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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 8 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Workplace Sexual Harassment Complaints Up Forty Five Percent in Past Jewish Year

New Age Islam News Bureau

8 Sept 2013

Photo: Indonesia Moves Miss World Final to Bali


 Religion-Free Egyptians Should Play Part in Politics

 Taliban To Sushmita: Why Did You Write Nasty Things?

 No Expats in Women’s Tailor Shops: MOL

 Bangladesh: Empowerment of Women at Local Govt Urged

 Islamabad: Court Awards Custody of Two Teenage Sisters to Mother

 Domestic Violence Turns a Saudi Woman’s Life into Hell

 3,666 Divorces for 183 Marriages in Eastern Province

 Afghan Female MP Released From Taliban Captivity

 Critics Savage Movie on Diana’s Affair with a Pakistani Muslim Doctor

 Indonesia Moves Miss World Final to Bali

 Egypt’s Underground Sisterhood

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Workplace Sexual Harassment Complaints Up 45% in Past Jewish Year

 Sep 8, 2013

There was a 45% increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints filed during the last Jewish year, according to a new report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The number of overall complaints rose by 9%, compared to the previous Jewish year, with the commission receiving a total of 925 complaints of workplace mistreatment. The 45% increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints was the largest of any single category, followed by a 35% rise in the volume of complaints alleging gender discrimination in hiring or firing.

There was a 30% increase in the number of complaints of religious discrimination, according to the report released Tuesday by commission director Tziona Koenig-Yair, and a 26% rise in the number of cases opened due to alleged employer discrimination of pregnant employees.

"The increased dimensions of discrimination prompts concern," Koenig-Yair said, adding that despite the passage of additional antidiscrimination laws in recent years, there are still many employers who violate the law. The problem must be addressed through educational efforts as well as by deterring illegal discrimination through increased enforcement of the law, she said.

Fully 49% of the complaints received by the commission over the past year alleged unfair treatment based on gender, or related to the complainant having children. Among the other complaints was age discrimination connected either to failure to hire prospective employees due to their age or efforts to encourage older employees to retire.

Also prevalent were complainants who claimed unfair treatment after they were called up for military reserve duty.

Forty-five percent of the complaints over the course of the year were based on alleged mistreatment of employees who were terminated from their jobs, while 19% were based on purported employer misconduct in the hiring process. Gender discrimination featured very prominently as a basis for complaints, and two-thirds of the complaints were filed by women.

To a great extent, the circumstances that gave rise to the complaints was also different between men and women, particularly with respect to the stage in their careers during which the alleged mistreatment arose. Among women, for example, 45% of the cases involved alleged discrimination related to pregnancy; 7% due to the women's age; another 7% allegedly due to the fact that the woman had children; 6% because the women were undergoing fertility treatments; and another 6% simply because they were female.

Failure to accommodate reserve duty

Among the files opened by men, 16% related to alleged employer misconduct in connection with employees' reserve duty; another 12% alleged age discrimination and a similar proportion was based on the pregnancy of the employee's spouse; 7% alleged religious discrimination; while another roughly 7% claimed they were mistreated simply because they are men.

Six percent alleged discrimination in hiring or in their job conditions based on their national origin, which in the Israeli context generally relates to being either Arab or Jewish.

When it comes to cases involving service in the military reserves, two-thirds claimed they were fired due to their military service. Another 27% claimed their employment conditions worsened for doing reserve duty. In most cases of alleged discrimination based on nationality, it was generally over employer-hiring practices.

In filings involving alleged age discrimination, 45% of complainants claimed they weren't hired due to their age, but another 41% claimed they were terminated from employment due to age.



Religion-Free Egyptians Should Play Part in Politics

Sep 8, 2013

Alia al-Mahdi, the Egyptian activist known for protesting nude, had urged the Egyptian interim presidency to include a representative for those who do not subscribe to any religion in the committee currently preparing the country’s constitution after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi on July 3.

