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Egypt worst country in Arab world for women: Thomson Reuters Foundation survey

Experts says sexual harassment, patriarchal attitudes, Islamism, female genital mutilation make Egypt worst country in Arab world to be a woman; Comoros finishes top

Source : Thomson Reuters Foundation, Tuesday 12 Nov 2013
Egyptian women
Egyptian women line up outside a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (Photo: AP)
Views: 7137
Views: 7137

Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital mutilation, a surge in violence and the growth of Islamism after the January 2011 uprising have made Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, a poll of gender experts showed on Tuesday.

Discriminatory laws and a spike in trafficking of women also contributed to Egypt finishing bottom of 22 Arab states, the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey found.

Despite hopes that women would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the Arab Spring, they have instead been some of the biggest losers, as the revolts have brought conflict, instability, displacement and a rise in Islamist groups in many parts of the region, experts said.

"We removed Mubarak from our presidential palace but we still have to remove the Mubarak who lives in our minds and in our bedrooms," Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy said, referring to Egypt's toppled dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

"As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution, one against the various dictators who've ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruin our lives as women," she added.

The foundation's third annual women’s rights poll ( gives a comprehensive snapshot of the state of women’s rights in the Arab world three years after the events of 2011 and as Syria’s conflict threatens further regional upheaval.

Iraq ranked second-worst after Egypt, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Comoros, where women hold 20 percent of ministerial positions and where wives generally keep land or the home after divorce, came out on top, followed by Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

The poll by Thomson Reuters' philanthropic arm surveyed 336 gender experts in August and September in 21 Arab League states and Syria, which was a founding member of the Arab League but was suspended in 2011.

Questions were based on provisions of the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which 19 Arab states have signed or ratified.

The poll assessed violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy.


Women played a central role in Egypt's uprising but activists say the rising influence of Islamists, culminating in the election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi as president, was a major setback for women's rights.

Morsi was toppled in July, but hopes for greater freedom have been tempered by the daily dangers facing women on the street, experts said.

A UN report on women in April said 99.3 percent of women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt. Human Rights Watch reported that 91 women were raped or sexually assaulted in public in Tahrir Square in June as anti-Morsi protests heated up.

“The social acceptability of everyday sexual harassment affects every woman in Egypt regardless of age, professional or socio-economic background, marriage status, dress or behavior,” said Noora Flinkman, communications manager at HarassMap, a Cairo-based rights group that campaigns against harassment. “It limits women’s participation in public life. It affects their safety and security, their sense of worth, self-confidence and health.”

Respondents also cited high rates of forced marriage and trafficking.

“There are whole villages on the outskirts of Cairo and elsewhere where the bulk of economic activity is based on trafficking in women and forced marriages,” said Zahra Radwan, Middle East and North Africa programme officer for the Global Fund for Women, a US-based rights group.

Female genital mutilation is endemic in Egypt, where 91 percent of women and girls - 27.2 million in all - are subjected to cutting, according to UNICEF. Only Djibouti has a higher rate, with 93 percent of women and girls cut.

In Iraq, women’s freedoms have regressed since the US-led 2003 invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the poll showed.

A decade of instability and conflict has affected women disproportionately. Domestic abuse and prostitution have increased, illiteracy has soared and up to 10 percent of women - or 1.6 million - have been left widowed and vulnerable, according to Refugees International.

Hundreds of thousands of women displaced internally and across borders are vulnerable to trafficking, kidnapping and rape, the UN refugee agency says.

In Saudi Arabia, ranked third worst, experts noted some advances. The kingdom remains the only country that bans female drivers but cautious reforms pushed by King Abdullah have given women more employment opportunities and a greater public voice.

Since January, 30 women have been appointed to the 150-member Shura Council, the nearest thing Saudi Arabia has to a parliament - but the council has no legislative or budgetary powers.

Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system forbids women from working, travelling abroad, opening a bank account or enrolling in higher education without permission from a male relative.

“Saudi society is a patriarchal society and all its laws pertain to the rights of men,” said a Saudi legal advisor who defends victims of domestic abuse. “The woman is considered second class.”


Syria's civil war has had a devastating impact on women at home and in refugee camps across borders, where they are vulnerable to trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence, experts said.

Rights groups say forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad have targeted women with rape and torture, while hardline Islamists have stripped them of rights in rebel-held territory.

“The Syrian woman is a weapon of war, subjected to abductions and rape by the regime and other groups,” a Syrian women’s rights campaigner said.

The poll highlighted a mixed picture for women's rights in other Arab Spring countries.

In Yemen, ranked fifth worst, women protested side-by-side with men during the 2011 revolution and there is a 30 percent quota for women in a national dialogue conference convened to discuss constitutional reforms.

