I am an American woman married to an Egyptian man and living in Egypt. I answer some questions about women's rights in Egypt that were posed to me by an Egyptian journalist.
1. How did you see the Egyptian women's rights?
I think in general Egypt is about 20 years behind the rest of the world - namely the United States. With regards to women - it's 50 years behind the times. While I think women in Egypt have a long way to go to get to where western women are, they are still far better off than women in other Islamic countries. Egyptian women can drive, go out by themselves, work, and dress the way they want (even choosing not to wear hijab if they desire). However, Egyptian women still lack a very important right - freedom. They are bound by cultural traditions. For example, a girl who is 20 cannot go out and get her own apartment even is she has a job. Most families would forbid their daughter from doing this. She is therefore, not allowed to become self-reliant but must bide her time until she can be appropriately married at which time she goes to her husband's house. In her husband's home she may gain a certain freedom she lacked in her family home, but this often comes at the high price of sacrificing her career in lieu of having children and being a wife. Even though they might not admit it, this practice over time, wears away at a woman's self-esteem. She is never really free to discover who she is and what her role in this world is. She simply become a caretaker for others while her own hopes and dreams may end up being neglected. Many Egyptian women have become passive that this is their assigned lot in life and feel there is not much they can do about it. The more religious her husband - the worse it is for her. If she was unveiled before marriage, she may suddenly be faced with tremendous pressure from he husband to veil.
However, as an American, I can say that this problem of lack of rights and lack of freedom is not only limited to women in Egypt. In my opinion, Egyptian men have limited rights and freedom as well. First of all it is difficult for them to get visas to travel, difficult to find a job and what job they might find may pay very low. This begins the cycle of making it impossible for him to save the enormous sums of money necessary to get married. The men as well face tremendous pressure from families to live at home until marriage, to marry a girl of their choice, etc. Egyptian men are not encouraged to learn independence and self-reliance either. Then they get married and have no idea how to treat their wife, other than the examples they see set forth by society and culture.
2. Did you find it close to your expectations..or less or worse??
I can't say I had any expectations. I've had an interest in sociology since I was a teenager and I also grew up in a multicultural environment so I already had a great deal of exposure to other cultures and things that were going on in the world.
3. What was the most astonishing thing to you ? or weird or surprising wether in a good or bad way
Well, I made many Egyptian friends online before moving here. I was really pleased to see so many Egyptian women freely speaking their minds. When I first visited Egypt, I was happy to see a new generation (mostly 20 somethings) of Egyptian men and women who were pushing the envelope (so to speak) on the cultural practices and traditions of their parents generation. They hung out together in coffee shops, went on dates with their boyfriends, didn't wear hijab, and most importantly - didn't care what other people thought of them for doing so.
4. How do you see the veil? as we've different kinds of veils such as "hejab" and the whole black veil "away from religion..from a social perspective"
I will probably have many people in Egypt hating me for saying this, but I don't believe the "veil" (even hijab) is required by God. I see it as a fashion statement in Egypt and a cultural practice in Gulf countries perpetuated by uptight sexually frustrated men. I see the entire concept as oppressive for women, However, I can understand how women feel it gives them more freedom. In Egypt, where a large percentage of men harass women on a daily basis - the veil can in fact, make them feel protected. Like a security blanket. It just makes me sick that the women have to take responsibility and cover and the men and boys don't take responsibility for their actions and learn how to respect women.
5. What's so common between women in your country and women in Egypt?
That is a difficult question to answer, because in the end we are all more similar than are led to believe. An expression comes to mind: "We all put our pants on one leg at a time." Unfortunately, it is easier for me to point out what is different between Egyptian and American women.
6. How can women take their rights in Egypt in your opinion? what do they need? what do they miss?
Like I said before, Egypt is decades behind the times. It can take decades more for things to begin to change and for any progress to be made in this area. I don't think it's a matter of women taking to the streets and protesting. I think what needs to change first is the cultural attitude that began to take hold in the late 1970's. The movement that confused culture and religion. It is my belief that this is what caused the standstill in progress with regard to women's rights. In fact, this movement may have caused things to begin to move backward. One only has to watch old black and white Egyptian movies to see how different Egypt has become. What needs to happen in order to move forward with women's rights is for the attitudes of men to change. Boys need to learn to respect women and see them as equals. Egyptian society must let go some of the taboos and stifling traditions with regards to sex and marriage and encourage young boys and girls to become independent and self-sufficient. To allow them to grow into productive adults free to make their own choices of right and wrong and decide their own level of morality on the inside - instead of through outward symbols such as hijab.
7. What are the negatives of women's rights movements in your country?
Women's suffrage movements started centuries ago in the States. Even the last wave in the 1950's and 1960's happened before I was born. I was born into a society that placed very few limitations of women - so to me, I never knew anything different. My own personal experiences leave me with nothing to compare before and after to because the way things are for in the US today was always a reality for me. However, many studies have been done that there is a breakdown in the family unit with women in the workplace leaving their children in daycare to be raised by someone else. In the US when a woman has a baby, she is expected to return to work after 6 weeks. It is true that many working mothers are spending less than 2 hours a day with their babies and children.
Map of Amman from 1956 - Here’s a really cool map from 1956. For more information, head over to Tobzeh. How small the city was.
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