Poll labelling Egypt worst for women in Arab world is 'misleading': Activists

Mariam Rizk , Wednesday 13 Nov 2013

A Thomson Reuters Foundation report stated that Egypt was the worst Arab country to be a woman

 Egyptian activists
Women shout during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Egyptian activists expressed dismay at a recent expert survey that ranked Egypt as the worst Arab country to be a woman, describing the label as "misrepresentative" and "inaccurate."

In a report released on Tuesday, a poll of gender experts surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation put Egypt last out of 22 Arab countries, just behind Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The report drew rankings from expert evaluations of different categories, including women's participation in politics, society, economy, and the family, as well as reproductive rights and violence against women.

Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital mutilation, a surge in violence and the growth of Islamism after the 2011 revolution were cited as factors behind Egypt's low score.

Some activists expressed shock that Egypt scored worse than conservative Saudi Arabia, where women's access to public space is limited and women need a male guardian's permission to work, travel abroad, open a bank account or enrol in higher education.

"Yes, I'm subject to harassment and physical violence but that's because I get on the street in the first place...I'm subject to annoyances while driving but that's because I'm allowed to drive," said human rights activist Ghada Shahbender, referring to the controversial Saudi ban on women drivers.

But many activists agreed that Egyptian women face serious problems, including rising sexual violence.

"The status of women rights in Egypt in terrible," said Mariam Kirollos, a feminist advocate. "Sexual violence has for sure increased in numbers and mob assaults," she added.

Other activists were less concerned with the rankings.

"I don't care how they frame it... they would not create something that is not there," Dalia Abdel-Hameed of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said.

"The numbers needed more accuracy but there was nothing that could have lifted Egypt to the top of the list."

The poll was based on surveys of 336 experts, including healthcare and aid workers, women’s rights activists, policy makers, journalists, academics, and lawyers at the regional, national and local levels.

Some activists questioned the methodology behind the rankings.

"The indicators they used are fairly reasonable but the sample is not representative. It's not a survey and does not depend on quantitative data. This is called a convenience sample," said Abdel-Hameed, who focuses on developmental gender programmes.

Some of the facts were just bypassed or not included in the survey, Kirollos said, giving the example of female-headed households, which she believes should have been taken in consideration when examining women's participation in the economy. According to the state statistics body, 16 percent of Egyptian families are mainly funded by women.

The report said it expected the status of women to get better three years after the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. Instead, women remain "struggling to maintain rights gained before the 25 January revolution."

Looking ahead, the CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation described the situation as "grim" to Ahram Online.

"Based on what the experts are saying, the outlook is obviously far from positive," Monique Villa said.

Abdel-Hameed believes a major part of solving the existing problems is to acknowledge and discuss them.

"We have achieved a lot in our field work... now there is no choice other than to continue fighting," she said.

Other activists played down the significance of the poll as anything other than an indication of problems.

"We should not overrate it or underrate it. We should read it critically and decide on the scope of the battle and the space we want on freedom, empowerment and presentation," Shahbender said.

After all it's a bunch of opinions," Kirollos said.

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