More Than 16 Days: What looms on the Egyptian horizon for women?

 Day 2 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by Ola, currently an undergraduate in the Huntsman program at the University of Pennsylvania, studying economics at Wharton Business School and international relations at the College of Arts & Sciences. An unapologetic interdisciplinarian, Ola’s research interests lie along the lines of social entrepreneurship in the MENA region, the role of Islam in economic development, migration etc. Ola has worked with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. When she is not globetrotting, Ola is drawn into the world of literature, with the right cup of tea.

Ever since the Muslim Brotherhood- al-ikhwan al-muslimun, came to power in June 2012, it seems as though they are shaping a government that looks less and less like a liberal democracy. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has also sparked the emergence of a new group of female politicians, headed by Azza el-Garf, who are intent on reviving their imagined construct of what is known as the “authentic” Islam. From denying that sexual harassment exists in Egypt, to supporting female genital mutilation- Egyptian women have found themselves in an awkward, troubling position after the revolution.

While many continue to discuss the various shortcomings of Morsi’s 100 days plan, not enough is being said about the proposed constitutional changes. Islamists make up the majority of the constitution-writing assembly, and surely, they are leaving their imprint. Of the six women on the 100-member assembly writing the constitution, three are Brotherhood members. There is a tug-of-war between the Islamists and the liberals on whether equality between men and women should be subject to the provisions of Islamic law, Shariah. Truly, what this means is that international treaties such as CEDAW- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, are under the threat of being trashed. Islamists see CEDAW as a threat to the “spirit of Islam”. The absence of such a framework only serves to assist the restriction of women’s rights. Often, CEDAW is viewed to be a Western style convention that is unnecessarily and unjustifiably associated with moral decay and decadence.

Side by side in Tahrir Square, women protested alongside men. Women were at the forefront of the struggle for democracy. With all these developments, the efforts of Egyptian women- like those of Iranian women in 1979 are being pushed to the background. The cause of Egyptian women is in peril. Will the same values of dignity, equality and opportunity which drove Egyptians to the streets be sustained in the struggle against those who wish to confine the role of women childbearing and motherhood?

Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, had the vision of seeing “the Islamic banner wave supreme over the human race”. Today, such a vision only serves to create a disjuncture between the desires of the people and those in rule. From the assault of Christian women on the metro, talks of annulling the “unconditional divorce law”- khula, to the revival of the public support for virginity tests- much looms on the horizon, but a convergence of the priorities of both groups doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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