Despite Ongoing Women’s Rights Activism, Developments in Egypt Continue to Disappoint
As Egypt pieces itself back together after last year’s revolution, women’s rights are taking a back seat. Some examples:
- One of the new female members of parliament, Azza al-Garf, is being taken to court by the New Women Foundation for advocating the repeal of 2008 legislation which banned female genital mutilation (FGM).
- In addition to a possible repeal of the FGM ban, the new parliament has been changing personal status laws to discriminate against women even more harshly than during the Mubarak era. One debate centers around whether to repeal the “Khulaa Law,” enacted to allow women to initiate no-fault divorce.
- Also at risk for repeal are last year’s custody amendments, which allowed women to have custody of children until they turn fifteen.
- Violence against women has not decreased since the revolution. Despite a judge’s ruling that “virginity tests” on protestors are illegal, there are allegations that SCAF continues the practice. In the recent protests at the Defense Ministry building in Cairo, over a dozen women were arrested. Some alleged that guards sexually assaulted them by inspecting their vaginas for drugs. Others complained of verbal and sexual abuse. These abuses follow the acquittal of a doctor accused of conducting these tests.
- Women make up less than two percent of the new parliament, occupying only 8 seats out of 508. Previously, quotas ensured a certain level of representation. Most recently, the 2010 law required 64 women members, but this was viewed as a tool of the old regime and discarded. There are no women running for president and women’s rights are not a major issue in the election. Some women’s organizations are insisting that the new president appoint a female as vice-president.
Pushing back against these assaults on women’s rights groups like Nazra for Feminist Studies, a partner of Human Right First, which is involved with The Women & Constitution Working Group. The group is proposing additions to the constitution to ensure protections for women, including equality and nondiscrimination. Nazra has joined other groups opposing SCAF’s abuses of women, denouncing its “policies of suppressing freedom of expression and using the military judiciary as a tool to subjugate civilians and harass peaceful activists.” The groups report that “hundreds” of protestors have been abused, detained, and even killed since last year’s revolution, and that dissent is still as dangerous as it was under the Mubarak regime. One positive development has been the grassroots movement to prevent violence against women. Human Rights First congratulates the founders of HarassMap for winning the “BOB” jury award for “Best Use of Technology for Social Good.” The Deutsche Welle International Blog Awards, or “The BOBs,” are presented annually to the blogs that “champion the open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression.” HarassMap was featured by Human Rights First as an innovative use of social media to expose and prevent violence against women. The platform allows women to report sexual harassment by email, text, or Twitter, and then maps these instances using crowdsourcing. The HarassMap team then uses this information to follow up with communities where there have been many instances of harassment in order to increase women’s safety in these areas. Though HarassMap was founded before the Arab Spring, it had become a powerful tool for Egyptian women activists. With continuing violence against women and legal setbacks, Egyptian women still struggle for basic human rights as Egypt stumbles on the path to democracy. But thanks to the inspiring resilience of women’s rights activists, there is hope.