But they face an uphill struggle for rights in a largely conservative country where child marriage is common - there is no minimum marriage age - and the US State Department says 98.9 percent of women have faced harassment on the streets.

In Libya, ranked 14th for women's rights, experts voiced concern over the spread of armed militias and a rise in kidnapping, extortion, random arrests and physical abuse of women. They said the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi two years ago had failed to enshrine women's rights in law.

Women in 12th-ranked Bahrain are more active in political life than in many Gulf states, but experts said sectarianism was a barrier to rights following the Sunni regime's crushing of a pro-democracy uprising by majority Shias in 2011.

In Tunisia, ranked best among Arab Spring nations, women hold 27 percent of seats in national parliament, but polygamy remains widespread, contraception is illegal and inheritance laws are biased towards males.

Along with Syria, all Arab League member states except Somalia and Sudan have signed or ratified CEDAW.

The Palestinian territories - in the absence of recognised country status - have symbolically endorsed the convention.

But protection offered by CEDAW is superficial, experts said. Signatories may raise reservations against any article that contradicts Sharia (Islamic law), a country's family code, personal status laws or any piece of national legislation.

Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is leading the way on women’s rights in the Arab world, the poll found.

Women are not under pressure to give birth to boys over girls. Contraception is widely accepted and supported by state-run education campaigns, while property is usually awarded to women after divorce or separation, experts said.

HOW COUNTRIES RANK (from worst to best):

22. Egypt
21. Iraq
20. Saudi Arabia
19. Syria
18. Yemen
17. Sudan
16. Lebanon
15. Palestinian territories
14. Somalia
13. Djibouti
12. Bahrain
11. Mauritania
10. UAE
9. Libya
8. Morocco
7. Algeria
6. Tunisia
5. Qatar
4. Jordan
3. Kuwait
2. Oman
1. Comoros

For full poll coverage, including interactive info-graphics, visit

Short link:


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13-11-2013 10:28pm
Under the section for Tunisia, you say polygamy is legal??? Where is that from?? It is ILLEGAL! Has been since late 1950's/early 1960's. Made illegal by Bourguiba. Also contraception is legal for married woman. However abortion is available to anyone at any gynaecologist, same as contraception for married woman. I am Tunisian and been across many the Arab world, and find we have far better woman rights than any other country I do agree with the inheritance, however it is first and foremost a Muslim country therefore follows shariah law for inheritance. (Please not I am a Muslim, but not a practicing so I am not justifying this!) I would just like to know where the facts ce from whilst doing this survey??
Comment's Title

12-11-2013 08:21pm
Because of Mubarak and Sisi
Because of Mubarak and Sisi we lost every chance to fix this country! Wake up Egyptians! Stop believing everything you read. Morsi was our chance to fix the Mistakes of Mubarak. And now we are stuck with worse...SISI!!! The morality of Egypt has sunk so low that too many people cannot even distinguish truth and falsehood anymore! SISI is a killer!!! He mass murdered up to 5000 innocent, peaceful protesters! Stand up and do the right thing! Stop Sisi!!!! He's destroying EGYPT!!! 30 years of Mubarak has left this country in a huge mess. Now it's been only a few months and SISI has destroyed even MORE!!! Do you want the situation to get worse?! WAKE UP EGYPT!!! SISI is a killer and a liar!!!
Comment's Title
12-11-2013 11:53pm
The truth from falsehood?....confusion??
No confusion outside the brainwashed brotherhood sheep. He'll even your friend the Islamist salacious's are exposing your brootherhood of spreading false information. Five thousand mass murdered?? Where do you get that number? Resistance and violence begets violence right back, that is why your terrorist members waisted their lives.

12-11-2013 10:02am
That's not accurate...
With all respect for this country, but i think 1st place should take Afghanistan (which is not even listed) where women has no rights at all...
Comment's Title
12-11-2013 04:35pm
Poll in Arab Countries Only
This poll was related only to Arab countries and, of course, Afghanistan is not one of them.

12-11-2013 02:03am
Just another good reason....
Islamist radicals, be it Nour / Muslim brotherhood / Salafist... All need to be decimated, to clean Egypt from its primitive extremists. It's time to bring civility in Egypt. The ugly farce was, when the brotherhood pretended they actually care about women by organizing a demonstration for women. It really had nothing to do with women in general. The intent was to free the handful of their misguided women followers from jail. I hope soon Egypt will get out of this shameful list by actually improving things for its women
Comment's Title

12-11-2013 12:37am
Saudi Arabia
Without saying the situation for women in Egypt is good but I doubt women are better off in Saudi Arabia. No driving, no working, not leaving the house without a male. Come on, Egypt is much better. Though the intuition is tough and there is much to improve.
Comment's Title
14-11-2013 02:22am
common !
any country much better than egypt !

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