Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Freedom Unless You’re Female

Taken on my walk through Tahrir on February 11, the day Mubarak resigned
When I walked through Tahrir Square on February 11, I watched the various women joining in the protests calling for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. The women came from different backgrounds; some simply wore the hijab (head scarf), others the niqab (revealing only the eyes) and some wore nothing covering their heads.

I passed through and thought to myself, “I wonder if they’ll fight this hard for women’s rights?” I asked my male friend who was with me in Tahrir if he, too, would join in on a later fight for women. He laughed.

After Mubarak resigned, parties erupted throughout the country and I joined some Egyptian friends at their home. At the end of the night, there was a group of about 10 and I posed this question. Two Egyptian females in their early- to mid-20s laughed and said, “What are you talking about? We have all the rights we want.” I looked at them puzzled as did others and my Egyptian friend Yasmine said, “What rights are you talking about?” Even the male Egyptians were laughing at these two females (kindly note, I was one of two foreigners present for this debate so it wasn’t fueled by Westerners).

Yasmine later told me that there was a group of men that have been protesting against women working in Egypt, claiming that the women are taking their jobs and money (called el Salfyean). The Egyptian Ministry of Labor and Immigration noted that the participation of women in Egypt’s workforce had risen from 15.4% in 2001 to 23% in 2006. Reda Marzouk Hussein Abu Ali said, "In the past, women were limited to jobs in the field of medicine and teaching. Nowadays they work as ambassadors and ministers." However, having an 8% increase in female workers are not the only rights that women want.

There was a movie released in January called 6,7,8 that detailed a woman being fed up with the harassment she faces on a regular basis and begins stabbing men in the groin who touch her inappropriately. Do you know that the Egyptian government was worried this was going to create a craze? Well, they should have been. And now with the crime rate heightening, I’m even on the lookout for a pocket knife (speaking of, let me know if you know where I can get a nifty one to keep either on my keychain or in my pocket still being able to inflict enough damage to an aggressor).

And yesterday, there was a call for a march for women’s rights in Tahrir (what else is new, there’s a call for a march to Tahrir everyday) to mark International Woman’s Day. Naturally, it resulted in a violent confrontation. Men began groping and harassing women, pulling at their clothes and shouting vulgar offenses. Al-Ahram Online quoted Mahmoud Ahmed as saying, "Egyptian women are too emotional. They are different from Western ladies.”

And just as I assumed, everyone is already saying that there are larger things that trump women’s rights. What you might find shocking is that I’m not in total disagreement. I was fearful that the January 25 protests were going to lead to new marches on Tahrir every time Egyptians were disgruntled and it has. Already I saw on someone’s Facebook yesterday calling for a protest to descend on Tahrir over the German University in Cairo. This person also doesn’t have a job – shocking – and has nothing better to do with his time.

I am not naïve to think that women’s rights are going to come to Egypt overnight, but as I’ve pointed out in previous blogs – Egyptian women in the 1930s had more rights than they do now.

Some say that women are too emotional. Dare you to tell that to a woman while she’s PMSing. True, some women are too emotional for politics, but it doesn’t mean that all women should be prohibited from partaking. And for those of you that believe this, have you ever cheated on an ex-girlfriend? How did she react? I bet she got you back in one way or another and you’ve been paying for it ever since.

Also, don’t get entirely disgruntled with someone saying that they’re ruled by the Qaran and the Qaran doesn’t allow women to rule over men. Southern Baptists also believe that a woman shouldn’t hold a position higher than a man. Hey boys, it’s not my fault that my pinky just so happens to have more intelligence than most men I come into contact with. That’s a matter that I guess you’ll just have to take up with God, Allah, Jehovah or whatever else you may call Him.

One of the best accounts I found of yesterday’s events is from The Guardian, “Egypt’s Revolution Means Nothing if its Women Aren’t Free.”

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