Bring Back Cleopatra

Forgive me if I do not share in the media’s excitement over recent events in Egypt. Not only do we have no idea what sort of regime is going to be ushered into power, but until the women of Islamic countries rise up and demand to be given the same freedoms and opportunities as their male brethren, any so-called “revolution” will be meaningless.

The recent news of a brutal sexual assault and beating of CBS correspondent, Lara Logan, highlights the need for a newly formed Egyptian government to seriously consider how it plans to move forward with advancing the societal status of women. Will they institute progressive reforms, setting a much-needed example for the rest of the Islamic world, or will women continue to be regarded as second-class citizens, and therefore dooming Egypt to remain part of the third world?

According to Fatma Khafagy of The Association of Legal Aid for Women in Cairo, the legal system in Egypt purports to offer women legal rights within the public arena, but in reality, women’s rights are greatly restricted within the privacy of society. Male polygamy is permissible, and a husband may divorce his wife for no good reason. Women are required to be subservient to men as the men are assumed to be the sole providers for the family and as such are granted greater privileges as individuals due to this role. Wives, mothers and daughters are not treated as individuals, and are expected to obey the patriarch, who, along with other male members of the family, also control and monitor the women’s sexuality.

Here are a few alarming statistics to consider.

  • 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reported having been sexually harassed [2008 Egyptian Center for Women’s rights survey].
  • Female genital mutilation in Egypt is reported to affect 90-97% of women [2005 Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights report on Violence Against Women].
  • Although reliable data is lacking, several NGOs (including the Hope Village Society, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, and the Alliance for Arab Women) reported that child marriages, including temporary marriages intended to mask prostitution, are a significant problem [2006 U.S. State Department].
  • Egyptian Adult Literacy Rate – Male: 83%, Female: 59.4% [2005 Central Intelligence Agency].
  • Egypt is a transit country for women trafficked from Eastern European countries to Israel for sexual exploitation, and is a source for children trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Egypt made no discernible efforts to punish trafficking crimes in 2007 and the Egyptian penal code does not prohibit all forms of trafficking [2008 Central Intelligence Agency].
  • 1 in 3 married women have been victims of domestic violence. Section 60 of the Egyptian Criminal Code states that “the provisions of the penal code shall not apply to any deed committed in good faith, pursuant to a right determined by virtue of the Shari’a.” This law, applying to any act of violence committed in “good faith,” has been used to justify domestic violence. Under the law, acts committed in “good faith” are described as circumstances in which: 1. the beating is not severe; 2. the beating is not directed at the face; and 3. the beating is not aimed at vulnerable “fatal blow areas.” [2004 Human Rights Watch]

A study of Ancient Egypt by the University of Chicago’s Janet H. Johnson notes that Egyptian women were, among other things, able to own property and land, enter into private contracts, and serve on juries, which put them on an equal legal footing with men.

Sounds like in at least one regard, the Ancient Egyptians were much more enlightened than their counterparts today.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011



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