The Egyptian elections delivered a parliament that has one of the lowest rates of female representation in the world. Yet this is the parliament that expresses the political will of the people of Egypt. It may also be one that ignores the social realities of gender and of women’s political participation, says Hania Sholkamy.


"We are constantly aware of our gender and of being watched and judged because of it, so we end up "performing". But in taking to the streets there are no performative acts and there is no audience. Now I feel that there is no going back, After all, there is no text to follow, and no director. It is as it has always been: us and them", says Zainab Magdy


Despite an increasing feeling of empowerment experienced by many Egyptian women during and after the revolution, they continue to be sexually harassed and abused by men in public on a daily basis, as recent coverage of events in Cairo—from “virginity tests” conducted by the military to male assaults on female protesters—illustrated.

It is a problem that long predates the Arab Spring. In 2008, a survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) found that a staggering 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women were exposed to sexual harassment in Egypt.

The human body has been front and center of this revolution since the early days of its outbreak last January.  Even though the  leading slogan of the revolution,  

Vigilante gangs of ultra-conservative Salafi men have been harassing shop owners and female customers in rural towns around Egypt for “indecent behavior,” according to reports in the Egyptian news media. But when they burst into a beauty salon in the Nile delta town of Benha this week and ordered the women inside to stop what they were doing or face physical punishment, the women struck back, whipping them with their own canes before kicking them out to the street in front of an astonished crowd of onlookers.

Le long d’un printemps qui semblait fleurir bon la révolution, les femmes arabes ont nourri des espoirs et rêvé de changements. Elles ont parfois réussi à appeler publiquement de leurs vœux la fin des régimes corrompus et l’avènement de la démocratie. Hélas ! Si la rébellion arabe a témoigné parfois d’une présence féminine importante, comme en Tunisie, elle est restée ostensiblement masculine au Yémen et en Libye, voire en Egypte. Les images de certaines manifestantes voilées de pied en cap laissaient perplexe sur les intentions «révolutionnaires» de leurs auteures pendant que les instances et conseils révolutionnaires se succédaient en alignant les cravates et les barbes. D’autres signes devaient nous alerter sur ces soulèvements en passe de laisser les femmes sur le quai. Dans les manifestations, peu de revendications féministes ou de slogans pour l’égalité, pas de programme réclamant un changement significatif de la condition des femmes. Même les Tunisiennes, les plus actives dans le soulèvement contre Ben Ali, ont été éliminées de la course au pouvoir. Le gouvernement Kaïd Sebssi concédait un seul portefeuille important aux femmes, aucun parti n’était présidé par une figure féminine en vue et, sur les 1 700 listes candidates à la Constituante, on comptait juste 7% de femmes têtes de listes.

An administrative court ruled Tuesday that the Egyptian military had wrongly violated the human rights of female demonstrators by subjecting them to “virginity tests” intended to humiliate them.

The decision was the first to address a scandal arising from one of the military’s first crackdowns on protesters, on March 9, less than a month after it seized power with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. And the ruling was also the first time since the military takeover that a civilian court has attempted to exert judicial authority over the ruling generals, who have suspended the Constitution and set themselves up as the only source of law.

Local human rights watchdogs on Sunday accused the Egyptian military of systematically targeting female political activists, and demanded that Egypt’s military rulers admit to violations committed against demonstrators.

In a joint statement, five human rights organizations accused military rulers of exercising "unprecedented violence against protesters, with the targeting of female activists being a distinctive feature of the proceedings to disperse sit-ins, as depicted in pictures and video clips showing protesters being arrested, beaten, dragged and stripped of their clothes.”

While the Arab Spring has provided women with space to make their voices heard, “It has also become clear that there are real risks, especially [for woman] in places like Egypt and Libya,” said Head of Human Rights Watch’s Women Division Liesl Gerntholtz. 

“[Arab] women were visible, they went out and demonstrated for changes, but unfortunately right after the ousters of [Tunisian President Zeineddine] Ben Ali and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, we saw a backlash,” added her colleague, Nadya Khalife, the Middle East North Africa researcher in HRW’s women's rights division. 

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