Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Do Egyptian women want equality?

Egyptian women
By: Kaitlyn Marshall
Edited by: Erica King

Debates about women’s issues and what a woman’s place is in the world are commonplace around the world today. The debate that continues in Egypt about the true place of a woman is one that has been going on for years, with no real answer in sight.

Enas El Masry is a 24-year-old woman living in Cairo, she has lived there her entire life. She studied at Cairo University and now works as a freelance journalist, traveling in and around Cairo for her work. Her work requires her to travel mainly by herself, a practice atypical for a woman of the region. Some women think she should be married by now, but she has never felt that pressure mainly because of how understanding her parents have been.

“My parents are exceptionally cool,” El Masry said, “ I was born on the luckier end of society not too much freedom, but not too much restraint.”
The influence of the family is being seen as having more of an impact on how Egyptian women act in their everyday lives.

Xousa, a 20-year-old Egyptian male student at the International University in New Cairo said “the family most of the time chooses the path for the infants and are very involved in a female's life.”

Parental involvement can sometimes pressure women to assimilate into more traditional roles, but it can also push them to pursue roles outside of the home. El Masry is aware of the situation she was born into. “It isn’t easy to be a woman in Egypt," she said, but “women are strong in Egyptian culture.”

The growing desires of women, especially young, college-educated women, to branch out beyond their parents’ homes is becoming more of an attainable goal than it was for generations before. Young, educated women are branching out and older women are encouraging them to do so. Family plays a large role in how women perceive themselves, however they can’t completely escape the pressures of society.

Egyptian scholar Yasmin Gamal, finds that religion still plays a huge role in society and influences the role that women are taking in their homes and in society.

“There is also the religious aspect with imams and preachers telling women that they play second fiddle to their men and that their number one job is to marry,” she said.

Religion is not completely out of the equation when it comes to the role women are playing in society.

As El Masry puts it, society and religion are very intertwined within Egypt saying, “it’s hard to see where society ends and religion begins.”
These stereotypes, Gamal said, seems to transcend class lines however, “Women want better for themselves but still seem to be their worst enemies and are not supportive of other women.”
El Masry is just one of many women from numerous backgrounds who are looking at their futures in a nontraditional way. Gamal did a study on the changing way that women living in Egypt think of themselves. She found that younger women between ages 25 and 40 are not caught up in traditional ways of thinking about the place of women in Egyptian society.

“It is still not easy for a woman to leave her parents house and live alone before marriage or travel abroad to pursue a career,” Gamal said. “Constraints like these keep a lot of women stuck or desperate for a way out by the means of marriage.”

Recently, three women were appointed to positions in the Egyptian parliament marking a shift in the political make up of the country. However, the question then arises, is this representation enough to make a difference in governmental policies within Egypt as it pertains to women. Ghada Waly, Nabila Makram, and Sahar Nasr all hold positions on the Egyptian parliament, and citizens like Miriam El Touny think this is nowhere near enough.

“The women ministers are 9% only of the cabinet, which is not a good representation of the role women play in our society,” El Touny said.

This is a shared sentiment by Loai Alaa an Egyptian resident who also has found that the number of female participants in government is not where it should be.

“The number of women that are joining the next parliamentary race is very low by any standard,” Alaa said. “Most of the older people I talk with find women incapable of being a good representative, the same goes if a woman is to be elected as a president.”

Women are looking for ways to advance outside of marriage and that may be difficult without changes in government and the societal make up of the country as a whole.

Sama Al-Masry, a belly dancer who wanted to be a part of the next Egyptian Parliament, was turned down after a higher court questioned her ethics. This is commonplace for women who have a desire to be a part of the government that has control over their lives.

However, women are looking to gain control of their lives not only through government, but through how they conduct themselves. The younger generation of Egyptian women is finding what makes it happy regardless of tradition and is finally being encouraged to pursue their goals.
“Nobody wants to be handcuffed, especially if you know that you’re handcuffed.” El Masry said. “I think the problem maybe rises more when you don’t know that you’re handcuffed and you don’t know what lies beyond your limitations.”

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