The World

Poll Ranks Egypt Worst in the Arab World for Women

Egyptian women shout political slogans during a demonstration in Cairo on March 16, 2012, in solidarity with Samira Ibrahim, an Egyptian woman who brought the case against an army doctor, Ahmed Adel, accused of conducting forced ‘virginity tests’ on female protestors. 

Photo by MOHAMMED HOSSAM/AFP/Getty Images

I’m not sure I buy the headline that that 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 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 below 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 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 Mursi 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-Mursi 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.