CAIRO, Egypt – A poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranks the worst Arab states for women and found that women were worst off in Egypt out of all other Arab countries. The sexual harassment, high female genital mutilation rates, increased violence and Islamist sentiments that followed the Arab Spring are cited as the cause. Egypt ranks last on the list of 22 Arab states due to its discriminatory laws and sharp increase in trafficking as well.
The Arab Spring was thought to be a revolution that would liberate women in the Arab world and increase the opportunities available to them. However, it has had the opposite effect on women. The uprisings have made Arab states unstable and conflict-ridden, both of which produce situations that displace civilians. Islamist groups, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, have also emerged and spread their influence as state order remains unsteady in Egypt. Women’s rights have suffered as a result.
The United Nations reported in April 2013 that 99.3 percent of women and girls are sexually harassed in Egypt, meaning that nearly the entire female population in Egypt is being sexually harassed. Women in Egypt have also found it difficult to participate in protests without being victimized. The Human Rights Watch revealed that 91 women had been publicly raped or sexually assaulted in the month of June alone at the Tahrir Square protests against Mohammed Morsi.
Though Egypt may be the worst Arab state for women, women in a number of other Arab states do not have it much easier. For example, while Syria is ravaged by civil war, Syrian women are subjected to abuse and torture. The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with a total of about 6,000 women raped since, according to the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network.
As the civil war rages, women have been arrested without reason, used as sniper targets and human shields along with their children and, because they are an easy target, have also been used strategically for political purposes. For instance, Syrian women have been kidnapped as an act of vengeance or to secure a prisoner exchange. The relationship some women have to individuals in the government or opposition forces make them political pawns on both sides of the war.
Women who are thrown into Syrian jails undergo abuse and neglect during their incarceration. They remain in detention with bruises and dried blood on their bodies, blistered feet and infection of the skin and eyes. Various female detainees are held without being charged with a crime, but others have been imprisoned for food smuggling and anti-Assad rally pictures. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Syrian women are in jail, many of them dying from torture, inadequate medical attention or asphyxiation.
Furthermore, state order in Libya has continued to crumble after the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Libya is teeming with armed militias while kidnapping, extortion, random arrests and physical abuse of women are common occurrences in this North African nation. Women’s rights have failed to be signed into law despite Gaddafi no longer being in power.
Women in Iraq also face an uphill battle as their freedom did not last after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in the 2003 invasion carried out by the United States. Iraqi women have suffered from the instability and conflict that has persisted for a decade through the rise in domestic abuse, prostitution and illiteracy.
Moreover, the U.N. refugee agency reported that hundreds of thousands of women are displaced in Iraq and other nations along its borders. As such, the women being displaced are susceptible to being trafficked, kidnapped and raped.
– Brittany Mannings