As Egypt is getting ready to formulate the new constitution, Mahdi was one of the signatory names in an electronic letter sent to interim President Adly Mansour requesting more freedom and rights for religion-free Egyptians, Elaph website reported Saturday.

“We are Egyptians with no religion, we left Christianity and Islam, and we want to be represented in the new constitution by having an official to represent us in the committee responsible to prepare the constitution, to obtain our rights as Egyptians,” she wrote.

The activists said Egyptians who do not adhere to a religion “represent a big segment in Egyptian society,” hailing them as having “[some] of the best brains, from professors, students, doctors, engineers, thinkers, artists, writers and pharmacists, inside and outside Egypt.”

She said it was her right, and others’ who do not uphold any religious beliefs, to partake in Egypt’s political process, whether that means becoming a member of parliament or running for presidency.

In late 2012, Mahdi caused uproar in Egypt after demonstrating nude against the country’s draft constitution when she participated in a protest by the International women’s movement FEMEN in Stockholm.

Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, was criticized for presiding over a pro-Islamist constitution.

In the Stockholm protest, where Mahdi rose to fame, the activist appeared holding the Egyptian flag with writing on her body that read: “Sharia is not constitution.”

After the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi, many minorities in Egypt are asking to be involved in the formulation of the new constitution.

Elaph cited sources saying the presidency was taking into account such demands made by minorities in the country.



Taliban to Sushmita: Why did you write nasty things?

IANS | Sep 8, 2013

KOLKATA: The militants who barged into the Afghan home of Indian author Sushmita Banerjee and later shot her after asking why she wrote nasty things about them, the victim's in-laws told her Kolkata-based relatives on Saturday.

The slain author's younger brother Gopal Banerjee said her body was buried on Thursday morning as per Islamic traditions in Sharan city of Afghanistan's Paktika province.

"I managed to talk to my sisters' in-laws in Afghanistan over phone today (Saturday) around 2.30pm. I spoke to her husband Jaanbaz Khan and one of his cousins over Jaanbaz's mobile," Gopal Banerjee said.

"Since Thursday, I had been repeatedly trying Jaanbaz's number. But it was unreachable. Today, I finally managed to establish contact with him," said Banerjee, saying his brother-in-law sounded shaken by the experience, and "very upset".

"He seemed very upset at what has befallen him. I could hardly talk to him. But I had detailed conversation with his cousin, who said the killers were Taliban militants," Banerjee said.

"The cousin told me that when the killers barged into the house, they started beating her. They were saying, "Why have you written all these nasty things about us?"

Sushmita Banerjee defied her family to marry Afghan businessman Jaanbaz Khan, with whom she fell in love in Kolkata. She stayed for years with him in Afghanistan, before coming back to India. In 1998, she wrote the bestselling memoir " Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou" (A Kabuliwala's Bengali Wife), offering a vivid description of the suffering of women under the Taliban.

She also described her daring escape from the clutches of militants in the book, which made her a household name in Bengal.

Gopal Banerjee said: "The cousin told me that the militants tied up Sushmita's in-laws when they started protesting. They later abducted her."

Banerjee's bullet-riddled body, with some of the hair ripped off her head, was found on Thursday morning.

"The body was buried the same day according to their customs," said Gopal Banerjee, adding that Jaanbaz had no plans at present of coming to India.



No Expats in Women’s Tailor Shops: MOL

 Sep 8, 2013

JEDDAH – All women’s tailor shops will be run by Saudi women as the Ministry of Labor (MOL) has halted recruitment of expatriate workers in this industry, according to assistant undersecretary for development at the ministry Fahd Al-Tekhaifi.

The ministry has devised a plan to replace all expatriate workers currently running such shops with Saudi women, press reports said on Saturday.

Workshops will be held by the ministry in Riyadh and Jeddah in the next two weeks to discuss the plan with the owners of these shops.

This move comes in line with the ministry’s policy to create job opportunities for Saudi women.

Training plans have been also designed to qualify Saudi women and prepare them to fill the jobs of men’s tailors.

