2015 has been a very eventful year. Politically, there have been disasters, victories, regressions and great strides made for equality. Despite the positive changes in our ever changing world, society still has a long way to go if we want to establish true and lasting equality for all genders. The oppression of women is worldwide, however it varies in degrees and comes in many different forms. In this blog I will discuss the specific living situations involving biased legislation and societal norms of Muslim women in Egypt, along with their roles in their society and how they compares to the roles of men. I will address how Islam effects their roles and how religion has become intertwined with patriarchal institutions and rhetoric that inhibits their agency and oppresses their freedom. My main focus is how the patriarchy and the various dominant political discourses use religion to justify the oppression and abuse of women and shield themselves from judgment by armoring themselves with the word of God.
How are Egyptian women, along with women in many other Muslim countries, under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) still oppressed and made unequal to the men of their country, even though the treaty is clearly intended to set them equal to men? There is a fatal flaw in the treaty that allows reservations to be allowed into CEDAW by the state. In theory this would be a positive addendum to most treaties to account for change in time or culture. However, the rule is being misused. As Ann Elizabeth Mayer described in her paper in Faith & Freedom; Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World, “vague ‘Islamic’ reservations have been entered to CEDAW that … the governments involved seek to convince the world that their reservations are not incompatible with the goal of achieving equality for women.” (Faith & Freedom 106) Egypt did exactly this, and using Islam and their rooted traditions as a legal loop-hole, they restricted women’s right to freely divorce their husband without a judge’s ruling and made women completely financially dependent on their husband during marriage. This completely negates Article 16 of CEDAW which establishes that women and men should be equal in every aspect of marriage and familial duties and responsibilities. It is Egypt’s basis in shari’a law that entrenches their laws in patriarchal constructs. As it is with most cases, religion it’s self is not to blame. Historically, faith alone has given little to no basis to deny freedom.
The unfortunate societal norm of the dominant husband who is master over is demure servant wife and all that they own, I would argue, has caused an innumerable amount of pain throughout history. This construct supports domestic abuse, rape, and denies women some of the most basic human rights. Egypt has made several of these reservations that support the idea that women are not biologically or spiritually equal to men, so therefore they should not be legally equal to men (Mayer 106-111). In her book, Opening the Gates, Egyptian woman Nambawiya Musa illustrates how the physical differences between males and females has no effect on intelligence by using animals for comparison. “Nobody said that because the male dog is stronger than the female dog that he is more intelligent. Likewise, it is not true that the man is more intelligent than the woman” (Musa 264). I would hope that it would be obvious to most modern audiences that it is fundamentally wrong and a violation of human rights, to gloss over the fact that women are people, and just as capable as men, yet I know how alive these ideas still are today. Even with the plethora of feminist campaigns and movements, ignorance is still blissful when you’re in the privileged percent.
Tradition, I believe, is one of the main culprits when it comes to many conflicts, including the issue of Women’s rights. Humanity has a bad habit of wanting to do things as they’ve always been done, and persecute any who divert from the standard path that has been worn down by the thousands who have already walked it. Men have predominantly been the ones ruling the land, running the governments, and making the laws until the 18th century, excepting a Queen here or there. This allowed for centuries of traditions and norms to engrain themselves into society, and centuries of religious texts being translated picked apart. Both play a crucial role in how the world has come to be the way it is today.
Afkhami, Mahnaz. Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World. Syracuse,
NY: Syracuse UP, 1995. Print.
Badran, Margot, and Miriam Cooke. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.