No Arab Spring for Egypt′s women | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 12.02.2012
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No Arab Spring for Egypt's women

Side-by-side with fellow male protesters, Egypt's women stood on Tahrir Square demanding freedom and democracy. But due to the military regime and the rise of Islamic factions the situation of women is deteriorating.

Starting on time is not essential for Amani El Tunsi. Around eight in the morning, or maybe half an hour later, she is ready to go. Ready to fire up the computer, grab the microphone and get her radio show Banat Bas - which means "just for women" in English - on air.

She is on a mission to raise the topics that are important to Egyptian women and to alert them to their rights.

"I want to give women more self-confidence," El Tunsi said, "and change their mentality."

Three years ago she founded the station, which now has five million listeners worldwide, most of them in Egypt. But it is no easy task. Since last year's revolution women are worse off, despite having stood together with the men, demanding freedom on Cairo's Tahrir Square.

No access to power

The military is brutal in their treatment of women. Not long after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, female demonstrators had to undergo virginity tests to ascertain whether they were 'suitably moral.'

Egyptian women celebrating a ban on virginity tests

An Egyptian court banned the use of 'virginity' tests

At the end of last year, soldiers beat one female protester, beating her with batons and undressing her. One soldier kicked her face with his boot, another jumped on her breasts, leaving her lying there half-naked and seemingly lifeless.

The pictures of her dressed in a blue bra went around the world, no one seems to know what happened to her.

The military regime is also trying to keep women from taking political office. The transition government only boasts three female cabinet members, out of 30. The number is lower than during Mubarak's reign, where a 12-percent women's quota was in place.

The quota is gone now, the parties that registered for the elections last November only had to provide one female candidate. They often appeared at the very bottom of the list and sometimes deliberately without a photo, for example on the list of the Salafist Party of Light.

'Back to the kitchen'

In the newly elected parliament, 98 percent of MPs are men.

"Women should support their husbands, bring up children and help other people," Dina Zakaria from the Freedom and Justice party of the Muslim Brotherhood said. "Women are a lot better at that than men," he insisted, saying that men are more suitable to decide on women's issues in parliament anyway.

The image of the woman as a mother and homemaker has been used by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists - with great success.

Egyptian women protesting against violence against women

Egyptians were outraged over police treatment of female protesters

Although Zakaria insists that women's issues are being addressed by the Muslim Brotherhood, their manifesto does not even mention them. Parliament also has no committees dealing with those issues. The family committee is the only one dealing with "female" issues.

The new parliament is even considering revoking the so-called Personal Status Law that women had been fighting for for years. If successful, it would mean that women could no longer divorce - only men would have the right to do so.

Women would also lose the right to bring up their children beyond the age of nine. Fathers could then take away their children aged nine, not 15 as the law states now.

More restrictions

The Salafists are also debating measures that would see women forced into retirement aged 55, so that young men can take over their jobs. The Party of Light thinks it is a good way to reduce youth unemployment.

And it is not just the religious men who like to see women as mothers and housewives.

"Most men in Egypt, whether they're religious or not, do not respect the skills women have," according to Iman Bibars, chairwoman of the non-governmental organization Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women. She fears the situation may become even worse for women.

Undeterred

During Mubarak's reign, it was the NGOs in particular that fought for women's rights. Now, many of them have been forced to stop their work by the military regime, which criticizes their use of money from abroad.

With the Salafists' rise in popularity their hold over the media also has been strengthened. Over and over, they get their message across that a woman belongs in the home - and many Egyptians subscribe to that view.

But Amani El Tunsi is undeterred. "We have a very difficult time ahead of us, but we won't give up," she said. Her fight continues - every morning at 8 a.m. and sometimes a little bit later than that. So that more women get to know their rights.

Author: Viktoria Kleber / ng
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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