There is a huge number of Saudi women interested in working as tailors and there are plenty of opportunities in this sector, said Al-Tekhaifi.

The ministry embarked on the second phase of a campaign to feminize women’s clothing and accessory shops two months ago by replacing all male workers in such businesses with Saudi women.

During the first phase of the campaign, many businessmen were fined and their shops shuttered for failing to comply with the feminization requirements.



Bangladesh: Empowerment of Women at Local Govt Urged

 Sep 8, 2013

Speakers at a workshop yesterday demanded empowerment of women at the local government level so that they can better serve the society.

“The women are elected to the positions reserved for them, but do not get projects or resources from the central governments because of a patriarchal idea that they cannot fulfil the responsibility,” said Ayesha Khanam, chairperson of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, at the workshop organised by the Parishad in Cirdap auditorium of the capital.

Local government expert Prof Tofail Ahmed said women do not contend for seats outside the reserved ones during elections because they have a low chance of winning.

“They are also contending against men who do better campaigning because they are investing capital gained from sources like land brokerage, and tender brokerage, which the women cannot partake in. Women usually have to gain the capital through honest means,” he added.



Islamabad: Court Awards Custody of Two Teenage Sisters to Mother

September 8, 2013

ISLAMABAD: A local court on Saturday awarded custody of two teenage girls to their mother, during a case in which their stepfather had allegedly raped one of the girls and married the other while still married to their mother.

The Women Police Station had registered a case against the man on September 3 after his 13-year-old stepdaughter reported that he had raped her several times.

She also told the police that the man had married her 17-year-old sister without first divorcing their mother.

The police arrested the alleged rapist from the family’s house in G-11 on September 3 and a magistrate sent the man on judicial remand the same day. The girls and their mother were sent to a shelter home but custody of the girls on Saturday was awarded to their mother by a local court.

According to the police, the family is from Sargodha and is professional beggars. The family had moved to Islamabad five years ago, before moving to Karachi for a short period.

During the initial interrogation, the man confessed to marrying his stepdaughter but said the marriage certificate was burnt in a house fire. The police were trying to obtain a copy of the marriage certificate from Karachi, where the man claimed the Nikah took place.

However, they have not succeeded in retrieving the official record so far, a Women Police Station official said. The police are also waiting to receive the medical reports.

The police said the man continuously changed his statements and has not confessed to raping his younger stepdaughter.

According to the police, the 27-year-old man had married the girls’ mother eight years ago. Incidentally, the woman was married to the man’s maternal uncle and had four children with him before they divorced.

He then married his stepdaughter two years ago. The mother told the police she had tried to stop her husband, but he threatened to kill her and went ahead with the marriage.

The man has been booked on charges of rape and cohabitation caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage.

Women Police Station House Officer Sadaf Basharat did not say why the police were looking for the marriage certificate. According to Islamic jurisprudence, men cannot marry a stepdaughter born of a wife with whom the marriage has been consummated.

The 13-year-old girl managed to reach the police with the help of a shelter. The girl was brought to the centre by an NGO worker who had seen her begging on the street and decided to help.

She told the police her stepfather had raped her several times and that she was caught every time she tried to escape.



Domestic Violence Turns a Saudi Woman’s Life into Hell

September 08, 2013

ABHA — The Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Asir is investigating a complaint from a 21-year-old Saudi woman who claimed that she was mercilessly tortured by her father and husband, an Arabic daily reported.

The woman also claimed her in-laws were also joining in the bad treatment and making her life more miserable.

Supervisor of the commission in Asir Hadi Al-Yami said the complaint was being studied in coordination with other government departments.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was subjected to various kinds of torture and maltreatment from her family.

She said her predicament started after she was divorced from her second husband due to family issues. She told the newspaper: "When I came back home, my father welcomed me with five knife stabs, three in the back and two in the hand.

“He did not bother to take me to hospital and decided instead to keep me at home so his crime would not be discovered."

