“They who share their country’s burden
With no rights, receive no guerdon,
Only bear the heavy burden
Of unrighteous laws.”
(Taken from the Suffragettes’ anthem)
No right to vote, no representation in government, virtually impossible to divorce, work opportunities limited and a sound education deemed unnecessary: such was the life of the UK female population just over 100 years ago.
Add to that the fear of acid attacks; forced under age marriage, rape, sexual harassment & exploitation and horrific sometimes fatal female circumcision or genital mutilation, and you have the kind of life that the majority of women in Egypt and India are facing today.
There has been no shortage of horrific reports flooding out of Egypt, the most recent during the anti-Mursi demonstrations on 30 June in Egypt’s Tahrir Square when hundreds of women were gang raped. The continuing persecution of women has now reached epidemic proportions and the extreme oppression is being perpetuated by many in authority. Unbelievably Reda Al-Hefnawy, a member of the Shura Council human rights committee blamed the victims for their rape, “… women should not mingle with men during protests …”
This relentless intimidation is just part of the tyranny being rained down on the female population in an attempt to control them by fear; another is the continuing practice of genital mutilation or female circumcision.
Made illegal in Egypt in 2008, but without enforcement, the custom is still widespread with 75% of girls as young as 11 years old having areas of their genitals cut away, often without anaesthetic. According to UNICEF there are more than 125 million women and girls in Africa and the Middle East who have been mutilated; half of them in Egypt and Ethiopia.
The practice is also advocated by some clerics; Sheikh Yussef al-Badri has said, “ordered by Allah … orders from Allah must be realised … this makes the girl control her common sense about sex because women quickly feel sex before men”.
Surprisingly it was back in the mid 1950s that Gamel Abdul Nasser established the 1956 Egyptian constitution guaranteeing the right for women to vote, equality in the workplace and banning gender based discrimination.
However Anwar Sadat’s regime (1970-81) returned to extreme Islamist policies virtually wiping out women’s rights and Mubarek continued along this path.
In 2008 a survey found that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women had been sexually harassed. Unimaginable in western culture and in 2013 the Muslim Brotherhood who have supported Mohammed Morsi issued a statement that “… the complete disintegration of society …” would result if all forms of violence against women were outlawed.
India is now the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women to live : Thomas Reuters Foundation survey.
It was the suicide of a 17 year old gang rape victim in December 2012 that sparked a series of demonstrations in India. It was discovered that the police not only tried to persuade her to drop the charges but even suggested she should marry one of her attackers. (It is not uncommon for the police to broker a compromise amongst families to limit the ‘shame’ brought on the victim’s family).
The passing of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 was meant to prevent this kind of problem, but without enforcement, it is ignored. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines to deal with attacks but the Indian Penal Code for rape has been interpreted as “intent to outrage her modesty” which leads to a lighter sentence.
Whilst rape is the most common crime against women in India, there are also dowry related deaths; a 1997 report showed there were 5,000 such deaths with at least 12 women being killed each day in ‘kitchen fires’.
Acid attacks are also common if a woman rejects a marriage proposal or asks for a divorce; women have been left severely disfigured or even killed by these attacks.
There is also a growing trend of female infanticide (killing female foetuses) with over 600,000 abortions each year and it has become more prevalent due to scans detecting the sex of the baby. This is having the effect of significantly reducing the female population.
But attitudes are changing albeit slowly and many of them emerging from the Western culture that is so abhorred.
Harassmap in Egypt has been set up to allow women to report sexual abuse or harassment; between October 2012 and July 2013, 840 women in Cairo alone reported attacks.
The Tahrir Bodyguard has been established by Cairo HR executive Soraya Bahgat where a group of women patrol the square to protect others from attack.
The Indian government now use fast-track courts to handle sexual assault cases and a court opened in West Bengal in January 2013 that is run entirely by women. Additionally in March 2013 stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment were criminalised.
Ironically it is the Western culture influence that is breaking the mould; Bollywood actor/director Farhan Akhtar is promoting Campaign MARD – Men Against Rape & Discrimination and has said : “… we come from a traditional patriarchal society and that mind-set is mutating into something that is very dangerous”.
And the popular singer Aaron Haroon Rashid has created the Burka Avenger; a mild mannered teacher with secret martial art skills who fights local thugs who are trying to shut down a girls’ school. The story reflects the terror being inflicted by the Taliban who do not believe girls should be educated and have destroyed hundreds of schools.
SHOULDER TO SHOULDER
So in the same way the 19th century Suffragettes fought for women’s rights, often facing appalling treatment or even death, it would seem the Egyptian and Indian women (and some men) have had enough and are willing to take a stand against their oppressive cultures that until recently went unchallenged.
Your daughters’ daughters will adore you and they’ll sing in grateful chorus “well done” …