The country I have chosen to study throughout this course has been Egypt. I have also chosen to examine Egypt through the feminist anthropological theory. Egypt is located in Northern Africa and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The climate there is considered to be desert with hot dry summers and moderate winters. The Nile is another major body of water that runs through the country and provides irrigation for the countries agricultural system. Not surprisingly, the country is very population dense around the Nile, with 95% of the population living within 20 km of the river. This is the major devised between urban and rural population in Egypt. As of 2012, the total population is 80721.9 (thousands), 29800.9 (thousands) being under the age of 18. The annual population growth rate has recently been projected to drop from 1.6% to 1.3% by 2030 (Statistics). he crude death rate as of 2012 is 6.5 and the crude birth rate was 23.5, total life expectancy is 70.9 and total fertility rate falls at 2.8. What these numbers tell us is that Egypt has a relatively young population, whose live expectancy is short compared to other developed nations, and they should expect their population to steadily increase with their fertility rate falling above replacement level of 2.1. This also tells us that Egypt has an expansive population and still in stage one or “pre transition.” This is stage two of the demographic transitions. In this stage, we see rapid growth in a country due to the increased birth rate and declined death rate. The increase of a birth rate within a country is usually do to an increase in public health via sanitation, food supply, clean drinking water, and increase in education and status for women. One of the biggest factors that leads to a decrease in death rate is the increase or stabilization of food supply. To move into stage three of demographic transition Egypt would see a decrease in their birth rate due to women obtaining higher education and a better social status standing within the society. While women in Egypt are very educated and have access to higher education, they struggle in gaining that higher status within Egyptian culture. The female literacy rate is 80.5 and the primary school enrollment is 94.3 as a % of males, these numbers are not horrible but they could make some strives to increase female education (Statistics).
Throughout history the status of Egyptian women has drastically changed. In ancient Egypt women were for the most part equal to men regardless of their marital status. Egyptian women ruled in government and had rights. In today’s climate in the status of women is much different. Today women are oppressed, harassed, and abused. According to the Global Database on Violence Against Women, 26% of women in Egypt face a lifetime of physical and / or sexual violence from there partner, 17% are in child marriages, and 87% face genital mutilation and / or cutting (Global Database on Violence against Women). Egypt ranks 135 on the gender inequality index and 132 on the global gender gap index (Global Database on Violence against Women). What makes a woman in Egypt is very strictly biological; the same goes for men in Egypt. You are either a man or a woman based on your sex at birth and then gender stereotypes are enforced. In ancient Egypt, women could own property without being married, today they cannot walk in the street without being harassed. A 2013 UN Women report revealed that 99.3 per cent of women surveyed had been sexually harassed on the street (Curnow). A survey was conducted on Egyptian men to get their opinions on the gender inequality that takes place in their country. when respondents were given the statement “If a woman is raped, she should marry her rapist,” nearly 64 per cent of men agreed to this statement (Curnow). In my mind a country is only as advanced and modern as how it treats its lowest citizens. In Egypt, these citizens are women. While they are intelligent, their value strictly lies in their body. This can be seen with the survey of men saying that women should marry their rapist. Their value is their virginity and once that is gone, they belong to the man who conquered it like they are a piece of land and not a human being.
Marriage is of high importance to their culture, it is unacceptable for women to live a single or unmarried life. According a 2017 UN Women report, just more than 8 per cent of men and about a third of women believe that unmarried women should have the same right as unmarried men to live alone (Curnow). Many women in Egypt are pursuing higher education, and access to education in not a problem in this country. Where the problem lies for women’s education is purely social. Thousands of Egyptian girls who are currently pursuing higher education will eventually settle down at home and choose not to pursue a career (Ibrahim). It is my belief that these women do this because they do not want to miss out on their chance to be a mother and a wife. They are afraid that if they have a career they will be intimidating and men will find them undesirable because a good mother cannot have a career, she needs to devote all her time to her children and her husband. In some faculties, such as Alexandria University’s faculty of medicine, more than half of the students are girls. This does not stop many male professors from wondering: “What brought all of you here in the first place? You just take up space and resources and in the end you’ll all get married and stay at home (Ibrahim).” The social stigmas are what are killing girls dreams of a career. I imagine after hearing comments like this I would want to drop out too. It is not socially accepted for women to work out side of the home in Egypt. Women are expected to be home makers and all the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing chores falls into the laps of the women. Socially the atmosphere is what we Americans may describe as a very “traditional” or “1950s” way of thinking.
One of the major health concerns in Egypt for women today is the lack of access to birth control. As the world is marking the 29th anniversary of the Population Day, an Egyptian public health professor at Cairo University stressed that 2 million Egyptian women, mostly in Upper Egypt, have no access to contraceptives (Mena). As fertility rates start to soar in Egypt, access to affordable birth control is becoming more and more crucial. Maisa Shawki, former deputy health minister, said family planning services should be made widely available through providing contraceptives and raising awareness of both men and women about the importance of reproductive health (Mena). Overpopulation and limited resources are among the biggest challenges facing development in Egypt, she added. However, she cited some improvement in population indicators after the start of the application of the 2015/2030 National Population Strategy (Mena). Just as important as over population in Egypt, is providing choice and the feeling of autonomy to women. When women have choice when it comes to their reproduction they have more opportunities to pursue higher education and a career. When women are empowered through education and ability to have a career beyond the home, the fertility rate usually stabilizes. This change needs to happen first in the social sphere, the people of Egypt need to believe that women are equals and are capable and deserving of choice.
