Arabs Debate the War on Women
- Far from constituting a solution, this type of one-dimensional reductionism and stereotyping is one of the problems facing Arab women.
Ikhwanweb's Response to Mona ElTahawy's 'Why Do They Hate Us' Article
Thursday, April 26,2012 08:27
by Sondos Asem IkhwanWeb
*This article was originally published on Foreign Policy magazine's roundtable "Debating the War on Women"
When I marched to Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, I was driven by the indignities and suffering endured by all Egyptians, men and women, from decades of corrupt and oppressive rule. Despite the oppression, I believed in my power to effect change. I believed then and I believe now that to bring about that change, we need lots of determination and hard work.
Although I share many of her concerns, I respectfully disagree with Mona Eltahawy's simplistic assertion that the plight of women in the Arab world is the result of being hated by the rest of society -- more specifically, by men, and even more so by newly elected Islamists. In taking issue with Islamists' view of women, Eltahawy uses a combination of hyperbole and perhaps benign neglect to highlight offensive stances and bury more women-centered ones. Far from constituting a solution, this type of one-dimensional reductionism and stereotyping is one of the problems facing Arab women. Let's be clear: There is misogyny in the Arab world. But if we want progress for Arab women, we must hack at the roots of evil, not at its branches.
Indeed, the status of women is a serious challenge in post-revolutionary Egypt. Many Egyptian women suffer from discrimination both in society and in their homes. Some 5 million Egyptian women are the sole breadwinners for their families. Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains a widespread practice in rural areas and Upper Egypt. Sexual harassment abounds on Egyptian streets, and the list goes on. To address these issues, however, we ought to look at the bigger picture: More than 20 percent of young people remain jobless, and almost half of them are women. Illiteracy and poverty -- the twin drivers of discrimination -- are widespread: 20 percent of Egyptians are illiterate, and more than 40 percent live on less than $2 per day.
But how do we move forward? Based on these alarming figures, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has devised a holistic plan to advance women's standing in Egyptian society. First, we acknowledge that Egypt needs a cultural revolution alongside the political one. There are many practices -- not just FGM -- that must be eradicated outright, but railing against such practices will not make them disappear. Instead, what we need are sustained, nationwide campaigns to raise awareness and dissociate religion from repression of women. We also recognize that, in some cases, we cannot wait for educational efforts to take root. Both the legislative and executive branches of the state must play an immediate role. Legislation criminalizing harassment of and assaults against women must be passed, while ensuring that these measures are implemented by strict rule of law.
As a party that adopts Islam as its reference, we believe that our civil-society outreach can be as effective as legislative and executive avenues. Contrary to the underlying argument in Eltahawy's article, we believe that religion can be the main driver for renouncing violence and the repression of women. Islam empowers women both in their households and in society. Men and women are both entitled to the same level of respect, social status, and protection under the law.
Beyond the political and cultural realms, there is one other important plank in the struggle to advance the status of women. The FJP's platform and our flagship Nahda (Renaissance) Project both encourage and support female entrepreneurship while offering adequate health insurance to female breadwinners. Economic security for women is as essential as political and cultural change. Moreover, we are seeking to change the negative perception of women's political participation by promoting the active participation of women in politics and introducing successful female role models that will help counter stereotypes.
While ensuring that women have a vibrant role in society, the FJP is also concerned with making sure that families are supported and nurtured. However much people wish to be different, women remain the primary driver of family life. In many cases, they have to put in a great deal of effort both at home and at work. FJP will adopt a set of family-centered policies that enable women to support their family lives. We will not shy away from the value we place on family life nor will we accept that women who choose to focus on their families are somehow making an inferior choice.
A democratic Egypt in which the citizenry are informed and in which the rule of law is supreme will ensure the success of these programs and others, leading to the welfare of all society, with women as its backbone. Attributing women's suffering in our region to misogyny and hatred of women is overly simplistic and does nothing to help women in their struggle for dignity and justice.
Sondos Asem is senior editor of the Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language website Ikhwanweb.com and its Twitter account @Ikhwanweb. She is also a member of the Freedom and Justice Party's foreign relations committee. Follow her on Twitter @SondosAsem.