By Marwa Rakha
Despite the political earthquake that has rid Egypt of its patriarch-in-chief, attitudes to gender remain largely the same. Now women must stand up for their rights.
Wednesday 13 July
As a woman, I would like to be realistic about my expectations after the revolution. Nothing changes overnight or over a few months. People’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour are very difficult to change.
Yes, we had an iconic revolution where a corrupt regime was toppled, but did that affect how men view women? No, it did not. Despite the fact that women stood next to men on Tahrir square chanting against corruption, men still do not see women as their partners – I do not like to use the word 'equal' to describe the ideal relationship between men and women.
Before the revolution, women were objectified and treated as things that should be covered up or eye-candy that should be exposed to please men.
Before the revolution, women were the victims of sexual harassment on the streets and on public transport. It is ironic how they were also blamed for it.
Before the revolution, your average Egyptian would not trust a political opinion voiced by a woman. “Women know nothing about politics and should stay out of the political arena,” they advocated.
Before the revolution, female political and public involvement was kept down to the bare minimum – in the parliament and in the judiciary system, for example.
Before the revolution, young girls were still subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) – even though there is a clear law against the practice.
Before the revolution, a mother’s most important concern was marrying off her daughter “before it is too late”.
Before the revolution, married women were subjected to emotional and physical abuse in the name of “obeying God”.
Economic factors cannot be ignored when talking about Egyptian women – many of them are dependent on ‘a man’. Social factors also play a role – no one wants to be the single spinster or the divorcee.
The secularists and the conservatives are two faces of the same coin when it comes to women. Most of the politicians in both currents objectify women – one side want to cover us and lock us up, while the other wants to strip us naked and show us off. Show me a party that does not focus on gender and I will listen to them with more interest.
During the revolution itself – those three weeks that made history – such points were eliminated. They just disappeared. Men and women stood together, hand in hand – as Egyptians regardless of their gender – and won the battle against corruption.
Now the revolution is over and everything is back to normal. Attitudes towards women have not been affected by the historic victory. After the revolution, how many girls decided to move out of their family homes and become fully independent? How many abused women ‘revolted’ against their abusive/negligent husbands? How many more women decided to pursue further education? How many additional women decided to join the workforce? How many men were able to link their personal revolution against a dictator in power and a potential revolution at home from their wives?
On 8 March 2011, many women’s rights activists marched through Tahrir Square – the same place where men and women stood together for three weeks – and demanded equality. They were attacked. Men chanted slogans against them like: “Men want to topple feminists” and “Since when did women have a voice?” They were asked to go home and obey God.
They were let down by the average Egyptian man and woman alike. Their demands simply did not ring any bells with the ‘submissive’ women who got used to being used and abused. Personally, I was against this march. I am against fighting for women who would not lift a finger to fight harassment or abuse.
As for sexual liberation, political and economic uprisings are in one box and social and cultural revolutions are in another box. The two boxes are so far apart that you can barely see one when you are standing on the other.
Patriarchal values, religion, and traditions are not as easy to topple. It was easier to break free from Mubarak’s regime than to break away from decades of preaching. Virtue, honour, and integrity lie between a woman's legs – this is the subliminal message that propagates through sermons, movies, songs, novels, or shows. The woman who has premarital sex is doomed and we get to see her suffering in whatever medium that message is disseminated.
Men, on the other hand, are reprimanded gently for their promiscuity and when they repent, they are rewarded by getting married to the pure, untouched, innocent virgin. Such hypocrisy and duality is a fact of our society and it will take more than a revolution to bring about sexual liberation, autonomy, and freedom of choice.
For real change to come about, it must come from within … from a woman’s own self-respect and self-esteem. Change will only happen when women have more faith in themselves, get a better education, have goals and interests other than men, and become more involved in the community.
This article is based on an interview with Marwa Rakha. Published here with her consent. ©Marwa Rakha.