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March 7, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Women’s rights failing to bloom after Arab Spring

Cairo: They were on the front line during last year’s Arab uprisings, but women now fear for their rights as Islamists reap the fruits of revolt, winning elections in Egypt and Tunisia and gaining influence in Libya.

In Tunisia, the dominant Islamist Al Nahda party has said it wants to fortify the personal status code, which bans polygamy and grants Tunisian women unparalleled rights in the region, by making it a basic law.

Changing such a law requires two-thirds of the votes in parliament.

But recent debates in the constituent assembly on the mention of Sharia in Tunisia’s constitution have worried women and liberal parties who fear a decline in women’s rights.
In Egypt, where Islamists dominated parliamentary and senate elections, female representation in parliament fell from 12 per cent to just two per cent, and a quota that gave women 64 seats was abandoned.

“Women are now confronting attempts to exclude them from public life, as well as acts of discrimination and violence, perpetrated with impunity by extremist groups and security forces,” said a report by the International Federation for Human Rights.

In Tunisia, some teachers have been intimidated for not wearing the hijab. In Egypt, female protesters have been subjected to “virginity tests” by the military, a practice calculated to humiliate them, according to Amnesty International.

Kuwaiti women’s rights activist Ebtehal Al Khateeb said the rise of the Islamists in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions will “first and foremost negatively affect the role of women” in the Arab world.

Social norms

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party dominates parliament, says a woman cannot become president of the country.

In Libya the country’s leader sparked concerns with a statement on the importance of Islamic law.

Feminists also face another hindrance in the beliefs of more conservative women who argue being granted “too many” rights contravenes religion and social norms.

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