For the past century, Egypt has been a frontrunner in attempting to developing resistance to feminism. And yet, to this day, the fight is far from over.
According to the UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities), Egypt ranks second in the world in terms of sexual harassment. Another UN study conducted also found that 99.3 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. With a resurgence in the feminist movement happening right now in Egypt, let’s take a look at a short history of feminism throughout history in the country.
The revolution of 1919 against British occupation in Egypt and Sudan was the first time women participated in such demonstrations. In the early 1900s, Egyptian nationalists were all under the notion that independence from the oppressive presence of Europe was the way to move forward. Furthermore, it was agreed that there could be no improvement to the state unless there was improvement to the position of women at the time. This political anger was the first time women could take action in their country. There were parades in the streets demanding independence and freedom from British rule, as well as boycotts of goods from Britain and organized strikes. These rallies are commonly seen as what led to the birth of Egyptian feminism.
Following the end of the second World War, in 1942, the Egyptian Feminist Party was initiated. It demanded absolute equality between the two sexes in employment, education, and political representation. However, in 1952, King Farouk was overthrown, and the army came into power. As a result, they called for the termination of all political parties. As such, many independent women’s movements were forbidden.
In 1972, a book was released titled Women and Sex, written by Nawal El Saadawi. It was a symbol for the resurrection of the feminist movement. In it, El Saadawi called for a universal standard of honor for men and women, and condemned several social practices which used religion as a justification to suppress women’s rights, such as female genital mutilation. This custom, still common but becoming increasingly denounced, refers to procedures involving removal of parts of the female genitalia, strictly for cultural reasons. For them, it signifies chastity and beauty. The book was received negatively by Egyptian society, as religious fundamentalism was on the rise at the time.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, feminism has seemingly become a matter of great importance in Egypt, but the state has, for the most part, failed to meet expectations. Only in 2014 did sexual harassment become an official criminal offense, and victims are often shamed due to the culture in place. Though efforts are continued, a lot of work is yet to be completed for equality to be in place.