Many who followed recent events would probably have noted that Egypt’s successful uprising against the President, Hosni Mubarak, has often been portrayed in media organisations as being dominated by men. Now a recent article in BBC highlights the prolonged sexual assault of a female CBS correspondent in Tahrir square while she was reporting ont he fall of Mubarak.
It’s no surprise then that Egypt’s women and revolutionaries who were on the front lines and participated during the uprising have begun to make their demands. The following extract discusses the road ahead.
Among these demands are women’s rights–a list including lack of sexual harassment, equal pay in the workplace, and representation in the government that were not articulated during the protests in spite of significant female participation. But will the unity–expressed in favor of specific women’s rights–exhibited during the protests themselves hurt women in their push for equality in a post-Mubarak Egypt?
The protests in Tahrir were an “incredible time” for women, according to Amal Abdel Hady of the New Woman Foundation, a nonprofit women’s rights group. The women in the square “represented all generations and social classes.” Still, Abdel Hady noticed that the media did not pay as much attention to them as they did to the men, leading to the perception that young men led the Egyptian revolution, with the female presence remarkable but less important. And “never mind the Egyptian media,” she said, which barely represented the reality on the ground, never mind the strong female role.
Abdel Hady is not the only one who noticed such discrepancies. Her colleague at the New Woman Foundation, Nawla Darwish, worries that because women were not organized during the protests, with specific rights in mind, women will not be served well in post-Mubarak Egypt. Historically, she told Al-Masry Al-Youm, women are commended for their participation in revolutions and then told to go home. Such a thing occurred in Egypt in the 1919 revolution, when women, who came out strongly against colonial rule, were largely ignored by the ruling Wafd Party. Is misogyny a stronger foe than Mubarak?
“We are living in a patriarchal society,” she said. And the values therein are strong enough to withstand even the groundbreaking protests of the 25 January revolution. The tokenism apparent in the representation of women in the Mubarak regime must be counteracted by a strong female presence even now that protests have subsided. The New Woman Foundation is working to collect testimonials from the women who participated in the protests, both as evidence and as a way to get women–many of whom had never been politically active before–to continue their involvement.
Nehad Abou El Komsan, chairwoman of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, likewise lamented the representation, or lack thereof, of women’s involvement in the protests in news media, both local and international. “The culture of society makes people blind,” she told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Now that the protests are over and many different people are vying for political influence, “we must document the participation of women, not just perception or opinion,” Abou El Komsan added. “We must lobby for participation of women in all committees and procedures,” leading up to and during the elections and the promised revision of Egypt’s national charter. No group now–not even those led by young people–are proactively making room for a female voice.
Whether or not women will have a larger role politically and socially in a post-Mubarak Egypt–and whether such a country will be more open to their rights–remains to be seen. Iman Bibars, the 60-year-old chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, ran for parliament as an independent candidate in 2005. Her experience went beyond mere disillusionment. NDP officials and security threw out 3000 of the 5,920 ballots in her favor, she says, and prevented countless numbers of her supporters from voting at all.
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