Sexism has been a problem in most societies over the history of mankind. Ever since the dawn of civilisation, women have been segregated, marginalised, and discriminated against.
Women in modern-day Egypt have come a long way. In the past 100 years they have gained the right to political participation, to vote, to work in most professions, and to hold public office, among other things.
However, there are many areas which the women’s rights movement has yet to conquer. For example, women are not really free to wear whatever they choose, not just because of social customs, but because of the widespread issue of sexual harassment.
Although it has become illegal, and multiple campaigns have been held against it over the years, female genital mutilation is still rampant.
There are quite a few things that the majority of Egyptians view as “man’s work”, and women who dare to venture into male territory are frowned upon or even ostracised.
Despite all of this, there are women who have decided not to follow social norms and to defy taboos.
Among them are the following examples:
Marwa Rakha, who is the acting agony aunt for the website “Al-Hub Thaqafa”, or Love Matters, has been speaking openly about sex and relationships in Egypt for years. She advises young women and men, who approach her with all sorts of questions. There is virtually no sexual education in Egypt, and many parents think it is improper to speak to their adolescents or even grown children about sex. This is why Love Matters provides an irreplaceable service.
Basma El Gabry founded an online community for women who want to ride motorcycles called “Girls Go Wheels”. It is not customary to see women riding scooters or motorcycles on the streets of Cairo. Basma herself wanted to buy one during her university years but was met with disapproval by her parents. This is when she came up with the idea for Girls Go Wheels. She believes that riding scooters can help alleviate traffic congestion, decrease sexual harassment on public transportation, and lessen the gas shortage problem. The community she has founded offers riding lessons to beginners, and many women have joined it.
Similarly, in Alexandria, Sally El Gendy also founded the “Alexandria Scooter Riders Club”. They hold weekly events and also meetings with families to acquaint them with the concept of females riding bikes, in order to put their minds at ease.
The Alexandria Scooter Riders Club cruises along the coast (photo: dailynewsegypt)
Mennatullah El Husseiny is another young woman who defied societal taboos by venturing into male territory. She opened up a hot drinks kiosk near Tahrir Square, called “El Nasba”. She was unable to obtain a permit for it however, and says that she was harassed by thugs on a daily basis. Other people from the neighborhood showed their support, but she eventually had to shut down her business.
Samah Hamdy, a 27-year-old Egyptian woman, sick of being defined only by the fact that she is single, decided to break taboos by walking in the streets and going about her daily routine in a wedding dress and veil. She wanted to highlight the fact that she is not her marital status, though both society and her family have labeled her as a “spinster”. She was both photographed and videotaped, and the results were displayed in the Cairo Opera House’s 25th Salon of Young Artists in November 2014.
Samah Hamdy (photo: almahrosatoday)
Samah Hamdy (photo: bokra)
The aforementioned examples prove that more and more young Egyptian women coming from various backgrounds are deciding to defy traditions which they view as illogical and discriminatory. Though the women’s rights movement still has a long way to go, as long as there are women who decide to do what they want, not just what society requires of them, progress will be made.