Feminist testimonies from Egypt: A series
 
 
International Women's Day, Tahrir Square, March 2011 - Photograph: Laura Bird
 

A feminist in Egypt has a wide range of choice of areas and subjects on which to focus her energies. In advance of International Women’s Day, Mada Masr reached out to several women — some of whom have been active for years and some whom discovered themselves as feminists in the wake of the January 2011 revolution — to ask what made them choose to focus on the issues they’ve worked on.

The momentum that the feminist movement in Egypt gathered after 2011 was one of the most important gains of the revolution. And despite the persecution of two of the most prominent women’s rights defenders in Egypt — Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan — the crackdown on many human right organizations, and the threat to close down a number of prominent women’s organizations, the momentum has continued.

For hundreds of young women, the revolution constituted a rebirth. Yet, this has garnered, and maybe intentionally so, little attention among the various stories of the revolution.

In the intervening years as much as today, groups of young women from all over Egypt began to pose new questions and express concerns related to their lives in a society that was and is violently changing amid escalating oppression.

The questions were varied, but here is a sample: If the travel of young women to Cairo for work or study is a reality, why does society reject the idea of their independence? If the law criminalizes female circumcision, why were they circumcised as children? Why are their movements constrained. Why do they watch their friends in villages and cities through Egypt marry below the legal marrying age? Why must they suffer so much to be able to participate in political activities or join political parties? Why are they subjected to physical abuse on Egypt’s streets and in their places of work and study? And most importantly, what can they do about it?

The momentum carried over from the revolution provided young women with an opportunity to find each other, and it allowed me and my generation of slightly older women, concerned with women’s issues, to meet them. Those of us who have been active since the start of the millennium and earlier spent a very long time, maybe too long, trying to convince our male colleagues of the justness of our cause, explaining basic ideas. We were few and the political and cultural environment was against the idea of the special nature of women’s issues, which were also considered secondary to other more important and urgent matters. Many of us struggled to find our voices first and each other second. We were never a movement, because the objective and subjective conditions were not ripe for one.

Across the country, numerous young women are involved in various forms of feminist activism, which allow them to redefine themselves.

The young women who are active now are a diverse group, but this diversity does not prevent them from practicing feminist solidarity among each other, whether on the ground or in cyberspace. This includes young women who came to Cairo to work or study, searching for a role and setting up an initiative of independent young women. Others chose to set up initiatives in their governorates from the north of the country in Damanhour to its utmost south in Aswan. Others still decided to revive the idea of women’s writings and journalism in Egypt.

Across the country, numerous young women are involved in various forms of feminist activism, which allow them to redefine themselves. Despite the short-term difficulties that come with working in the face of an oppressive political regime, we can be confident that this momentum, led by Egypt’s young women, will lead to long-term, profound changes in the sexist and misogynistic structures of our society.

Below are the testimonies we have published in this series to date:

On sexual violence: Dalia Abdel Hamid explains that while progress on sexual violence in Egypt may seem like a beautiful success story, the reality was complicated and painful.

Politics as a path: Kheloud Gomaa shares her experience of feminism in the political sphere in Egypt, arguing that in order to propose an alternative political feminist vision, women have to be better represented in public and in politics.

Working women and policy assessment: Mona Ezzat addresses what drew her to focus on issues surrounding women’s work, in addition to how the qualitative research conducted by the New Woman Foundation tries to highlight the shortcomings or general absences of gender-focused policies and programs.

Bodily rights: Ghadeer Ahmed talks about her own journey through working on bodily rights through the revolution and her initiative Girls’ Revolution.

Personal status laws: Azza Soliman describes some of the legal contradictions in how Egypt deals with women and the importance of addressing the question of Islamic jurisprudence.

 

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Hind Ahmed Zaki