The Women Of Egypt – A Strong, Defiant Force

Egyptian women were a strong, defiant force in that country’s revolt last month, making up a quarter of the million protestors who poured into Tahrir Square at the height of the upheaval.

Now those same women are fighting to keep their role in the building of a New Egypt.

Women And Men Fighting Together

Egypt’s popular revolution was the work of men and women, bringing together housewives and fruit sellers, businesswomen and students.  Veiled and unveiled women shouted, fought and slept in the streets alongside men, upending traditional expectations of their behavior.

Other citizen reporters in Tahrir Square – and virtually anyone with a cell phone could become one – noted that the masses of women involved in the protests were demographically inclusive. Many wore headscarves and other signs of religious conservatism, while others reveled in the freedom to kiss a friend or smoke a cigarette in public.

Egyptian Women In Charge

Egyptian women also organized, strategized, and reported the events. Bloggers such as Leil Zahra Mortada took grave risks to keep the world informed daily of the scene in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

And what is true for Egypt is true, to a greater and lesser extent, throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes, and women in the Muslim world are changing radically.

More Than Half Of Egyptian University Students Are Women

The greatest shift is educational. Two generations ago, only a small minority of the daughters of the elite received a university education. Today, women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities.

But Can They Maintain Their Role In The New Egypt?

But still, as The New York Times notes, the challenge now is to make sure that women maintain their involvement as the nation lurches forward, so that their contribution to the revolution is not forgotten.

“Things have not changed, they are changing,” said Mozn Hassan, 32, the executive director of the organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. She barely returned home during the 18 days it took to topple Mr. Mubarak, but that is not enough, she said. “Revolution is not about 18 days in Tahrir Square and then turning it into a carnival and loving the army,” she said. “We have simply won the first phase.”

Egypt is a step ahead of other popular uprisings in the region, which have had similar bursts of female participation, accompanied by a recognition from men that their support is vital. In Bahrain, hundreds of women wrapped in traditional black tunics stood up to the authorities in the demonstrations against the government, but in a nod to their conservative culture, they slept and prayed outside during protests in a roped-off women’s section. In Yemen, only in the past few days have significant numbers of women started to protest in Sana, the capital, but their numbers were dwarfed by the crowds of men.
…The committee of eight legal experts appointed by the military authorities to revise the Constitution did not include a single woman or, according to Amal abd al-Hadi, a longtime feminist here, anyone with a gender-sensitive perspective.

A coalition of 63 women’s groups started a petition to include a female lawyer on the committee, arguing that women “have the right to participate in building the new Egyptian state.” Ms. Hadi noted that in past Egyptian revolutions, in 1919 and 1952, women’s contributions had been met with similar setbacks….

Million Women’s March Planned For Tuesday

A coalition including Nawal el-Saadawi, a leading feminist, is planning a million women’s march for Tuesday, March 8, with no set agenda other than to promote democracy.

Whatever happens next, these are important times for Egyptian women, and very far removed from my own memories of visiting Egypt, over 20 years ago, when I simply never saw any women out on the street.

Happy International Women’s Day!

To read more about International Women’s Day, click here.



jessica w.
jessica w6 years ago


Mohamed F.
Mohamed F.6 years ago

No worry on women in Egypt in the new era.
Few days ago, the governing military council has declared a law against harassment and rape, something reflects a common awareness of the daily issue.
Women have been and still participating actively in every place in Egypt, especially governmental office jobs, reaching a high level of wide spread disguised unemployment across the country since 1980s. There are many achievements and rights women enjoy in Egypt, but are very unspoken about, for many reasons including corruption in 'some' feminist groups, whose only interest is to get foreign aids under the label of "women empowerment" projects, etc., touring the world attending "feminist forums" and enjoy great income from this job, while doing almost nothing to local female society! A kind of corruption we name here: the corruption of the NGOs!
Why a woman getting all these benefits would ever say a real good thing about women in Egypt, or draw an honest picture of what's going on there? Thanks for the article and concern about woman future in Egypt.

Ruth C.
Ruth Cunningham6 years ago

Well said Carole K.! To my mind, the legitimacy of any popular revolution will come about only from a grass-roots grasp of the unifying principle of democratic human rights for ALL citizens. Such an understanding of everyone's human rights and freedoms begins with the recognition of patriarchy's primary injustice. This is the origin of religious sexism clothed in cultural ideology and steeped in the historic fictionalization that is the original corruption of universal human truth. Only such a revolutionary understanding can break the operational hold of such irrational sanity-slaughtering regimes designed to keep humankind blindly perpetuating these sorts of petrified power-paradigms. Clarity of thought need not take generations to electrify into mass revolt against barbarity; truth has no timetable in the current culture of the world wide web of open communication. The evolution of human mind (and spirit) has been generationally progressing with or without the corrupt power-players consent. Time alone can no longer sustain the mass ignorance that held the old guard of degenerate power patterns in place. This is the real hope for a new reality for all people. As women in every country define their equal rights by joining in humanity's struggles for sane, rational world development, humanity will redefine itself both ideologically and operationally, from every layer of its growing knowledge. We each need to do our own learning in order to support rational revolution.

Rajendra Mehta
Rajendra Mehta6 years ago

Women as good as men have a right to all the human rights that make us a civilised society. A society that is in harmony with nature, our own inner self and common sense.

Faye Mealer
Faye Mealer6 years ago

My daughter lived in the middle east for 8 years and witnessed first hand the injustice, inequality and suffering of Muslim women. So, I pray for them to succeed in their efforts.Most of them are very gracious, hard working, long suffering souls and they have the God given right to be treated with love, equality and respect as the males in that society. When in lieth the deep rooted problems for them. So, maybe with this government in process some good changes will come for them

Carole K.
Carole K6 years ago

Ms. Amel abd al-Hadi"noted that in past Egyptian revolutions, in 1919 and 1952, women's contributions had been met with similar setbacks." I'd like to be optimistic in vision for their future; but there are literally thousands of years of past history to overcome in terms of relationships and roles between the sexes in this culture. This type of cataclysmic change just doesn't happen overnight; and will take several generations to effect at the very least. As with any kind of social change, many will prefer to adhere to the old known behavioral patterns because that is familiar, comfortable and predicable. For these entrenched reactionary persons of both sexes, such change will be met with skepticism and resistance.

carlee trent
carlee trent6 years ago


carlee trent
carlee trent6 years ago


Donna Laubhan
Donna Laubhan6 years ago

The time has come for all women and children of the world join together and then become equal parts of the people of the world.

Monica A.
Tara Aiello6 years ago

Women should have power, respect, and all rights everywhere-regardless of where they live/where they are. I hope this may come true one day. I can only dream...