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Keating: Egypt is the worst place for women

Published November 17, 2013 4:24 pm

Poll ranks country worst in region
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Joshua Keating


WASHINGTON — I'm not sure I buy the Reuters headline that said Egypt is objectively the "worst Arab state for women." This is a category that includes Saudi Arabia, where women are prohibited by law from driving and require the permission of a male guardian to work or travel, as well as Syria and Sudan, where sexual violence has been repeatedly used as a weapon of war.

But the fact that Egypt ranked worse than those countries in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of 336 gender experts in 21 Arab countries is as grim a sign as any of one of the primary disappointments many have felt since the 2011 uprising in the region's most populous country:

Women played a central role in the country's revolution but activists say the rising influence of Islamists, culminating in the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as president, was a major setback for women's rights. ...

A U.N. report on women in April said 99.3 percent of women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt, which some analysts say reflects a general rise in violence in Egyptian society over the past half-decade.

Human Rights Watch reported that 91 women were raped or sexually assaulted in public in Tahrir Square in June as anti-Morsi protests heated up.

"The social acceptability of everyday sexual harassment affects every woman in Egypt regardless of age, professional or socio-economic background, marriage status, dress or behavior," said Noora Flinkman, communications manager at HarassMap, a Cairo-based rights group that campaigns against harassment.

The experts also cited high rates of forced marriage, human trafficking and female genital mutilation in the country. Egypt was followed by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

The best Arab country for women, according to the poll, is the tiny island nation of Comoros, where women are well-represented in government. Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar followed.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.




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