Egypt has made strides in women’s rights over the years, but still has a long way to go when it comes to equality for women in nearly any aspect of life. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, women in Egypt consist of just 26% of the labor force. Their literacy rate is similarly low at 65%. This predisposes girls and women to a life of poverty, especially if they are unmarried. The report ranks Egypt 134th out of 153 countries based on gender disparities in various aspects of development.
Women in Egypt Experience Inequality
The country’s traditional society not only allows for this inequality but also encourages it. Human Rights Watch reported that the Egyptian government targeted and jailed female social media influencers for “undermining values.” For example, in April 2020, authorities arrested Hanin Hossum, age 20, for “indecent” photos and videos of her singing and dancing fully clothed. The prosecutor’s primary evidence to charge Hossum: suggesting to her female followers that women should earn money posting videos on Likee, an app similar to TikTok. Cairo’s Economic Court sentenced her to two years in prison and imposed a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds, the near-equivalent of $19,000.
Women in Egypt must also worry about their safety while walking on Egypt’s streets. For example, Arab Barometer’s 2019 survey showed that 90% of women aged 18 to 29 experienced some form of sexual harassment in a 12-month period. Cairo took the top ranking as the most dangerous city for women in a 2017 Thomson-Reuters Survey, in addition to ranking as the third-worst city in terms of sexual violence.
With all these concerns, several nonprofit organizations are stepping in to empower women in Egypt.
Founded in 2010 by four local women’s rights activists, HarassMap is a nonprofit volunteer organization with a goal to end sexual harassment and foster a zero-tolerance society in Egypt.
The initiative’s website displays a world map dotted with reports of sexual harassment made by anonymous volunteers who are encouraged to intervene on the survivor’s behalf if possible. Other activities include educating others on the myths surrounding harassment through film and literature and conducting studies based on the data collected.
Along with normalizing public discourse on the subject, HarassMap has influenced policies in Egypt as well. Due to the organization’s efforts, Cairo University adopted its first anti-sexual harassment law in 2014. It also influenced Uber Cairo to tighten its harassment policies, making the company a safer alternative to city taxis. HarassMap has even assisted the development of other tracking websites in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is an independent government agency that has focused on committing resources toward eliminating poverty and inequality around the world since 1961.
USAID works directly with the Egyptian government to address the gender gap and empower Egyptian women. The agency awarded scholarships for master’s degrees in STEM-based fields through the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative. As of 2014, USAID granted more than 600 scholarships to STEM-focused undergraduate and graduate women. Its programs have also provided pathways for women to launch businesses and enter male-dominated industries like agribusiness.
USAID has influenced policy, starting with providing help in drafting a 2010 framework for Egypt’s National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women. In coordination with NGOs, the agency worked to influence Egypt to regard sexual harassment as a crime in 2014. In October 2020, USAID committed to providing Egypt with $28.2 million to support economic governance and women’s empowerment.
The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) was first formed in 1987 with the expressed purpose of serving Egypt’s female heads of households and their families with regard to economic and social standing. ADEW specifically focuses on impoverished communities in cities, towns and villages.
It utilizes a wide variety of projects in the areas of health, employment, law awareness, education, financial assistance and more. One such initiative is the Micro-credit Program, which provides small loans to women to start their own businesses. Through peer lending, groups of women guarantee their own loans without being forced to depend on a male guarantor. The program has yielded great success, boasting a loan repayment rate of 99%. ADEW has helped 500,000 individuals in its 33 years of fieldwork.
Women in Egypt often struggle to overcome barriers stemming from gender inequality. There are limitations imposed by both the government and by society at large with regards to financial stability, privacy or even the freedom to walk down a street without facing harassment. However, it is important to note that Egypt has made strides in the advancement of women’s rights, and with the increase in awareness and activism surrounding women’s empowerment, Egypt will continue to see a progression.
– Zachary Sherry