8-17-2011By Alison Searle
Administrative Assistant for Advocacy
A new generation of Egyptian women is speaking up to address long-standing gender and equality issues. Since the fall of President Mubarak, sexual harassment cases have become more public as women’s political participation becomes increasingly widespread. Campaigners stress the need for Egyptian women to unite as they face some of the worst treatment in the world. Domestic violence, harassment, work and legal discrimination, arranged marriages and systematic female genital mutilation validated by Islamic holy texts, are all prevalent in different regions of Egypt. According to the World Economic Reform’s Global Gender Gap Index, Egypt has ranked in the bottom 10 for the past 5 years. In 2010, Egypt ranked 125th out of 134 countries. The index also highlights the stark inequality in female political participation over the past 5 years, with only 2 women in Parliament at any given time and 16 or fewer women out of 200 in ministerial, legislative and senior management positions in government.
In an effort to combat the rise in gender inequality and violence, women are using social media—a regional catalyst in the fight for democracy—as an advocacy and awareness tool. HarassMap is a website that allows women to report sexual harassment via email, text or Twitter to track where assaults are taking place throughout the country. Facebook and other media websites continue to promote dialogue about women’s issues with on-the-ground updates. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights produces blogs in English and Arabic in an attempt to bridge the movement’s generation gap and appeal to a more international constituency.
While the Internet provides a platform for women, the lack of public protection severely limits participation, as women protestors continue to fear sexual assault. Not only are random attacks occurring, but gross violations like government sponsored virginity tests add to the atmosphere of fear: “Subjecting women to such degrading procedures hoping to show that they were not raped in detention makes no sense, and was nothing less than torture,” Amnesty International told the Huffington Post. While the head of Egypt’s military has promised that the army will no longer carry out forced virginity tests, the fear remains.
Another issue still surfacing in largely hushed terms is LGBTI rights. Egyptian women are watching with horror as South African LGBTI activists become victims of targeted violence: “[In South Africa,] the assaults on lesbians have been called ‘corrective rapes,’ and are meant to humiliate and punish women who don’t fit the norm. Some attackers have reportedly said they believed they could “cure” women of being lesbians by raping them.”
Egyptian women are looking at other international women’s movements, like in South Africa, for ideas to address some of these problems. Connecting with women activists in other parts of the world is becoming an increasingly viable and valuable possibility for Egyptian feminists.