Can we all agree that the concept of free elections is valid only if women of all classes are included the political process?
While the rapid development of Egypt's new political era unfurls this week, most media outlets are focused on how the country's first free presidential will affect the voters, or whether voters will choose a secular v. Islamic path. Certainly this week will be some sort of "moment of truth" for Egypt, but I can't help but wonder if the inherent gender bias ingrained in Islam society has left the women who helped oust Hosni Mubarak largely shut out of the political decision-making process since the revolution.
Despite small signs towards equality such as a recent women's rights conference in Cairo, many Egyptian women voters are rightfully concerned of a divisive class distinction in terms of this week's elections. The well-organized Muslim Brotherhood has some fearing that they are taking advantage of uneducated, lower-class Egyptian women by influencing their votes through religious and charity efforts. To counter this, the newly reinstated Egyptian Feminist Union is sending transport-less women by the busloads to voting booths in order to gain their checkmarks. Women seem to be valued as voters in a race, but not as equal citizens in a society.
Whether these women will actually vote for the Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Morsi remains to be seen, as polls seem to largely be unreliable to date (as they often are even in the first world countries) and the Egyptian Feminist Union has yet to endorsed anybody (telling sign?).
I happened to find myself in the Middle East and East Africa region early last year when the Arab Spring first grabbed the media's spotlight. Since then, it seems to me that the main "war" going on in Islam societies is against their own women--and I'm certainly not alone in this, as Mona Eltahaway's recent article nearly blew up the internet and international affairs circles last month.
But it's not just the scary past and present that shows the war on women in the region. The Egyptian parliament, Islamist-dominated, is discussing proposals that would cancel out any progress on gender equality that has occurred in the past +1 year: lowering the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 13, as well as revoking divorced mothers' custody of their children at earlier ages than before (of course, the boys' age is even younger than the girls').
It's so easy to recall the images of protesting Egyptian women on the streets of Cairo, seemingly finding their voice in a rather hostile environment. But these new proposals indicate concerning facts, such as how women take up less Parliamentary seats than before Mubarak's oust. While this is indeed an exciting time for Egypt, the division between men and women remains quite sharp, as do the positions of women who come from upper- and lower-classes of Egyptian society.