Dr. Nawal el Saadawi on women's rights in Egypt
Dr. Nawal el Saadawi is an Egyptian writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist. She is interviewed here by guest blogger, human rights activist and journalist Yesim Yildiz.
'It is a strong long fight. But I am very hopeful. I think we will win'.
Both men and women continue to be subjected to horrific acts of torture all around the world. The majority of women survivors we see at Freedom from Torture have been are sexually harassed, raped or subjected to other forms of sexual torture by law enforcement officials or other groups during questioning or detention, both in times of conflict and peace. Women often cannot report torture because of their fear of reprisals or social pressure.
As stated in Freedom from Torture's 2009 report 'Justice Denied: The experiences of 100 torture surviving women of seeking justice and rehabilitation', gender inequalities and systematic violence against women in many communities contributes to women's vulnerability and restricts practical avenues of redress and rehabilitation. Due to social and cultural traditions, in many cases it is the survivors who are isolated rather than the perpetrators.
Women in Egypt are no exception. Women who participated in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square since the end of January 2011 have experienced sexual torture during questioning and detention. Women who were detained were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to undergo 'virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges. They were brought before a military court and some received one-year suspended sentences for charges including disorderly conduct, destroying property, obstructing traffic and possession of weapons.
When Nawal el Saadawi, prominent Egyptian writer and activist, visited London last year to attend a conference, our Yesim Yaprak Yildiz interviewed her about women's rights and gender based violence in Egypt.
Yildiz: Could you tell us your views on the situation for women in Egypt, specifically the treatment of women after the Tahrir Square protests?
Nawal el Saadawi: One of the women sued the army because they inspected her virginity. Now it is in the media. The military is doing a lot of harm to the revolution. One of the important aspects of the Egyptian revolution was that it helped to uncover these hidden crimes under the name of morality. Great injustices were done against girls in Egypt in the name of virginity. Some might say that the objectives of the revolution does not include these but that it is concerned with politics, economy, elections, constitution and so on.
But the real revolution is both public and private; it is political, economic, social, moral and sexual, cultural, educational. We need to connect women's issues to global economic and political issues because they are all connected. The issues of sexual violence against women, whether rape, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour killings are tackled separately. We need to connect these problems and understand the real causes. In honour killing, we need to ask whose honour it is. It is the name of the father that has the honour. Children take the name of the father to be legitimate. In Egypt we made a campaign a few years ago about illegitimate children. Before the law changed, a child who had no named father could not have a birth certificate, could not go to school and had no human rights. Following our campaign, in 2008, a law was introduced so an unmarried mother can give her name to the child and the child can go to the school and have a birth certificate.
Y: Women were instrumental in the Egyptian revolution in overthrowing the Mubarak regime. However, women are still being largely excluded from taking part in shaping their country's future. Could you explain the current legal situation in terms of women's rights?
S: We have double laws as in any other patriarchal system. If a man in Egypt rapes a girl, then the family does not sue the man, usually for social reasons and shame. If they sue the man, the family honour will be threatened. So they try to marry the girl to the man. In the law there is an item saying that if a man rapes and if he is ready to marry the girl, then he is not punished. Women are punished twice, first by rape and second by marrying the rapist. The rapist is innocent because he married the victim. We campaigned to change this item in the law and it is changed now. Now he has to be punished. Generally the law in Egypt supports men. So we have two goals, to unveil the mind and to organise. Women should know their rights. A law cannot be changed without organising.
The Family Code needs to be changed radically. A man can marry four women and divorce them without any reason. But first we have to change the Constitution. There is no woman in the committee. Women participated in the revolution and hurled their lives and their blood and their eyes and dignity for freedom, dignity and justice, but the political forces that took over the revolution want to exclude women under the name of morality or religion. We were in the revolution but suddenly we were excluded by the military and the temporary government.
Y: You were among the women who founded the Egyptian Women Union. Could you tell us how the union was formed and what its aims are?
S: We started the Egyptian Women Union in Tahrir Square. It was banned under Mubarek's regime several times. We felt the danger that women were going to be excluded, so we started it again. The Egyptian Women Union works to include women in political processes. We should be included in all committees. There were many young revolutionary men with women. We were together in Tahrir Square. Women's issues were not divisive at all. But the point is that they are preventing us. The law is against us. The law is old; we need to change the law to accept the women's union. It is a strong long fight. But I am very hopeful, I think we will win.