21 July 2008

Egypt’s feminist voices

Posted in Comment tagged , , , , at 3:09 pm by lilithhope

The statistics below are from a BBC article about sexual harassment in Egypt (thanks Didi):
Experienced by 98% of foreign women visitors
Experienced by 83% of Egyptian women
62% of Egyptian men admitted harassing women
53% of Egyptian men blame women for ‘bringing it on’
Source: Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights
Even as a woman who lived in Egypt for the best part of a year and experienced several instances of sexual harassment first-hand (including having a breast grabbed by a teenage boy on a passing motorcycle during the month of Ramadan), I still find these figures shocking.
Nevertheless, I am very grateful that it is an Egyptian women’s rights group that is compiling and publishing such statistics, because it reinforces the notion that sexual harassment cannot be excused in terms of ‘cultural specificity’ ie ‘that’s just how they do it over there’. But to say that is not to reject a relativist means of understanding feminism altogether, because i do think that there is a balanced medium between the two.  
The work that the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights this rights goup is doing should be celebrated for debunking the myth that it is just scantily clad, non-Arab, non-Muslim women who are victims of lewd male behaviour in the Middle East. Moreover, I applaud them for seriously broaching the subject and pushing for punitive legislation, simply because there are many other women’s organizations in Egypt who, in the name of national or religious solidarity or anti-imperialism, are apologists for sexist behaviour in their country. It is not just the institutionalized patriarchy that this organization struggles against, it is the also the accusation made on the behalf of other Egyptian women’s groups that the denunciation of sexism is a colonial tool for societal fragmentation.
Even though there are undeniable historic links between a homogenous Western-directed feminist discourse and the hierarchical colonial mindset (the realization of which gave rise to postcolonial/third world feminism), such concerns should not restrict the possibility for women’s organizations in postcolonial countries to identify, speak out against and seek to remedy the types of persecution they perceive of in their own societies.
I studied contemporary feminist movements in Egypt, and one of the conclusions i came to was that the desire to pit ‘liberal’ feminism against a more culturally authentic feminism (such as so-called “Islamic” feminism) is an unfruitful activity, with each side trying to delegitimize the other, and ultimately reducing the possibilities for positive change that can be acheived in many different ways. Rather, I think that it is more useful to try to identify the different types of power that inform the philosophies and activities of the different types of feminism, so that one can understand the different problems that they encounter when it comes to acheiving legitimacy within their own country, or moving beyond contextual systems of dominance and making some tangible positive impacts in womens lives. 
I came to the conclusion that it is most important to recognise plurality in how women in different contexts and from different backgrounds (nationality, class, religion etc) define both oppression and emancipation. To recognise conceptual plurality is a means of acknowledging that there is more than one path of pragmatic action, that activism comes in many diverse shapes and forms, and can be effective in different ways.
Accordingly, I wish the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights success on the road ahead of them, in the hope that they can broaden the debate around women’s status in Egyptian society, and insha’Allah, bring about a change of mentality in those men who blame women for their oppressive actions.

19 June 2008

World Refugee Day pre-emptively thwarted

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:41 pm by lilithhope

Two days before World Refugee Day, Egypt deports approximately 120 Eritrean refugees, raising to over 800 the total number of Eritrean asylum seekers deported from Egypt since 11 June.

A poignant reminder that no matter how many official ‘Days’ the UN or any other body can designate to a cause, the realpolitik agendas of local, regional and global powers will not be compromised.