The woman said four months after the second divorce she got married to a third man, who was not better than her father or the two ex-husbands. "The new husband also started to abuse me physically and verbally," she said.

She said when the new husband went to prison after being convicted of a crime, her father asked her to seek divorce, but she refused.

"I did not want to be divorced because I did not want to go back to my father's home," she said.

She said during her husband's imprisonment, she lived with his family who were unkind to her.

She said: "They gave me a room in the courtyard and refused to give me food.

“The driver used to bring me food secretly."

The woman said she tried to commit suicide a week before Ramadan by cutting her arteries but was saved at the last moment.

"I had a nervous breakdown and I am still suffering psychologically," she said.

Latifah Abo Nayan, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ assistant undersecretary for family affairs, called for setting up a women and children’s research center to come up with the best methods to protect women and children against violence. She said most women fall victim to violence because they continue to be unaware of their human rights. She urged women who become victims of domestic violence to call 1919 to get protection and all services needed for solving their problems.

Abo Nayan said: “If a woman needs shelter, the ministry will provide her with one. The ministry runs several social protection centers for this purpose.”

She noted that any woman whose family refuses to take her back in because she served time in prison will be taken to a special protection center where she can be rehabilitated and trained on different social skills in order to be integrated again in society and hopefully reunited with her family.



3,666 Divorces for 183 Marriages in Eastern Province

September 08, 2013

DAMMAM — Divorce cases are on the rise in the Eastern Province, Al-Hayat daily reported on Saturday.

Makkah province led the way with 4,303 divorce cases in the third quarter of this Hijri year, representing 33 percent of total cases in the Kingdom.  The Eastern Province came second 3,666 divorce cases, representing 28 percent of total divorce cases in the Kingdom.

According to the Ministry of Justice website, there were only 183 marriages in the Eastern Province during the same period.

While the numbers of marriages are on the wane, there is a new trend that is breaking marriages. The trend sweeping Saudi society is what is known as "electronic divorce."

A growing number of marriages are being nullified by text messages.

However, scholars differ as to whether such divorces, using text messages, are valid or not. Supporters say that if it was confirmed that the sender of the message is indeed the husband, and the receiver of the message is his wife, then the divorce is effective.

Others, however, say that marital relationship is a holy charter and should not be dealt with in this irreverent way.

They said that the state of mind of the husband is very important in a divorce.

He may have been forced to write the message, and some scholars said witnesses are also important for a divorce to take place.

Some scholars said that some religious doctrines require the presence of witnesses, and that the husbands cannot divorce his wife without them.

Other scholars said it must be proven to the court that the husband has indeed sent the message, and that he must be in a sound mental condition.

The message should also be directed to the wife, without any ambiguity, and it should contain a clear divorce word.

Supporters of the "electronic divorce" say that as long as the husband tells his wife in a clear sentence that she is divorced, then the divorce is valid.

They say that it is irrelevant whether the husband informs his wife in person, by a message, a letter, or a telephone call.

A divorce has taken place if the husband confirms it and the wife is informed of it.



Afghan female MP released from Taliban captivity

 Dylan Welch

  Sep 8, 2013

KABUL — A female Afghan parliamentarian held captive by Taliban for three weeks has been released in a prisoner exchange, Taliban and government officials said on Saturday.

Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, a member of the Afghan lower house, was kidnapped on Aug. 13 when traveling by car through the restive eastern province of Ghazni.

She was the second female parliamentarian to be attacked in Ghazni in less than a week, and her abduction highlighted concerns about a recent spate of often deadly assaults on women working in state institutions.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said Kakar had been exchanged for four female and two child relatives of Taliban officials held by the government.  “Today, the Islamic Emirate handed (Kakar) back over to her relatives via a prisoner exchange,” Mujahid said, referring to the name the Taliban used during their 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan.

