By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner
For months, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been sounding the alarm bell about the erosion of women’s human rights in Egypt. The issue received media coverage in June and July of this year when a large number of women were attacked while protesting in Tahrir Square, but otherwise, media and public attention to this issue has been scant.
A poll released today by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the treatment of women in 22 Arab countries confirms what we already know—that the Arab Spring has not done good things for the advancement of women’s rights in Egypt.
Women have come out in large numbers to protest and stand up for their rights. Many have faced sexual violence, and most of their attackers—both civilians and soldiers— have not been held to account for their crimes. Violence against women protestors seems aimed at deterring women from attending protests, voicing their demands, and playing a key role in democratic change.
Almost two years ago, Azza Hilal Ahmad Sulaiman and a male friend stopped as they were leaving a protest in Tahrir Square to help a woman who was being attacked by soldiers. Both Azza and her friend were beaten badly by soldiers when they intervened, leaving Azza with lasting medical issues. Despite the attack being captured on video, and a complaint being filed with the police, no one has been held to account.
Women are being deterred from protesting in the streets, but they are also participating in parliament in decreasing numbers. Women have not been appointed to key positions in government, and the government continues to fail to end discrimination against women in law and practice.
At the beginning of the Arab Spring, everything seemed possible. Women and men protested together in the streets of Cairo and it seemed a new day was dawning for the rights of women in Egypt. And then everything changed. Women continue to protest in the street, and advocate for change and respect for women’s rights, but they often do so at great personal risk.