So Mubarak is gone and certainly it is good to finally be rid of someone who has consistently abused the human rights of the citizens of Egypt. But it is not at all clear yet whether those that take his place will be better, particularly for women. That is something that we still don’t know, so it feels premature to truly celebrate.
While reports from Amnesty put great stock in the presence of women in Tahrir Square as boding well for women’s human rights going forward in Egypt and Foreign Policy in Focus gleefully talks about Egyptian “Riot Grrls” (what riot, where?), there is no real evidence at this point that indicates that violations of women’s human rights will be substantively addressed or ended by a new government. In any case, we need to have a far more nuanced analysis than simply saying that it is great that women are visible in the uprising. Here are some good beginnings to that crucial conversation:
As Egyptian journalist Manar Ammar writes,
Amidst the violence, women are standing strong. Leading on the frontlines, reporting updates on social media sites, tending to the wounded, and fighting thugs.
In yet another stab to women’s rights, women have been overlooked in the opposition coalition. Despite massive female participation at the protests, all 10 individuals taking over leadership of the movement are male.
Altmuslimah talks about sexual harassment in Egypt and how it has been a factor in women’s participation in past protests and why this time has been different,
These protests have become a tipping point of Egyptian women’s civic participation for a number of reasons. Even with a quota, a paltry 1.8 percent of the seats in Egypt’s People’s Assembly are held by women. Opposition groups, who normally organized such protests in the past, claimed that this number would rise if regime change took place, but their assurances seemed spurious. Women whose needs were not reflected in the policies of these opposition groups had little reason to take the risk of joining in potentially violent protests—police usually hastened to fence in the demonstrators, and confrontations between the two would quickly degenerate into violence.
The most recent protests, however, appear to be an organic, grassroots movement, independent of any political groups; suddenly, women feel that rallying against Mubarak is not only worth the risk, but capable of producing real change.
The essay goes on to look at how the economic disenfranchisement of Egyptian men has been an important part of why previous protests have been marked by sexual harassment and is well worth reading in its entirety here.
Lesley Abdela examines how women have fared in the aftermath of other political uprisings and how UN Security Council Resolution 1325 could be an extremely useful framework and tool for women in Egypt,
Unfortunately a balance between men and women deciding Egypt’s future in concert seems unlikely. More common is the situation of boots-on-the-ground that often plays itself out in the transitional period after deadly conflict: predominantly male leaders grab or gain access to formal political and economic power and impose their agenda from the top down. This predominantly male world, with its hierarchies and ranks is inhabited by existing or former political party and religious leaders, high-ranking military officers, government ministers, diplomats, Mafia types and businessmen who succeeded under the former discredited regime. From Colombo to Kathmandu and Israel to Northern Ireland, at the formal talks and negotiations on the future of their country, women leaders in civil society, community-based organisations, NGOs, advocacy groups and women’s wings of political parties, women leaders are like a Greek chorus heard faintly, calling out an alternative script from the wings. The downstream consequences of these separate universes are far-reaching, and the inability to fully include women in transitional justice is striking. 50% of all deadly conflicts recur within 10 years.
There could be a lesson for Egypt in one of the greatest of the UN Security Council Resolutions, 1325 ‘Ensure women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision- making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution at all levels’. We have just passed the 10th anniversary of 1325. A similar Resolution was passed in 2000 by the European Parliament in support of 1325. A recommendation accompanying the EP resolution calls for at least 40% women’s representation in all levels of decision-making in peace–building. Elements of Resolution 1325 could be extremely opportune in bringing about a positive outcome to the street revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Finally, Nina Burleigh talks about why the current situation is dangerous for women and examines the U.S. position on human rights:
What no one is talking about, though, is how deeply dangerous this time is for Egyptian women…
…Whatever happens in Egypt, there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s pink. Despite the years of discussion around our “War on Terror,” we have not focused on the fact that misogyny is a fundamental pillar on which radical Islam is based…
…The issue gets very little discussion in the foreign policy community…
…The U.S. has had three female Secretaries of State in the last 15 years, yet the human rights of women remain unaddressed…
Clearly this is an ongoing conversation that must be first and foremost informed by the women of Egypt. While the situation is still fluid, it is essential that we be supportive of women human rights defenders in Egypt and insist that the international response, particularly from the U.S., be supportive of women’s human rights not just in rhetoric, but in deed.