By Mennatallah Fouad Youssef
CAIRO: Mo’mena Badawy is a middle-aged woman who has been her family’s sole breadwinner since her husband was left crippled from an accident in 1993.
Despite the social and financial hardships she faces daily, she manages to support her family, offering her children an education and providing them will all their needs.
She is one of many “invisible” women in Egyptian society that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women wanted to shed light on during the International Women’s Day celebration at the Cairo Opera House last Saturday.
CARE Egypt, an NGO working locally since 1954 with marginalized sectors of society, collaborated with UN Women, to honor women in Egypt for their continuous achievements in society.
According to the UN, 60 percent of women experience some sort of sexual abuse or violence, 25,000 girls are forced into marriage every day at the age of 18. Globally, women produce 50 percent of the world’s food but only own 1 percent of the world’s farmland.
In his written statement to the audience, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urged “governments, civil society and the private sector to commit to gender equality and the empowerment of women — as a fundamental human right and a force for the benefit of all. The energy, talent and strength of women and girls represent humankind’s most valuable untapped natural resource.”
Egyptian women have fought alongside men throughout history, against colonialism, for political freedoms and the rights of workers.
Today, a local police officer showed how women in Egypt could occupy male dominated jobs.
Nahed El-Hennawi, director of the Crisis Management and Information Unit at Ahnasia Police, near Gharbyia, passionately believes in the role of women in society.
“I’m a woman from the countryside and I started working at the age of 16 and got married at the age 17. …I was still a child,” she said.
“I faced a lot of challenges in my work environment which is reserved for men, and also where I come from it is uncommon for women to work. Frankly, women in the countryside are severely marginalized. But I had to face these challenges to set an example that women are not to be mocked.
“I forced the men I work with to look at me in a respectable way and understand that I am as competent as any of them.” Her words were met with loud applause from the audience.
Several prominent figures were honored during the event for their track record in the fields of development, education, human rights, rights, politics and arts.
The common feature between these women was the immense troubles they have undergone, beginning with their childhood and then in their jobs. Some faced early marriage and were widowed as early as 18, such as Dr. Hoda Badran, who worked on several developmental projects around the world with UNICEF.
Also honored were Dr. Amena Nosseir, professor of Islamic Doctrine and Philosophy, for her extensive research in the field. Dr. Aziza Hussein, the first Egyptian woman to represent the country in the UN General Assembly, established the first rural nursery school in Egypt. Her work shed light on female circumcision in the country.
Egyptian singer Angham was honored for her song “Nos El-Donya,” dedicated to Egyptian women.
Activist and founder of the Kefaya Movement, George Ishaak, described these women as pillars of Egyptian society.
“We have to remember today women who fell victims during the Arab Spring. These women have sacrificed their lives as much as men did for the sake of a better future for their countries. The women that were honored today at the event are an example of how women are strong, brave and committed to their societies,” he added.
After the revolution
Speakers during the event discussed the role of women after the revolution and most insisted that to maintain and gain more rights for women, they had to be represented in the committee drafting the new constitution, especially after the low representation in parliament.
“I believe that women should have all their rights and simply participate in all fields according to their qualifications as citizens of this country,” said MP Mohamed Abou Hamed.
“As a member of parliament I have the obligation to keep in place legislations that maintain their rights, and not support any legislation that will try to take away from women rights they have gained in the past years in accordance with child custody laws,” he added.
The event’s program was full of different performances ranging from songs that originated in Tahrir Square all the way to opera and jazz.
An extraordinary performance ended the day. The Mazaher Ensemble is a band with women at the forefront. Its four female members are amongst the last remaining Zar practitioners in Egypt.
An Egyptian woman carries a tray of bread at a public oven in Giza. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)