Egypt holds a bleak record when it comes to women’s rights. Although it arguably laid the foundations of feminist thinking in the region, the country that is usually referred to as Umm Al Dunya (mother of the world) still did not manage to be a safe haven for half of its population.
Having witnessed figures like Huda El Shaarawi or the late Nawal Saadawi embrace their motherland dearly and carve some early blueprints to actively challenge most patriarchal narratives, Egyptian women still have a long way to go before being treated as fair equivalents.
According to a research study conducted by UN Women in 2013, over 99.3 % of Egyptian girls and women surveyed recall experiencing some form of harassment throughout their lifetime with a daunting 82.6 % of the total respondents expressing not feeling free from harm when wandering through the seemingly warm street of Egypt.
With these alarming numbers in mind, it goes without saying that being a woman in Egypt comes at a price. If existing peacefully in itself becomes a privilege, we have to think of the mental charge this segment of society has to carry on its shoulders.
Carmela Kamel, 23
From the persistent stares as you walk in any public area, to being cat-called or cursed, to actual physical harassment, all forms are very present in Egypt. Unfortunately, I have so many experiences. I was just in a concert 3 weeks ago and got groped by a stranger that I was unable to identify because of the crowd.
There has recently been a lot of progress when it comes to women speaking up about assault. @assaultpolice on Instagram was responsible for encouraging many victims to come forward. There were hundreds of victims that shared their stories anonymously, and wouldn’t have done so otherwise. This was the beginning of a huge movement for victims of assault to come forward and take legal action.
These Issues should be tackled from the root of the cause: ignorance and lack of education on this matter. A lot of schools teach the wrong ideologies regarding women and their role in society and this lack of respect towards women is one of the main reasons men feel superior towards the other gender and feel like women should just accept whatever they want to say or do to them. This needs to completely be eliminated.
Haya Mahmoud, 20
Sexual harassment is the norm here. I’m not saying I haven’t been harassed abroad, but it isn’t a constant thing you face on a day-to-day basis. As an Egyptian woman, harassment is something that crosses your mind before you wear that top you like, before you make plans to go to a restaurant somewhere a little dodgy, when you’re deciding what time to leave an outing with friends even when you don’t have a curfew. And of course, there’s the stereotypes that are reinforced even by educated men in a joking manner. “Makanek fel matbakh aslun”.
Mariam ElSersy, 21
Harassment and all forms of abuse are definitely impactful on a physical level. These experiences can definitely cause life long trauma and can affect every aspect of your life, down to even just going grocery shopping. Even with the right psychological help it’s something that might never leave you.
Hana Ebeid, 20
Im very proud to be an Egyptian woman today, I have hope and can see change of laws, and awareness… Today a new clause in the law changed which gives me a higher sense of security now. As much as harassment is present in all its forms, Egypt’s women are now rising more than ever whether in powerful impactful positions or being the leaders of social media pages that raise awareness on the harassment issue and encourage other girls to speak up.
Egypt is full of safe places. In fact, I don’t consider Egypt a dangerous place. I just take the necessary precautions (choosing specific clothes) to avoid turning a safe place into a dangerous one, as sad as it is.
I think what we need more than ever is for rules and laws to be implemented, not just changed, and put in the constitution and bit by bit this is what is happening.
Regardless of social class, skin colour, or overall background, the issue of human rights plagues the lives of millions of women across the Arab world. As much as it may seem like we’re stating an obvious claim, the question now stands on how do we carve a path towards even-handedness that doesn’t fall into a unilateral definition of emancipation and freedom? What we know of feminism today comes from Western movements, but what are our Arab narratives? How should Arab feminism look like? We’ll make sure to investigate sooner rather than later. Watch this space.