Women have been big losers so far in the Egyptian revolution. Thousands of brave woman – from educated professionals to veiled housewives - turned out in Tahrir Square. But only a handful were included amongst the council revolutionary youth leaders. To add insult to injury, male leaders of new political parties, including liberals, placed women so low on party lists in parliamentary elections that they won only 2 per cent of the seats.
“Women are now being marginalized not just by the SCAF ( the transitional military council ruling Egypt) or by the Muslim Brotherhood, but by the patriarchal mindset of our society,” says Dalia Ziada, a dynamic young social activist and executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center, which promotes dialogue and democracy.
“Men don’t believe women are an essential part of democracy,” she says. “But there will be no Arab Spring without women.” When she ran for parliament on the ticket of a liberal party called Al Adl, or Justice, its leaders insisted a woman could not head the list in her district. “It doesn’t make sense,” she says, “to marginalize 50 per cent of the population and claim to have a democracy.” Too true.
Ziada has long campaigned against circumcision of young girls – a practice still widespread among all classes in Egypt. The practice is African, not Arab or Islamic in origin, she says, but its cultural hold is so strong that her mother had it done to her, even though her father opposed it.
Ziada is angered that members of new Islamist parties, which together hold a majority in parliament, have defended FMG (female genital mutilation). Islamist parlimentarians have also discussed rescinding a law that makes it easier for a woman to get a divorce. She worries about what will happen to women if an Islamist candidate wins upcoming presidential elections.
But Ziada believes that, since the revolution, Egyptian womens’ rights groups are getting stronger, propelled by their outrage at being pushed out of the democracy arena. She hopes Western governments will offer training courses for Egyptian women that will help them learn to campaign more effectively. She is fighting on.