A Kakar family member, who declined to be named, also confirmed that the MP had been released. — Reuters



Critics Savage Movie on Diana’s Affair with a Pakistani Muslim Doctor

 8 September 2013

A new movie of the late British Princess Diana's relationship with a Pakistani Muslim doctor has been widely criticized as an intrusive and embarrassingly cheap soap opera.

British-born Australian actress Naomi Watts plays the princess and English actor Naveen Andrews the heart surgeon Hasnat Khan in “Diana,” which held its world premiere in London on Thursday, Reuters reported.

The movie is based on “Diana: Her Last Love”, a book by author Kate Snell published in 2000, arguing that the late Princess had a secret affair with Khan in the last two years of her life.

The British tabloids, who followed every twist and turn from Diana's 1981 marriage to Prince Charles, to their divorce and her death in a 1997 Paris car crash, have mocked the film from German director Oliver Hirschbiegel.

“The Queen of Hearts has been recast as a sad-sack singleton that even Bridget Jones would cross the street to avoid,” wrote the Mirror's David Edwards in a one-star review dubbing the film a “cheap and cheerless effort”, Reuters reported.

The real-life Hasnat Khan vowed in August he would never watch the film, saying it is all based on hypotheses and gossip.

Watts told Reuters from the red carpet that she was concerned about what Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, might think of the film if they were to see it.

“If they do I hope they feel that we have been respectful and upheld her memories in the best possible way,” she told Reuters Television.

Hirschbiegel, made the Oscar nominated “Downfall” about the last days of Hitler.



Indonesia moves Miss World final to Bali

   Sep 8, 2013

JAKARTA — Indonesia said Saturday the final of the Miss World pageant later this month would take place on the Hindu-majority holiday island of Bali instead of near the capital, after days of Muslim hardline protests.

The announcement is the latest sign in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation of fringe Muslim groups’ growing influence on authorities and their power to stymie events they deem un-Islamic.

Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after a series of protests, where radicals dubbed her “the devil,” threatened to burn down the venue and criticized her for wearing only “a bra and panties.”

Although the Miss World organizers had already promised to replace the contest’s trademark bikinis with Balinese sarongs for its beach fashion segment, thousands have taken to the streets this week to denounce the decision to hold the contest in Indonesia.

On Friday, radicals burned the organizers in effigy and branded them “infidels.” The contest opens in Bali on Sunday and later rounds were due to take place in and around Jakarta, with the winner originally set to be crowned at a venue outside the capital on September 28.

The government said all events would now be held on Bali, where hardline influence is almost non-existent and where the Balinese are used to hordes of foreign tourists sunbathing in skimpy swimwear. “All the events will now be held at venues in Bali — it will all be concentrated in Bali, until the closing,” coordinating minister for people’s welfare, Agung Laksono, told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday. He said the government had “listened to what the people wanted.” The decision was taken in a meeting between Laksono, Vice President Boediono, and police and tourism ministry representatives.

His comments came after some 600 people joined protests Saturday on Java island, bringing along goats wearing Miss World sashes in Yogyakarta city to ridicule the event, while students in Java’s Surabaya city held banners reading: “We are ready to die for the Miss World contest to be scrapped.”



Egypt’s Underground Sisterhood

Khaled Diab, Sep 8, 2013

Surveying Egypt’s political landscape, you might be excused for thinking that women are a minority. Only five members of the Committee of 50 tasked with revising the constitution are women.

Unsurprisingly, this 10% ratio falls far short of the true proportion of the population women constitute, which in Egypt is just shy of 50%. Although women are politically under-represented everywhere in the world, in Egypt, the problem is particularly acute, as reflected in the pathetically low number of women in the first post-Mubarak (dissolved) parliament.

Egyptian women have been divided on how unfair this is. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights – which advocates the use of quotas to balance the gender disequilibrium in Egyptian politics – criticised this “lean” representation, which is only 3% higher than the committee formed during the Muslim Brotherhood-led constitution drafting exercise.

Others have drawn consolation from the apparent quality of the women involved. But no matter how high the calibre or how strong the mettle of these five women, can they truly advance the cause of female emancipation and gender equality?

