Thursday, March 10, 2011

Egypt: Leaving Women Behind

I'm not an expert in gender politics in Egypt, but this is disappointing:

"Throughout the uprising, women were at the forefront of the street protests. However, they have largely kept quiet about their gender rights in a country where they have faced rampant discrimination and received little legal protection against widespread violence and sexual abuse. They were careful not to display any intention of wanting to advance one group's rights over those of another.

'We did not speak of our gender rights during these protests because it was not the right time. We spoke for the political and social rights of all Egyptians. If we were to campaign for our rights as women in parallel with the revolution's national goal, that would have been called political opportunism,' says Hala Kamal, an assistant professor at Cairo University and a member of the Women in Memory Forum.

But only days into the post-Mubarak era, many women's rights activists have begun to feel suspicious that the national umbrella they rallied under, whose slogan was democracy, equality and freedom for all Egyptians, may be leaving them out.

Their disillusionment began when no women were selected by the military council to be among the 10-member constitutional committee responsible for making constitutional revisions.

Another disheartening setback that raises questions about the future of women's rights in Egypt is the return of sexual harassment to the streets."

I find it interesting, yet not entirely surprising, that a desire to assert women's political equality might be viewed as women "wanting to advance one group's rights over those of another."

That's always a fun reversal, isn't it?

Women protested "for the politcal and social rights of all Egyptians," yet given that women remain unrepresented in government positions and sexual harassment is returning to pre-protest levels, it seems that maybe the protests weren't, actually, about the political and social rights of "all" Egyptians. Like so many other political movements that claim to be about advancing the rights of all people, perhaps this movement was, invisibly, really only about advancing the rights of some.

Another quote, from the article:

"Hiltermann, who is now the International Crisis Group's deputy programme director, says: 'It is usually the case that during a national crisis, women play a very active political and social role because everyone is on the barricade. But, when the crisis is over, women return to their original roles.'"

A revolutionary victory does not always mean a victory for women.

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