Photo by Lilian Wagdy (Flickr)
The 2013 study and poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation has revealed that amongst 22 countries in the Arab League that were scrutinized, Egypt experiences the highest level of sexual harassment, discrimination and violence against women. Widespread female genital mutilation, forcible marriage, no contraceptive or abortion rights, discriminatory laws, social pressure for producing male children and the rise of Islamist political and militant movements following the “Arab Spring” have also adversely affected the safety, freedom and well-being of women in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria (not an Arab League member since 2011) and Yemen.
Most “Arab Spring” Nations Seeing Greater Persecution of Women
While female activists played a leading role in the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the former Islamist government of Mohamed Mursi contributed to the domination of the Islamists in both the political and domestic environment in Egypt. The number of female members of the Egyptian parliament fell from 12% to 2% after the government abolished quotas of reserved seats, making it worse than even Saudi Arabia in terms of female representation. A United Nations report from April 2013 stated that as many as 99.3% of women and girls were victims of sexual harassment in Egypt. According to UNICEF, more than 91% of Egyptian women have been subjected to female genital mutilation; that number, approximately 27.2 million, is reportedly the highest in the world for any single country.
Noora Flinkman of the women's rights group HarassMap, said, “The social acceptability of everyday sexual harassment affects every woman in Egypt regardless of age, professional or socio-economic background, marriage status, dress or behavior.”
Along with sexual harassment, trafficking in women and forced marriages are widespread. Zahra Radwan of the Global Fund for Women stated that "There are whole villages on the outskirts of Cairo and elsewhere where the bulk of economic activity is based on trafficking in women and forced marriages.”
Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy said, “As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution: one against the various dictators who’ve ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruins our lives as women.”
Women are most seriously victimized in those Arab countries facing civil war and armed conflict. The women of Syria, Iraq and Libya endure widespread dangers of kidnapping, rape, extortion, prostitution and displacement.
“The Syrian woman is a weapon of war,” said a Syrian women's rights campaigner. Syrian armed forces and militants loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have raped and tortured women in rebel-controlled areas, while the anti-Assad Islamist militias have imposed severe restrictions upon women in the areas under their control.
In Iraq, a decade of conflict has seen a substantial increase in domestic abuse, prostitution, illiteracy and socio-economic vulnerability and victimization.
Comoros and Tunisia Perform Best
The island nation of the Comoros, with a population under 800,000, topped the list as the Arab country that performed the best in the field of women's rights. Women constitute 20% of the Comoros government council of ministers, and have the right to keep possession of homes and land in the event of divorce. Contraception is legal and made accessible by government initiatives. Amongst the countries that experienced political revolution during the 2011 “Arab Spring,” Tunisia showed most progress, with 27% of its parliamentarians being women. Although contraception is legal, inheritance laws favor men and the incidence of polygamy has increased.
Other deeply conservative Islamic societies are taking some minor steps to improve women's rights. Saudi Arabia was found to be third-worst in the study, having banned driving for women and forbidding them from opening bank accounts, traveling abroad alone or enrolling in colleges without the permission of a male relative. However, it also recently passed a law against domestic violence, opened greater female employment opportunities and nominated 30 women to serve on the Shura Council, which is described as an advisory council but has no actual legislative power.
Although Bahrain comparatively permits greater political freedom and activity for women, the Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict proving to be a serious impediment. Yemen, where women openly participated in the revolt against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, has granted a 30% quota for women in a national convention for constitutional reforms. However, it remains fifth-worst, due to a common occurrence of child marriage and, according to the U.S. State Department, 98.9% of Yemeni women have been harassed on the streets.
Read a personal response to the problem of Sexual Harassment in Egypt by Atheist Republic blogger Lara Saumatre.
I happily echo Ms. Mona Eltahawy's call for a "Double Revolution," being mindful of the fact that the greatest enemy of women in any part of the world is their disunity. The greatest breakthrough possible in the present situation would be achieving the full rehabilitation of the victims of sex crimes in their social standing. In the developing world, it is near impossible to find a woman being treated as anything but "damaged goods" and being harassed by a cruel society. That victims of sex crimes should unite to retake their dignity and make a direct impact for peace would be the real transformative achievement to work for. P.S. - NATO - how about sending those arms to an all-female militia that fights only to protect women? A bit Quixotic, I agree, but definitely better than anything you are doing right now in Syria or Iraq..
It appears that most of the Arab Spring uprisings, though motivated by democratic ideals at first, have lost idealogical ground to the islamic extremist organizations. that's not to say they outnumber the real democratic protesters, but they suppress secularism through sheer terror. somehow, the al-qaedas of the world aren't losing any time in creating off-shoots.. worrying..