According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation 2013 survey, Egyptian women fare the worst amongst the 22 Arab states. The survey based its findings on a surge in sexual harassment, high rates of female genital mutilation (FGM), and the rise in violence after Egypt's revolutions.
Then early in March of this year, the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance claimed that 45 percent of Egypt’s married women work instead of their husbands, and that Egyptian women suffer human trafficking, child marriage, and beggary, yet another grim depiction of the state Egyptian women are in.
Impediments such as sexual harassment and FGM cannot be denied, though they are in decline in numbers and frequency. However, surveys on Egypt draw bleak, morbid pictures, neglecting to highlight the salient changes taking place today. These reports portray a submissive and compliant Egyptian woman who has neither a voice nor a presence. Violated, battered, and abused, she has no aspirations but continues to suffer silently.
But today we flip the coin to shed light on another Egyptian woman altogether — a truly remarkable one, the one who has succeeded in all fields and disciplines, and the one who attained her rights, established her presence, and is now on an equal footing with her fellow Egyptian male. In fact, gender parity is on its way to becoming a reality, despite the abovementioned disconcerting reports.
Prior to delving into the issue further, let’s pay tribute to the woman who stood her ground on 25 January 2011 and later on 30 June 2013. Standing shoulder to shoulder and side by side with male counterparts, she demanded change — a feat in itself — and got it.
Here are a few examples of Egypt’s capable women. Today, Egyptian women have made it to top prestigious positions. They stand at a par amongst ministers and parliamentarians. Three women joined Sherif Mansour’s cabinet: Ghada Waly, minister of social solidarity; Sahar Nasr, minister of international cooperation; and Nabila Makram, minister of immigration and Egyptian expatriates affairs.
These exemplary women bring expertise, dedication and perseverance to the table. Nasr accompanied the president on his trip to several Asian countries where she negotiated deals and signed protocols.
As for the 2016 Egyptian parliament, President El-Sisi needn’t have worried about fulfilling the women quota since many were chosen by the people already. All in all a total of 89 women have seats in the current parliament, an unprecedented number. President El-Sisi merely added some extraordinary women such as Anissa Hassouna and Lamees Gaber to complement the parliament even further.
We only need to look at a few sports events to see how far Egyptian women athletes have come. Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman achieved outstanding results at the recent 2015 FINA World Championships. She is considered Egypt’s best-ever female swimmer.
The paralympic weightlifter Fatma Omar won the World Lifting Championship in Dubai and Malaysia, qualifying for the summer 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This while several squash players rank amongst the top 10 women players in the world. Hard work and determination are the name of the game here.
In the field of music and opera, Soprano Fatma Saeed won two prizes at the 7th Leyla Gencer Voice Competition. At 23 she is being compared to the legendary Maria Callas. Fatma received a scholarship to study song at the world’s prestigious music academy, La Scala in Milan. Yes, her voice is exceptional, but discipline is key to train this voice to become what it is today.
As for entrepreneurial work, Egyptian women have shattered the glass ceiling overcoming barriers and challenges. On 28 February 2016, Lamees El-Hadidi on “Hona El Asema” hosted five businesswomen. These entrepreneurs had established and run businesses solely on their own effort: an NGO president, a food commodities producer, a light fixture designer, an imaging centre owner, and a stock marketeer. They work with tradespeople and labourers, negotiate with banks, utilise technology to market their products, and export their products to the world. Optimism is prevalent amongst them; for them, the glass ceiling does not exist.
Egyptian women continue to gain rights and play a pivotal role in society. Though they have yet to become judges or own businesses that trade on the stock market, they have become pilots, professionals, taxi drivers, and members of the police force. But most of all they defy the portrait depicted in some surveys.
It is high time we see the positive side of the coin.
The writer is author of Cairo Rewind: The first two years of Egypt's revolution.