Egyptian Women's Rights vs. Rape and Violence Against Women
Egypt's withdrawal of police from the streets has resulted in an explosion of sexual assaults against women over the last couple of years. According to The New York Times, when "women were sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square," the scandal "had become too big to ignore."
Islamists, the new political conservative elite responded -- not with empathy or aid, but rather with targeted "outrage at the women," but not the rapists. The New York Times notes: "Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker and ultra conservative Islamist says: 'Sometimes, a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.'"
Yet Egyptian women rise - they speak out through the new media, defy long held taboos, are undeterred by Islamist patriarchs and elected leaders antagonistic towards women's rights in general.
Though Tahrir Square was at the heart of the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution in Cairo, by 2013 it has become a "no-go zone for women," especially at night. Yet, there is a ray of hope for Egyptian women as exemplified by the courage of Hania Moheeb, a 42-year-old journalist, who was violated on Jan. 25. She took her story to the press, while her supportive husband stood by her and said: "My wife did nothing wrong." While the Morsi government has proposed a bill criminalizing sexual harassment, the women seek something else: protection from social scorn heaped on sexually abused victims while others opt to arm themselves in self defense.
Against this backdrop of sexual harassment, where Egyptian women clearly need more protection and more rights, the Muslim Brotherhood appears tone deaf. The Muslim Brotherhood (distinguished here from President Morsi's government) makes a statement on a proposed United Nations declaration to condemn violence against women complaining: "Wives should not have the right to file legal complaints against their husbands for rape, and husbands should not be subject to the punishments meted out for the rape of a stranger."
Further, the Brotherhood's statement says: "a husband must have "guardianship" over his wife, not an equal 'partnership' with her... Daughters should not have the same inheritance rights as sons. Nor should the law cancel 'the need for a husband's consent in matters like travel, work or the use of contraception,'"
While these views might well be in line with traditional and conservative women's beliefs in Egypt this statement from the Muslim Brotherhood virtually obliterates any legitimate rights for women -- even though they are half the population and certainly carried their weight in the Arab Spring revolution.
Sometimes I wonder if Egyptian Islam upholds the spirit of the faith? If so, how on earth could they deny the Prophet's behavior and respect for his wives: Look at Khadijah, a caravan trader, entrepreneur, globalist and a widow who proposed marriage to Prophet Muhammad and Aisha, who rode her camel bare back into battle to fight for her faith.
A blood-curdling rape: A wake-up call for India
Now let's look at a blood-curdling rape case in Delhi. A 23 year old woman, Jyoti Pandey Singh, a physiotherapist goes to see Life of Pi with a male friend in Delhi. Unable to hail down a rickshaw, she hops a bus only to be brutally raped by seven guys and to die a week later. The outpouring of support on the streets and in the media was phenomenal. It was a wake-up call for India. And for once it worked: a powerful bill punishing violence against women is expected to pass in the next parliamentary session -- thanks to the activism of youth and a proactive public. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde says, the new legislation is "a loud, clear and deterrent signal that the society will not tolerate such errant behavior."
While secularism, pluralism, democracy and law are integral to India, a determined pro-active commitment for a fast track on women's rights and women's sexual harassment is still missing. But Jyoti's martyrdom is creating a fast track for prosecuting rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence.
As I look at the reactions in Egypt and India on rape and violence against women, the bottom line question arises: Which of these two countries best exemplify the spirit of Prophet Muhammad?
I have considerably more faith in Indian Islam being pro-women rather than Egypt or the Arab heartland and here's why. Islam in India is a minority faith with 177 million adherents, embedded in a potent elixir of democracy, secularism and spirituality. In India, Islam is both a frontier faith and the largest minority group. Islam's minority status teaches it to co-exist harmoniously with other faiths. Indian Islam is pliant -- it integrates into Indian culture, traditions and social norms seamlessly given that it's been entrenched there since the eighth century. Islam is at home in a democratic, secular India.
Indeed, according to Oxford's Faisal Devji, Faisal_Devji in The Shy Caliphate Islam is inextricably woven into the foundations of that India. Devji argues that nations are built not on wealth and power but rather on an "idea." He writes: "In the second half of the 19th century, Islam was the only idea that made it possible for Indians to ally with their neighbors in an anti-imperial revolt." He adds: "Islam was not simply a theological phenomenon, but able to lend its name to politics flexible enough to make common cause with Hindus and Sikhs as well as atheists." Islam, like most faiths, is at its best when it is circumscribed. Monopolies create bad economics -- but also bad religious cultures.
Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.