Updated: Nov 30, 2021
International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 8, while Egypt celebrates Egyptian Women’s Day on March 16 that marks the 1st women’s demonstration calling for the nation’s independence from the British colonialism, during the wave of the uprising revolution at 1919.
In ancient Egypt, women ruled the world, Hatshepsut reigning for 22 years until 1458 BC, followed by Nefertiti, Cleopatra and Shajaret ad-Dorr in later eras.
Moreover, Egyptian women invaded the Physics and Mathematics fields solely confined for men, such as the Alexandrain, Hipatia, who is an eternal trademark in the history of the Mathematics and Physics, followed in the same course by the assassinated “Nabawyya Moussa”.
Egyptian Women from 1919-1952 .. Old is Always Gold
At this period of time, Egypt witnessed the seedbeds of Intellectual women liberation, with female figures issuing their own newspapers such as “Rose El Yusuf”.
In 1920s, women started to join universities, and parties were formulated such as the Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU) by “Hoda Shaarawi”, as well as, the Egyptian Feminist party headed by “Fatma Neamat Rashed”in 1946, amongst others such as Women’s National Party, which fought to have women employed in all state positions established in 1942, and the Daughter of the Nile Party in 1951, established by “Dorrya Shafiq” one of the main leaders of the women’s liberation movement in Egypt.
The intellectual liberalization was further represented when the female figures at that period of time “Hoda Sharaawi and Safia Zaghloul” appeared with the first time having no “white” veils or “buqu’ to cover their faces, as Shaarwi said “the face-veil (burqu’) and not the hijab is the barrier to women’s advancement”.
Egyptian Women Political Rights In Nasser’s Era:
Women Either in Cabinet or in Prison?
Paradoxes were witnessed in this period because, Egyptian women were first granted the right to run for parliament by virtue of a presidential decree in 1956, in accordance with the constitution adopted in the same year.
In addition to appointment of the first woman minister “Dr. Hekmat Abou Zeid” as the minister for the public affairs, at the same time “Doryya Shafiq” was eliminated from the public life and remained through her life under arrest, for condemning Nasser’s brutal policies, alongside other political feminist-activists who were imprisoned and tortured such as Angie Aflaton.
Another paradox, Activist Asmaa Halem wrote in 1965 that the labor minister had prevented women from working in certain jobs, such as in wineries. The judiciary had a conservative view of women’s role, since they were prevented from working in remote areas, but it was the best regarding women’s freedom of mobility in the streets, as women of the 1960s, liberalization and having no head scarfs and interestingly no sexual harassment rates.
Women Rights in Sadat’s Era:
The Change of the Unilateral Divorce Law to Satisfy the Islamic Movements?
In 1980s, the Egyptian first lady by then “Gihan Al Sadat”, granted women civil rights such as the custody of children in case of divorce, as well as, allocating 30 more seats for women in the people’s assembly.
After the 1967 setback, the blood of the Radical Islamist movements was introduced in the Egyptian’s veins, because as of the setback devastating psychological effect, people were divided into two competing ideologies whether to follow the western ideology with its economic competency or resort back to the radical Islam, and the latter gained widespread especially with the floods of immigration from all over the world including Egyptians searching for a better quality of life after the discovery of the Gulf Oil.
An example of such a radical evolution was when the Islamists opposed the decree law no 44 which was set to grant women unilateral divorce in case of the second marriage without her consent; nevertheless, Islamists led campaigns against the law associating it to combat polygamy and the law had the addenda of “requesting proofs of physical or moral harm, verbal attack” until this day.
Outside the parliaments, as there were Egyptians wearing Charleston pants and mini- skirts with sexy swimwear on the beaches, the other radical stream of thought, sought to establish Islamic schools, imposing head scarfs on their youngsters and, indeed, if the Muslim brotherhood were to gain presidency in 2012, it was because Sadat opened the prison-doors for them, until they assassinated him in the parade 1981.
Women Rights in Mubarak’s Era “1990s-2011”
Improvements to Both Women Rights and Radical Islamists Movements
During the era of Ousted President Mubarak, women’s freedom received a marked achievement by the introduction of Article 20 which granted women the right to divorce their husbands, el khula” without the need to justify the reasons without his acceptance and his entitlement to the children’s full financial obligations
However, women’s participation in the political life was very weak owing to the fact that the government deliberately ignored women’s right to be presented in decision makers’ positions, and the poor performance of the civil societies in Egypt, as “Nawal El Saadawy” stated “the parties fail to present the needs of the toiling women during Mubarak’s era”.
If the new veins of the Islamic dress codes was introduced in the Sadat’s era, they flourished at unprecedented rates during 1990s, because the war between Kuwait and Iraq broke out and most of the Egyptians working there, came back from Gulf areas importing the gulf traditional dress code and naming the abbayya and the “niqab” as “the Islamic dress code”.
The claim that woman has to wear a certain dress code has never been mentioned in any holy book, and that such dress codes never represented the MENA region; they are worn by the gulf women, as a part of their societal contexts and tribal heritage born out of rigorous desert climates unlike the agrarian climates of Egypt.
Religiously, the gulf dress codes reflect the “Wahabyy-Hanbaly-salafy” thoughts which are much stricter than the “Nomani” thoughts adopted by the MENA region, even the Egyptian women residing in the villages “the peasants” normally wear colorful “galabyyas” and head scarfs-to-their backs, with vibrant colours as part of our folklore and heritage
furthermore, political reconciliation with the Muslim brotherhood encouraged spreading their thoughts socially leading to having 88 seats in the parliament, with the media openings of religious channels, to gain fame and money, spreading their so much “salafi” thoughts which targeted the masses with poor critical thinking skills, such as the fatwa of the woman breast-feeding her co-worker the elderly, to avoid being alone together “khelwa”.
Women During the Muslim Brotherhood Year
Back to Black
After 25th Jan Revolution, when the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections with a landslide.
There was apparent change to the landscape of the Egyptian dress codes with the maximum number of women with full Gulf areas dress codes appearing in the streets, as a reflection of having the Iranian and the KSA flags in the downtown of Cairo “Tahrir Square”?!
And because such thoughts are new to the pharaonic native Egyptians, it was only UNTIL the brotherhood parliament was about to issue the law decreasing the marriage age of girls to only 9 years old after originally being 18.when the Egyptian uprising broke-through led by mainly millions of women in 30 June, who fled the streets calling for the outset of the Brotherhood because they clearly threatened women’s existence and the nation’s identity.
Current Status of Women
Improved Politically but the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is an Endemic Epidemic?
The reign of the President Sisi, who is known to be favored and strongly backed up by the Egyptian women, witnessed the improvement of the political conditions of women for having 87 out of 596 seats in the parliament, to raise their share to 14.59% after years of 2%.
However, the freedom of mobility for women remains a disturbing issue with nowadays over 99.3 % of Egyptian women experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime, and 82.6 % stating that they “did not feel safe or secure in the streets” especially regarding public transportation, according to the study carried out by UN Women in 2013.
Although the law issued in June 14, 2014 has earned the harasser 50,000 in fine and from 6 months to 5 years in prison after the famous sexual assault in El Tahrir of the same year; such laws are vague in definition because they attribute assault to “only vaginal rape with a penis, though among other forms of sexual violence are verbal slurs and mobile rape, which are not properly criminalized by these laws.
Although women rights improved a lot from 1919 till present times, still lots to be done regarding changing the social perspective of such mentally-ill men especially researchers proving that mostly are “teenagers to early mid 20s”. As well, much has to be done regarding the popularity of “obscene” locally-made films, which are deemed too “racy” glorifying men who behave in a sexually aggressive way.