Monthly Archives: June 2015

Egyptian Women Fight for their Rights

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By: Alexandra Kinias — I watched the movie Iron Jawed Angels. As an immigrant who had not grown up into  American culture,  I always admired how women of this great nation were enjoying their rights. However, this movie was an eye opening to the events of what really happened.  There was no shred of doubt in my mind that women did in fact demand their rights to everything they are enjoying today.  But I never imagined that these rights were achieved after a fierce and long battle. I wasn’t aware of the struggles that women had to go through to get their right to vote.

Women arrested and jailed on false accusations, harassed and abused, and thrown into solitary confinement, were things you heard happening elsewhere. Who would have believed that this happened in America? The movie didn’t just evoke a lot of feelings regarding women’s issues, but it also sparked the idea of what I am going to post in my blog, especially that blog started to discuss the serious issues that I addressed in my fiction novel “Black Tulips” which address the social hardships that Egyptian women encounter due to living in a male dominant society.

The Egyptian government statistics show that more than 50% of low class women are the sole breadwinners for their families. These women roam the streets every day looking for jobs. They are widows, divorcees, abandoned by their husbands or working to support an unemployed one. And while trying to make a living, they are subjected to a lot of physical and emotional abuse.

Girls dropping  out of school to support their families is a curse facing the future of women. Females turning to prostitution as a source of income is not widely spread, but it is not uncommon either, and so are teenage pregnancies.  Domestic violence against women, sexual harassment and girls being sold into marriages are among some of the examples of the hardships that face women.  As a result of that the rate of hymenorophy (restoring the virginity) operations that girls have to go through to protect their honor and thus their lives is increasing.

The Feminist Movement in Egypt that started at the beginning of the twentieth century was somehow silenced. In 1919, women, while still under the veil, marched in demonstrations along men to protest against the British occupation. In 1923 the Egyptian Feminist Movement was founded by Hoda Sharawi. On her return from an international feminist meeting in Rome , and while still on the steam boat, Sharawi and her peers removed their veils and dumped them in the sea.

Women’s political and educational rights soared, but family rights have always been stagnant. Divorce was only decided by the man, and harsh divorce and custody laws always favored men. Egyptian family laws were derived from Shariaa, the religious law, which doesn’t give much room to refute. I don’t believe that holly laws discriminate between genders; all laws were derived by men for men.

Over the past few decades,  women were brainwashed into believing that they have achieved all their rights, and stopped fighting for them, and as a result, their situation regressed greatly. But with the political changes over the last four years, women came to believe their importance as an active political partner and decision maker. They are waking up  to realize that their rights won’t simply drop on them from the sky, but that they have to fight hard for it to catch up with what they have missed. With this spark of hope, there’s a cautious sense of optimism that the future might be in fact changing to their favor.

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Filed under Women in Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt

Removing the Veil Is Not As Easy As You Think

— By Alexandra Kinias —-

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Photo copied from the Internet

Salma was getting ready for her wedding day. The date was set. Invitations were sent. Wedding planner hired and cake ordered. Her designer dress glittered in the fitting rooms and the romantic honeymoon destination was the perfect spot to bring this fairytale to life. Salma’s joy was replaced with disappointment when her fiancé objected to her wish to remove the veil on their wedding night. And while she wanted to have her wedding photos taken with her veil off, he rejected the idea of starting their life together committing a sin, by disobeying God and having men see her hair. Salma was torn between her desire to take the veil off and the fear that he might leave her if she did so.

What Salma went  through is not an isolated incident. There is a noticeable growing number of Egyptian women who are discarding the veil, and there are many others who wish to do so, but are unable to because of domestic and social pressures.

When Egyptian journalist Cherif Choubachy called for a rally to discard the veil, he was fiercely attacked by Islamic scholars. Short of an inquisition, Choubachy’s call was fought with aggression, sarcasm and personal and professional slandering. Naturally, his call for the rally died within days. The argument against this campaign was that veil is not enforced on women, but freely practiced and thus he has no business to advocate for removing it. Veil is not enforced by law in Egypt, but claiming that women freely choose to wear it is a false assumption recognized by observers of the changes that took place within the Egyptian society in the last several decades.

The global campaign to cover the heads of Muslim women has successfully been orchestrated by magnifying veil as the core of Islam. And by boiling down the entire faith to women’s head cover, the fruitful results of political Islam, with veil as its symbol, is seen across the Middle East and in western capitals worldwide. With the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt, the removal of the veil was the normal reaction by many women whom have worn it in the first place not for religious purposes but rather due to social pressures. And while some are going smoothly through the transition, many others like Salma are facing resistance from their spouses to remove it.

The intense campaigns, over the years, that have been drilling in women’s minds that neglecting the veil is sacrilegious, refute the statement that women freely choose to wear it. And while many were left feeling guilty for disobeying God, hordes of women veiled to escape His wrath. Thus the free choice is in fact a choice made out of fear not conviction. Simultaneously, it was also drilled in women’s minds that obeying their husbands is equivalent to obeying God.

