On International Women’s Day, in which different women celebrate their achievements on personal and professional levels worldwide, Egyptian women are still in the early stages of an uphill battle to guarantee all their basic rights, often being dealt with as second degree citizens.
On 8 March of every year, countries such as China and Nepal celebrate women by giving them the day off as an official holiday. In others countries, men express their appreciation to the existence of women in their lives with roses and gifts.
However, in Egypt, the day remains a normal working day, and more often than not bears little to no consequence on women’s day-to-day routines.
“I didn’t know that today is International Women’s Day until I saw the reminder on Facebook,” Nouran Ziad, 25, said. “For me, it’s just a very normal day to spend, without even thinking about anything special happening.”
While the date is just a number on the calendar for her, it nonetheless serves as a reminder for other women of the struggles they witness daily.
“On International Women’s Day, I wish to be [appreciated as] a real woman in this society, not just a female who plays the role of males,” Nehad Mohammed, 50, said. “This day reminds me of my daily wish to be a woman who takes care of herself and focuses on achieving her dreams and wishes, while in reality I rush to provide basic needs for my family to replace the absent role of a male.”
From her point of view, being a woman in a conservative society like Egypt’s means having to exert double the effort men do to achieve their dreams. ”We balance between the rights we have to always fight for to work and take a part of the practical life and the role we play at home to be efficient helpful housewives who cook, clean, and take care of the children. It is the hardest thing to do on life.”
“It is like being both a man and a woman at the same time, with the same effort and the same physical abilities,” Mohammed said. Her celebration for the day was waking up at 4 am to prepare for her day, which will last until 11pm – in other words, her same routine as any day.
Unlike many countries across the world, International Women’s Day did not mark a day to celebrate achievements accomplished by women in Egypt. Instead, it constituted another opportunity for UNICEF Egypt to update its campaign against Female Gentile Mutilation (FGM). Some 87% of females in Egypt aged 15 to 49 underwent FGM from 2004-2015, according to a report by UNICEF.
Domestic violence is yet another major issue that continues to be a cause for concern for the status of women in Egypt; in 2014, 30 % of married women in Egypt said they have been/are subjected to domestic violence from their spouses, according Egypt Demographic and Health Survey.
The violence differed in types, 25.2% of married women are victims of physical abuse inflicted by their husbands. Meanwhile, 18.8% of married women suffer from psychological abuse and 4.1% suffer from sexual violence.
Yet, some have not given up the fight for their rights in an environment where most of the scales are tipped against them. “I woke up in the morning, decided to wear my short floral dress, and enjoy my International Women’s Day,” Maydaa, 29, said. “I try hard to enjoy being a woman in society, no matter how hard it gets sometimes.”
International Women’s Day originally started in 1908 as a political event, when around 15,000 women protested across New York City, demanding their right to vote, better pay, and shorter hours.
The day was only recognised by the UN in 1975, but ever since, the UN has created a theme each year for the celebration. The theme changes every year, based upon the most prominent challenges women face in that period of time.
These have ranged from “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future” in 1996 to this year’s theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” in which the UN adopted an initiative to focus on addressing poverty, hunger, disease, and gender equality.
As an Egyptian female, demanding the rights of gender equality and a better life is a long-standing battle, in a country where walking down the street without feeling threatened, or growing into adulthood without having a part of your body cut continues to be a distant dream for many.