There are few signs of women’s health improving in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, with some observers fearing a worsening of rights and attitudes (Sharmila). More than 99% of hundreds of women surveyed in Egypt reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor harassment to rape, said a recent UN report (Sharmila). Clearly, women’s health extends beyond just access to birth control in Egypt. Part of women’s health issues in Egypt is the inability for women to feel safe. As we learned in the lectures this week, post traumatic stress syndrome can cause prolonged health issues for women that can even effect the birth weight of their babies. Many negative health consequences to the victims have been associated with domestic violence against women. Data from the 1995 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey, a nationally representative household survey, were analyzed for 6566 currently married women age 15–49 who responded to both the main questionnaire and a special module on women’s status (Diop-Sidibé). The study examined the association of ever-beating, beating in past year or frequency of beatings in past year with contraceptive use, pregnancy management, and report of health problems. Thirty-four percent of women in the sample were ever beaten by their current husband while sixteen percent were beaten in the past year (Diop-Sidibé). This trauma has ripple effects on other aspects of women’s health. Higher frequency of beating was associated with non-use of a female contraceptive method, while ante-natal care by a health professional for the most recent baby born in the past year was less likely among ever-beaten women (Diop-Sidibé). This type of violence is programed to be the norm in girl’s minds from a young age. Physical violence against young girls is difficult to document and study because it goes unreported even when it does result in injury because disciplining young id perceived as familial prerogative and duty (Ammar). This prolonged violence against women has repercussions that stretch beyond just the instance of abuse.
Looking at the health issues Egypt is currently facing through the lens of the feminist theory is quite intense. There are obvious issues of gender inequality in this country. These inequalities are mostly rooted in the overwhelming conviction to the Islamic faith throughout the country. I am not critiquing the Islamic faith individually, but all of the Abrahamic religions can be manipulated to enforce some very sexist beliefs about the world. In Egypt access to birth control is a national health issue. As we see here in America, where Christianity has a high prevalence, getting insurance to cover contraceptive use has been a topic up for debate in our government and actually achieving this coverage is something that I have even personally struggled with. From a feminist point of view, we can see that this is an issue with the willingness of the societies to allow women to have autonomy over their bodies. We also see this inequality spread to how violence and harassment of women in Egypt is dealt with. When abuse even when it results in injury is nearly never reported because it is the view of the society that the husband or father is the master of the home, these injustices are silenced by societal norms. When over 99% of women are harassed or cat called in the streets of Egypt and there are no repercussions, this becomes the new norm. In every society, we set the standards for women by what we allow. This idea that women should be allowed to choose when they do or do not conceive was the struggle of the second wave of feminism and one that still persist in many countries dominated by an Abrahamic religion. For myself as a Jewish woman, I have never seen actual religion support these claims, but I have very intimately experienced religious teachings be twisted to justify and spread a very sexist agenda. I truly believe that deep down men are afraid of women and what kind of power women can have if they have control of the one thing that sets us apart from men. In fact, many Jewish mystics believe that women are more natural and connect to nature there also is a division that believes that women could self-conceive, but this is a story for a different day. As we talked about in previous weeks that our connection to our cycle and the earth is what is used to claim we are less and incompetent, is what actually what men are afraid of. It is important to note that the reaction of each society to this fear of women’s power manifest in different ways. The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those boundaries (Dominguez). While in Egypt women are struggling for contraceptive, in other countries little girls are struggling for the right to attend school. Ultimately, in my eyes the issue always comes to power but what constitutes that power differs in each culture.
Ammar, Nawal. In the Shadow of the Pyramids: Domestic Violence In Egypt. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/026975800000700303
Curnow, W. (2017, August 27). Egypt’s women fight harassment on the street and restrictions at home. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-27/young-women-fight-harassment-restrictions-in-egypt/8729056
Diop-Sidibé, N. Domestic violence against women in Egypt-wife beating and health outcomes. (2005, August 31). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953605003953
Global Database on Violence against Women. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/fr/countries/africa/egypt
Ibrahim, B. (2010, April 07). The struggle for equality in Egypt | Baher Ibrahim. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/07/equality-struggle-egypt-women
Johnna Dominguez, J., Franks, M., & Boschma, J. H. (n.d.). Feminist Anthropology. University of Alabama. https://anthropology.ua.edu/cultures/cultures.php?culture=Feminist%20Anthropology
Mena. 2 million Egyptian women have no access to contraceptives: Officials. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/53760/2-million-Egyptian-women-have-no-access-to-contraceptives-officials
Sharmila, D. (2013, May 18). Women’s health challenges in post-revolutionary Egypt. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)61060-0/fulltext
Statistics. (2013, December 24). Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/egypt_statistics.html