Written by Mariem ELTagoury
*Please note that names of places & people are kept discreet for privacy issues. Also the use of Franco Arab in this article is to deliver the detailed picture of incidents.
It’s the end of December. I’ve pulled out and decorated my tree, it rained, snow has hit Cairo, Christmas has arrived (still waiting for Egyptian Christmas coming ahead on the 7th of January) and Egyptians have finally got their wish of having “real winter weather”. To keep it short, there are so many reasons to be happy & grateful and it didn’t seem right to go on ranting about our lack of progress with women rights this week. So I decided to list down all the things we’ve been blessed with as Egyptian women; a quick look back at the long struggle for Egyptian women’s rights that got us to where we stand today.
Here’s my list:
1. In the late 1860s, Rifa’a Al-Tahtawi, yes the Imam himself! And Egyptian writer, teacher, translator, Egyptologist and renaissance intellectual, released the book “Al-murshid al-amin li’l banat wa ‘l-banin” which addresses all aspect of education, and emphasis on equal education for boys and girls; this resulted in him being called a pioneer of women’s liberation.
Your brain just boggled! Keep reading; this is no history class!
2. In 1910, Hoda Sha`arawi, a pioneering Egyptian feminist leader and nationalist, opened a school for girls where she focused on teaching academic subjects rather than practical skills such as midwifery. Yes, there was a time when reading and writing weren’t considered necessary for girls. What would you need it for?! Getting babies?! In 1923, she founded and became the first president of the Egyptian Feminist Union. After returning from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress in Rome, she removed her face veil in public for the first time, a signal event in the history of Egyptian feminism. Women who came to greet her were shocked at first then broke into applause and some of them removed their veils. *sigh* I’m sure she turned over in her grave when the new millennium kicked in – if you know what I mean!
3. In 1911, Malak Hifni Nasif, Egyptian women’s rights activist and wife of head of a Bedouin tribe in Fayyūm, *putting all you fancy city girls to shame* presented the first 10 feminist demands to the Egyptian Legislative Assembly, at the first Egyptian parliament of the 29th of April. All demands were rejected.
4. In 1919, saw the largest women’s anti-British demonstration. It was women “of the people” who became martyrs to the cause, like Hamida Khalil, who was shot dead by British forces in front of the Al-Hussein Mosque on 14 March 1919. Revolutions back then were serious business not a cool friends outing to the nearest square!
5. We are lucky to go to college! In 1929, a girl called Suheir al-Qalamawi became the first in any Arab country to be allowed to attend university. Al-Qalamawi also became the first to obtain a masters degree in Arabic literature in 1937 and she was later appointed head of the State-owned National Authority for Writing, Translation and Publishing. She would later break ground as a university professor.
6. During the 1940s, Duriya Shafiq became the first Egyptian woman to receive a Doctorat d’état from the Sorbonne in Paris. Upon her return, the dean of the faculty of arts in Cairo University rejected hiring her in the university because “he cannot have a beautiful woman on his staff”. *inducing the biggest poker face ever known to humanity*
7. In 1949, legalized prostitution was abolished, concluding a 35- year campaign by Egyptian feminists. *WOT! Prostitution was legal?! Makes perfect sense to me, what other job would women be qualified for in a man’s world!!*
8. In 1951, Duria Shafiq and 1500 women stormed the parliament demanding full political rights, a reform of the Personal Status Law and equal pay for equal work. *women back then could put up a useful fight* After a week, the Council granted Egyptian women the right to vote and stand for parliament. A year later the Free Officers’ Revolution succeeded, the constitution was abolished and political activity in general was circumscribed.
9. In 1956, the new state granted women the right to vote, 32 years after feminists had made their first demands for suffrage. i.e. the right to pink-stained finger selfies
Equality of opportunity was explicitly stated in the 1956 Egyptian constitution, forbidding gender-based discrimination. Labor laws were changed to ensure women’s standing in the work force and maternity leave was legally protected. *imagine if you had a baby you’d just have to be thrown out of your job for going into labor!*
10. In 1957, Rawya Ateya, the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Liberation Army, was elected as the first female Member of Parliament in the Arab world. *zaghroota*
11. In 1962, Hikmat Abu Zayd, an Egyptian politician and academic, became the first female cabinet minister in Egypt. *all hail the 60s!*
12. 1979 saw several highlights for feminism:
Under President Sadat, with pressure from his wife, some headway was achieved when Sadat issued a decree law revising the Muslim Personal Status Code which included expansions of women’s ability to initiate divorce, placed some controls on the practice of polygamy, and expanded entitlements to women as divorcees. (Remember the huge propaganda for “the apartment is a right to the wife”, ya that was part of it.)
• The law was changed to provide for 30 reserved seats for women in The People’s Assembly. The law of local government was amended to provide that 10% to 20% of the seats on all local councils must be reserved for women. *finally, some representation!*
• Dr. Aisha Rateb, jurist, diplomat and professor was appointed as the first Egyptian woman to become an ambassador. *and all hell broke loose* She was made Egyptian ambassador to Denmark from 1979 to 1981, followed by a period as ambassador to Germany from 1981 to 1984. She was also the first female professor of International Law at Cairo University, and the first to apply for the post of a judge, but she was rejected for political reasons regarding her gender.
13. In 1980, The Shura Consultative Council was formed with 7 women among its 910 original members. *finally in with the big guys!*
14. In 1999, Egyptian women’s groups successfully lobbied to change a law that forgave rapists if they married their victims. *no we’re not kidding; the Fatma storyline was a reality in Egypt. And no they don’t look like Kareem* The Ministry of Social Affairs later put in place 150 family counseling centers to help rape victims.
15. In 2003, Tahani al-Gebali, the current Vice President of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, was appointed by President Hosni Mubarak to her office becoming the first woman to hold a judiciary position in Egypt. She remained so until 32 Egyptian women were appointed to various judicial positions in 2007. *and I danced all night*
16. In 2005,a law was passed granting women to the right to no-contest divorce (Elkhole’a) *evil laugh*
17. Today, there’s only a few days left before we vote for the new referendum, I’m not much of a political person, and there’s finally an article that mentions the state protecting women from all forms of violence, an Egyptian woman can now pass down her nationality to her child just like a man and education is finally compulsory until the end of secondary school stage or its equivalent – it used to be compulsory till primary school stage only! You can read about the women’s articles’ details here. Lets make a difference and turn those polls to our side 😉
So here’s to a better future, a better year, with better opportunities, rights and dreams coming true. Cheers Cairenes & have a very happy new year!
If you want to read more about how women got empowered in Egypt:
– 11 Things To Learn From Hoda EL-Shaarawy’s Life, my own perceptions.
– Amina Al-Said, first woman magazine editor in the Middle East.
– Shaykh Mohamed Abduh‘s contribution to women rights.
– Al-Imam Al- Tahtawi‘s contribution the women rights.
– The 20th century was a victory for Egyptian women rights.
– Women securing more and more rights in the Middle East including our Egypt.
What do you think?
Apologies if I missed out any of your feminist heroes or any other major events; I was trying so hard, and epically failing, to stick to a word count. In your opinion, what event/s changed Egyptian women’s fate in history? Who is your favorite feminist hero? How do you think Egyptian women can change their future in 2014? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!