It appeared to be an unprecedented victory. But one year after Egyptian feminists secured the reversal of Article 291—which exonerated rapists who married their victims—the enthusiasm and energy for an issue that once bubbled in the Egyptian press seems to have gone flat. But feminists there say they've learned their lesson: it takes real activism to change things.
Leading women's rights activists and lawyers say that since the article's reversal, no women have attempted to prosecute rapists. "It's not about the law," explains Azza Soleiman, head of the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Aid. "It's about values and norms."
Twenty-three-year-old Salma is caught in that trap. She was raped on three separate occasions and says that this is something she will forever keep to herself. "It's too embarrassing," she says. "Everyone would look down on me if I spoke about it." Indeed, says Dr. Magda Adly, of El Nadim Centre for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, "Rape is still regarded as the woman's fault. The removal of this law will only make a difference when we have more women's shelters, but the problem is a lack of funding and a lack of support."
Mariz Tadros, one of Egypt's leading feminist writers, concurs, "From the officer at the police station to the person who examines the victim to the parents, we need to create an atmosphere in which women can demand their rights. There's also a lack of political willingness on the part of the government and a lack of prioritization."
While continuing to challenge the social attitudes that keep rape victims closeted, Egyptian feminists have managed to win another legal battle: overturning the personal status law. This law, which is older than Article 291, required women seeking a divorce to prove they had been mistreated. Already it has had more impact than the repeal of the rape law. At press time, one woman had filed for divorce under the new standards.
Activists, however, remain unconvinced that these improvements in women's legal status alone will have a measurable impact on women's lives.
"Changing the personal status law is part of an ongoing campaign," says Aida Seif el-Dawla, a professor of psychiatry and volunteer at El Nadim. "But in Egypt, a law in itself does not mean a lot in practice, and there are limits to our activism. Distributing leaflets and demonstrating with more than five people is illegal. So we can't be as loud as activists abroad.
"Now, we're tackling the taboos," says el-Dawla. "And for the past fifteen years, women's rights groups have been mushrooming everywhere."
1/23/2015 #HeForShe Campaign Launches Pilot Effort Aimed at Institutional Equality - The United Nations' gender equality campaign #HeForShe has launched a new program called IMPACT 10X10X10.
United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, together with UN Women Executive DirectorPhumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, introduced the one-year pilot effort aimed at encouraging corporations, universities, and governments to play an active role in enhancing women's empowerment and equality in Davos, Switzerland today at the World Economic Forum.
"Women need to be equal participants in our homes, societies, in our governments, and in our workplaces," Watson said.
First introduced in September, HeForShe is a solidarity movement that calls on men and boys to confront gender inequalities that face women and girls globally. . . .
1/22/2015 BREAKING: House to Vote on Abortion Coverage Ban - After they were forced to scrap plans for a 20-week abortion ban, House Republican leaders decided late last night to instead ram through a vote today on a different extreme anti-abortion bill.
House Republicans are now pushing HR 7, a bill promoted as a ban on federal funding of abortion that would actually prevent women from using their own money to purchase health insurance that includes abortion care. . . .
1/22/2015 House Cancels Abortion Ban After GOP Congresswomen Drop Support - House Republicans cancelled plans to vote on a 20-week ban on abortion after Republican Congresswomen removed their names publicly as co-sponsors of the bill.
The vote on the unconstitutional 20-week ban had originally been scheduled for today, the anniversary of Roe v. . . .