than protecting the women from being attacked.”
Sexual segregation: cause or solution?
- During its time in power, the FJP pushed for and in some cases implemented sexual segregation in various forms of public transport as well as schools and hotels.
- Despite claims that segregation along gender lines helps to prevent sexual harassment from taking place, there is a strong argument that it also deepens the lack of understanding between men and women, therefore acting as a cause of rather than solution to sexual harassment.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
- The FJP attempted to exert control over women’s bodies through opposing the ban against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), wrongly justifying it as both a religious obligation and medical necessity.
- Most importantly, the collapse of law and order has created more opportunities of sexual harassment. Hence the incidence of harassment and rape has increased after the revolution.
Pushing women out of political participation
- The FJP launched a full-scale crackdown on women’s rights NGOs through stigmatisation, intimidation, divisive tactics and greater restrictions on their freedoms and activities.
- Political participation among Egyptian women was forced to an all-time low following the 2011 revolution. Female parliamentary representation sank from 20% under President Mubarak to 3% under President Morsi.
- Women were pushed out of the public sphere at all levels. Female political representation was brought to an all-time low under the Muslim Brotherhood – despite an increased appetite among Egyptian women to participate in politics.
- The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party, claims that it is taking women’s rights seriously. Yet, the parliamentary representation of women decreased from 10 to 3 percent under the Morsi government.
Dr. Nervana Mahmoud, Commentator and Blogger on Egypt and the Middle East
- Doria Shafik, the head of the women’s union before the 1952 revolution, campaigned relentlessly on a grass-roots level for women’s right to equality, to vote, and to equal opportunities
- The 2011 Revolution resurrected Doria Shafik in thousands and thousands of Egyptian women, out on the streets demanding rights and education
- The prevalence of sexual harassment has become routine. For women, going to work if difficult due to risk of being harassed on public transport.
- The collapse of law and order have opened to door to widespread sexual harassment – because people are not afraid of the consequences
- The interim leadership has tried to look as though they are supporting women’s rights, but the improvement in female participation in the transition has so far been limited.
- Following the 30th June 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood has encouraged women to join the anti-coup movement.
- The new (post-July 3) constitution appears to give women more rights. However, the preamble clearly states Sharia law to be the basis of the legal system in Egypt, which could eventually result in a manipulation of the law to further limit women’s freedoms.
- The fact that the Salafi Nour Party has said that the new constitution is more Shariah-compliant should be a cause of concern.
- Many people do not care about the constitution, they are more interested in the belly dancer Sofina Ekaterina than General al-Sisi.