By: Samantha Hintzen
It was only a year ago in May 2013 that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality report stated that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped since the onset of the 2011 revolution. And in fact 50 percent of women reported increased harassment after the revolution. Thus, by this report it seems as though the efforts of women during the Egyptian revolution have been forgotten by the state, and that conditions for women have only decreased. And as if this isn’t sad enough, the Egyptian political scheme warranted victims of sexual crimes as the ones who should be deemed guilty, and often allows the offenders to get off scott-free.
Egyptian women played a crucial role in the 2011 Egyptian uprising, and its crucial to note that this is not the first case in Egyptian history of women adhering to the call for freedom. In fact, Egyptian feminism has predated the Egyptian republic. Feminism has always played a role in Egypt, and in fact is home to one of the most influential feminists from the Arab world–Huda Shaarawi. She and other feminists played a crucial role in the nationalist cause of Egyptians in the early 18th century, and again during the Arab Spring we saw again women playing a crucial role in the revolutions.
Now, it has been a year since the 2011 report, and finally the Egyptian government is recognizing the vital role of women in the new Egyptian state. With the newly amended constitution, which passed with 98 percent of the vote in January, women have been given greater security within the state. In addition, for the first time an Egyptian political party in Cairo (called Dostour) has a female leader Hala Shukrallah. And even more recently, on the 7May 2014, the Egyptian cabinet has passed a law to increase the security of women in the state. This new law is labeled as an anti-sexual harassment law. This new law punishes sexual harassment with a prison sentence, a fine or both!
These could be labeled as small changes, or as many critics argue that they will never be truly enforced by the public. But I believe these are very significant changes that the world is watching. Egypt is becoming a center to be observed for improved women rights. Despite how minimal a voice, there is a voice that is being heard, and perhaps Egypt will be able to set an example for the rest of the MENA region. The same 2011 United Nations report states that only 19 percent of Egyptian women actually report to authorities when an assault has occurred. Therefore, there needs to be a greater sense of security for women to be able to speak up and attain justice.