Men were also made to believe that virtuous women are the conservative ones with veil, and that covering their women’s heads is a manifestation of their manhood. And while women were convinced that obeying their husbands is equivalent to obeying God, men were also convinced that as guardians to their women, they are responsible in front of God if their women are not veiled. As a result, men pressure their women to wear the veil or as in Samla’s case, make sure it is kept on. It has also been drilled in men’s minds that women’s bodies are their possessions that should be protected from predators’ eyes. Who doesn’t remember the posters that compared unveiled women with uncovered candy that attracts flies?

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Or worse, who can forget  the Australian Muslim cleric who blamed immodestly dressed women who don’t wear the veil for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned “meat” that attracts voracious animals?

Because of the psychological manipulation by Islamic scholars to control both men and women, veil became a condition for men seeking a wife. It ultimately became a ticket for many women to guarantee a spouse. A substantial number of women wear the veil to secure a husband or as requested by their suitors, but eventually find themselves in a dilemma when they realize that by wearing it, they have surrendered their right to remove it. To avoid confrontation, many reluctantly keep it on with the hope that they could convince their husbands to remove it someday.

And to close the loop in case husbands allowed their wives to remove the veil, religious scholars wasted no time in spreading fear among women that God’s wrath with those who remove it is even greater than with those who never wore it.

Veil has expanded from being a personal matter between women and God to become a social issue that involves many spectators; religious scholars, family members and friends who are either pro or against removing it.

Salma never removed the veil on her wedding night, but as a compromise, the couple hired a female photographer to take pictures of her before the wedding without the veil. These photos would only be shown to her female friends and family members. Salma knows that keeping the veil merely to please her husband defeats its religious purpose, but for someone who never committed to it for its religious value, she helplessly has no choice but to keep it on. She can’t risk the consequences of removing it.

* Bride’s name has been changed for privacy …

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Filed under marriage in EGypt, Veil, Women in Egypt

Man vs. Sunblock . Why many women choose to live in the shadow of men?

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By: Alexandra Kinias

With so much emphasis on marriage, growing up as a girl in Egypt can be very stressful. As the quote ‘Living in a man’s shadow is better than living in a wall’s shadow’ is drilled into their minds from an early age, girls grow up with the understanding that their ultimate goal is to get married, raise kids and have a family. And sadly enough most girls are bred to become eventually incubators and have more kids to sustain the population growth – I fail to see it any other way.

In a society where their role as baby makers is a top career, women hardly escape their fate. It is most unfortunate that that’s what they sometimes thrive for. For a lot of them, marriage is viewed as a way of breaking away from their family’s chains and becomes a symbol of a social respect.

When marriage becomes a destination, naturally the image of an unmarried woman is not very cheerful. And if anyone, God forbids, joins their ranks, it becomes an emotional and strenuous experience for both the girl and her family. Women in her extended family, friends and neighbors would click their tongues and purse their lips for the unlucky girl who had missed the marriage train. She would also be showered with pitiful looks for the terminal disease she suffers from; Spinsterhood – an ailment only a man could cure.

The pressure women are subjected to might lead them to marry an incompatible suitor who comes knocking on their door to save them from their doomed fate. And of course the older the women get the more compromises are made. The remedy offered by the suitor might sometimes means the woman would accept to be a second wife. It is not such a grave situation to salvage themselves from the social stigma that comes from being an old maid in a society that still discriminates against unmarried women. Anything could be sacrificed for a change in social status. Some of these marriages make it while others fail and the spinster label is switched to a divorcee which is not a welcomed status either, but one that is more acceptable.

Being viewed as a house wrecker who might impose a potential threat to her married peers, an unmarried woman is often expelled from the circle of her friends. The same goes for divorced women. And for both of these women the attempts to live alone come with hardships because in a society that is focused on matrimony, it is beyond comprehension that being single is a voluntary choice.

When girls reach the age of marriage, family’s nagging starts. The timing varies: in cities, it usually happens after college while in small towns and villages it takes place much earlier.

In their pursuit for a husband, girls often master the arts of manipulation and deception in fear of losing their trophy to be. Actually, they are not to be blamed. When they grow up in a society where they learn that living in the shadow of a man is better than living in the shadow of a wall, what else could they think off?

Following the footsteps of their ancestors in the quest of finding a husband can be to very mentally and emotionally exhausting process. If the woman fails, she feels that she is incompatible, loses her self confidence and is left with self pity that might lead to depression. And those who succeed will replace one shadow with the other – Yes the quote clearly stated that women are destined to stay in the shade, no matter what. And with these two options at my disposal, I would rather bake in the sun.

To read more

Spinsters By choice.

Egyptian spinsters fight against stereotype and discrimination

To read more:

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Filed under marriage in EGypt, spinsters in Egypt, Women in Egypt, Women's rights in Egypt