Violence Against Women in Egypt: Will It Ever Come to an End? (guest Blogger)Posted on the 16 March 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
Egypt is a signatory of the Convention on all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It has duly adopted the United Nations Declaration on Violence against Women of 1993, however, despite these facts; the rates of Violence Against Women (VAW) are on the rise. Negative behaviors directed at women exist in different forms; the most common of which involve wife battering and sexual harassment. It is widely argued that many of the forms of violence directed at women stem from deeply rooted cultural norms and taboos, which were internalized and thus, became acceptable over time.
According to the 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), approximately a third of married women have been physically abused by their husband (USAID, 2009). However, for the past years, many women were discouraged from going to police stations to file cases against an abusive husband. Reasons revolving around not reporting range between beliefs that they will not receive appropriate support to fearing the social and economic implications of divorce – a stigma Egyptian women strive to avoid–, which could be a resultant of them reporting.
Physical violence against women has further extended to the Egyptian streets. According to a study conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights (ECWR), 83% of surveyed female respondents were harassed, and 98 % of the surveyed foreign female respondents were subjected to harassment (Harass Map). Those women who went against the norm and reported to police have achieved results and received legal support. For example, in June 2008, Noha Rushdi Saleh; a film director, activist and a member of ECWR, was groped and harassed by a truck driver while walking in the street. When she had decided to go to the police to file a case, passers-by had told her not to do so, accusing her that she was initially the cause of this incidence. Saleh Insisted on dragging the man to the police station in order to file a case. At the beginning, the police officer refused to start an investigation, but with the perseverance of Saleh and her strong will, the accused received a statement of three years in jail (“Prison for street,”). Another example is the recent assault that happened to a female student by the campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC). The student was “grabbed” and her clothes got torn off, and was left with scratches on her face. In response, AUC had to take stricter security measures to ensure student’s safety (El Gibaly, 2011). Stories of many women and girls who were subjected to assault in public were also showcased in a recent Egyptian movie entitled “678”.
The women’s rights agenda has witnessed improvements over the past decade after the establishment of the National Council for Women. Furthermore, a draft law was previously submitted to the lately dissolved parliament, to criminalize the act of harassing women and girls on the streets. However, culture still comes into play. The main problem is prevalent in the perceived social roles of women and girls and the fostered culture in the households, particularly the least fortunate. The last women’s peaceful demonstration in Tahrir square on March 8, 2011 that coincided with the International Women’s Day serves as strong proof. Men started grouping together to harass women, verbally and physically, asking them to actually leave the square. Many of them denied the rights that women were coming to ask for, not accepting the idea of ever having a woman president. Most arguments are attributed to Islam, although Islam has granted women all their rights, including the right to lead. Women at earlier Islamic times led an army, ran their own business, and were consulted in all affairs. With the rising fundamentalism, that might be a product of the Wahabi movements initiated at the gulf, as well as the increased illiteracy that has reached almost 48% in Egypt, and hence, strong misconceptions about women’s roles are being propagated. This might imply that Egyptian men do not have the willingness to question women’s roles and rather prefer the easy way out by attributing their reasons to religious beliefs that to them are not questionable.
A culture and legal environment that fosters and enforces values related to non-violence against women is needed, as indicators of inclusiveness, participation, and equal opportunities for women are not positive at the moment. This is manifested in the recently proposed amendments to Egypt’s constitution that deprive women from the right to run for political office as president of the state. The proposed amendment to article 75 states that the upcoming president “cannot be married to a non-Egyptian woman”(The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights). The phrase implies that nomination is only limited to men, which is against practicing citizenship rights for women. It is thus evident that a lot still needs to be done to advance women’s rights in Egypt. Strong pressure groups and coalitions should work collaboratively to voice out women’s concerns. The religious discourse also must be changed to a more open one that includes the opinions of enlightened religious leaders as well.
USAID 2009. Egypt Violence Against Women Study: Literature review of Violence Against Women, April 2009. available at: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADQ891.pdf
Statement The Constitutional Amendments Exclude Women. Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 02 March 2011. available at: http://ecwronline.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=438&Itemid=64
Harass Map: executive summary. available at: http://blog.harassmap.org/wpcontent/uploads/2010/08/harassmap_executive_summary.pdf
=Prison for street harasser in Egypt. available at:
El Gibaly 2011. When gender equality becomes a reality. Caravan, The American University in Cairo. March 11th, 2011. available at:http://academic.aucegypt.edu/caravan/story/when-gender-equality-becomes-reality
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