The Arab Spring has fascinating and powerful demographic and gender undercurrents. Last year, demographer Richard Cincotta counseled observers
to pay close attention to the demonstrations: if they featured young women – as opposed to being dominated by young men and boys – it’s a sign that democracy may be on its way. To mark the occasion of International Women’s Day
last week, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program gathered observations from a cross-section of regional voices on how women have fared thus far.
Excerpted below is the entry from Moushira Khattab, former Egyptian ambassador to South Africa and the Czech and Slovak Republics, and former minister of family and population:
As the global community celebrates International Women’s Day, we must hail the heroic and pivotal role Egyptian women played to make the January 25th Revolution an inspiration for the world. They joined men and took to Tahrir Square calling for freedom, dignity, and social justice. They rallied around the cause of pushing the train of political change. One year later, Egyptian women find that the train of change has not only left them behind, but has in fact turned against them. It is ironic that the revolution that empowered a country, and made every Egyptian realize the power of their voice, stopped short of women’s rights. Sadly, the only march that was kicked out of Tahrir Square was that of women celebrating 2011 International Women’s Day. Women were beaten, subjected to virginity tests, and stripped of their clothes in the very same Tahrir Square.Download the full set of reflections from the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.
Dormant conservative value systems are being manipulated by a religious discourse that denies women their rights. Calls for purging the sins of the old regime necessitate a reminder of the positive outcomes of laws that, although enacted under that old regime, have liberated and enhanced women’s status, including prohibiting female genital mutilation and child marriage. We also need a reminder that such gains are only a step towards these rights, and are the outcome of collective hard work along generations. Against the background of parliamentary elections, defenders of women’s rights have backed down, while young revolutionaries don’t have women’s rights on their agendas. The most telling indicator is the shameful and meager representation of women in Egypt’s post-revolution parliament. Among a handful of elected female MPs, one declared that her top priority is to repeal the law granting women the right to seek divorce.
With religious parties controlling it, the question becomes: Will this parliament be willing and able to produce a constitution that guarantees equal rights to all Egyptians regardless of gender or religion? Dare we dream that Egyptians in 2012 could have a constitution equal to that put in place by South Africans in 1996?