Breaking The Silence: Me Too Movement Rocks Egypt

Egyptian women played a pivotal role in ending colonialism. Yet, they failed to promote gender parity.

It all started when Egyptian women began using social media platforms to share their experiences of sexual violence, breaking the stigma surrounding rape and harassment.

The concept of feminism has always been at the center of debates, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Hence, a flurry of researches has studied women’s movements in the Arab context, arguing that feminism is not a western concept.

Yet, Arab women faced different types of humiliation in ancient history. In a war-torn region, where colonialism, neo-colonialism, and military intervention are prevailing, Arab women bear the consequences.

Under the British occupation, Egyptian women were fighting against domestic and global patriarchy as well.

Huda Shaarawi, leader of Egypt’s feminist movement in the 1920s, said: “A British soldier stepped towards me pointing his gun. As one of the women tried to pull me back, I shouted in a loud voice: “Let me die so Egypt shall have an Edith Cavell”, an English nurse who was shot and killed by the Germans during the First World War.”

Egyptian women  played a pivotal role in ending colonialism. Yet, they failed to promote gender parity.

On 10 November, the page of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World posted that Dana, the Syrian woman whose photo was censored by Facebook, was restored after a call for support against Facebook censorship of the photo.

Though Egyptian women led the 2011 uprising, the demands for equality between women and men were sidelined, focusing on other issues like poverty and social injustice. But, gender consciousness has been growing in an unprecedented manner.

It seems that a new wave of feminism is on the rise, and what makes it different, is the fact that it’s pioneered by a grassroots movement.

It all started when Egyptian women began using social media platforms to share their experiences of sexual violence, breaking the stigma surrounding rape and harassment.

It did not stop there, women’s rights activists, such as Nadeen Ashraf created Instagram pages, encouraging women to share their experiences. This was followed by an Egyptian law that aimed at protecting the identities of victims of rape and sexual harassment.

Emilie Richardson/ABC News. Egyptian women’s rights activist Sabah Khodir, May 28, 2021.

“Women are not just coming forward, they’re revolting, and they’re saying, you know, one way or another someone’s going to pay for what they did,” said Khodir.

For years, women have been suffering from all forms of violence.

Last week, an Egyptian woman shared a video of herself crying and asking for help after an Employee at the Cairo Airport had harassed her. The video went viral on social media platforms. Within hours, the Egyptian authorities arrested the man in question.

I have never felt more victorious, and it is ALL because of you! I cannot thank every single one of you enough. I have no words,” she then directed her words to social media users who supported her.

It was impossible to have reached anything without this huge move on social media… I never imagined that [great support] to happen… I first recorded the video at the airport as I felt alone and I was seeking anyone’s help.. but never thought this great support was coming… I think I will need a couple of days to process all that happened,” Basma added.

Basma is not the only woman to share her experience with sexual harassment and violence. Nada Adel, the ex-wife of Tameem Younis, a well-known figure in Egypt, shared her experience with marital rape.

Marital rape is a hot topic, especially in Egypt. For some misogynists, women are obliged to fulfill their duties toward their husbands. On the other side, Dar al-Iftaa, the top religious institution in Egypt, announced that marital rape is not justified in Islam.

If the husband used violence to force his wife to sleep with him, he is legally a sinner and she has the right to go to court and file a complaint to get him punished. The woman also has the right to refuse to engage in sexual relations with her husband if he has a contagious disease or uses violence which hurts her body during the sexual intercourse,” Dar al-Iftaa said in a fatwa on its official website.

Nonetheless, married women are not legally protected, as they do not have any legislative provision criminalizing marital rape in Egypt.

Women suffer from psychological and health issues when they experience marital rape. Islam, as a religion, promotes love, acceptance, and cooperation. This is also applied to the case of marriage. Sexual intercourse should not be forced. We should criminalize it!

The power of social media is real

The ongoing feminist movement has brought various achievements for women and men as well, breaking the stereotype surrounding feminism.

Now more than ever, women and men can share their stories without any shame. This week, a well-known model in Egypt posted a video of himself asking for help after he experienced sexual harassment. He clearly accused one of the top fashion designers in Egypt.

It is agreed upon that both men and women are victims of the patriarchal system. The grassroots movement is crucial to achieving gender parity.

Truth be told, this is one of the strongest feminist movements in Egypt’s history. As it casts a spotlight on the effectiveness of social media platforms in social and political activism.

The notion of state feminism, which relies on top-down reforms only without giving space for grassroots movements, is no longer applicable in the Egyptian context, especially in the midst of growing gender consciousness.

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