Of course, that is probably the entire point. Male politicians generally want to preserve male privilege, and excluding women from the political process is the most effective way of doing so. That would explain why the draft constitution still claims that all Egyptians are created equal, but some – namely middle-aged, Muslim men – are more equal than others.

So, while Article 11 ostensibly guarantees gender equality, much of what it giveth, it taketh away with the qualification that this should not get in the way of a woman’s “duties towards her family” and should adhere to the “principles of Islamic Sharia”.

Although many women and advocates of gender equality are rightly depressed and demoralised by these developments, I feel this post-revolutionary conservative backlash is less a function of the patriarchy flexing its muscles and more a sign of a weakened traditional male order desperately trying to reassert its shaken and failing authority.

With Egyptian women increasingly equalling and even surpassing men in the academic and professional spheres over the past few decades, the patriarchy has sought to hold on to the vestiges of its ever-shrinking spectrum of privilege and to control women in the only areas left: at home and sexually.

This manifests itself in how many Egyptian women may be managers or doctors in the public sphere, but at home they still have to behave like, or pretend to be, obedient housewives. It is also embodied in the excessive focus on “virtue” in which women have traded greater socio-economic freedom for ostensibly less sexual freedom, again at least openly.

This can partly explain the horrendous level of sexual violence that has been witnessed since the revolution began. The security vacuum created by the collapse of the Mubarak regime not only enabled men with sick attitudes to women to roam the streets with relative impunity, it also unleashed the use of sexual violence as a political weapon to intimidate women from joining the uprising.

This weapon of mass degradation has been employed to varying degrees by Egypt’s various leaders over the past two and a half years, from assaults and rapes on Tahrir Square to “virginity tests”.

Although this has succeeded to some extent, many women have refused to be cowed and admirably still continue to play prominent roles in Egypt’s revolution, both for collective freedom and their own. Women have even braved further assault to protest against sexual harassment, while a number of campaigns have been launched to protect women attending demonstrations, such as OpAntiSh, and to monitor and combat the phenomenon, such as HarassMap.

One recent attempt to reclaim the streets, ‘Hanelbes Fasateen‘, urged women to go out in dresses in defiance of harassers. Using old black-and-white images of elegant young Egyptian women in summer dresses strolling unharassed down the street, the campaign employed a certain amount of nostalgia for a lost Egypt of greater social freedom.

Once upon a land in a time not so far away, the overwhelming majority of Egyptian women went around with their hair uncovered and many dressed in revealing western fashions. Interestingly, in the 1950s, even the daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, who wanted to force all Egyptian women to cover up, did not wear a headscarf.

While there is some validity to this sense of loss, there is a danger of over-sentimentalising the past, Although Egypt until the late 1970s was freer in some ways than now, in others, it was just as conservative or even more so.

Egypt’s modernising secular elite may have seen female emancipation as a crucial component of development and progress, but wider society was still largely traditional and agrarian. This meant that modernity was often fabric deep and did not extend far beyond the emulating of the latest Western fashions.

Women of my parents’ generation were still making the first tentative steps into higher education and the workplace, with all that entailed of battles against entrenched traditionalism. In contrast, today, despite increasingly conservative attire, Egyptian women have succeeded in just about every walk of life. Moreover, young women have plenty of role models to look up to, and female education and employment is taken for granted by millions.

Unsurprisingly, liberal Egyptian women want to protect what hard-won gains, relatively few and precarious as they may be, the feminist movement has made, and to try to build on them. However, they have to contend against not only the reactionary voices of Islamists and other conservatives, but also against those sympathetic to their cause who claim now is not the time, we have bigger fish to fry.

But if not now, when, if ever? Never? Since the 1919 revolution, Egyptian women have shared the pain of the struggle for freedom but have reaped few of the gains. Instead of being rewarded for their sacrifices, they have seen their cause constantly relegated, in the battle against imperialism, neo-colonialism, dictatorship, etc.

In addition, the West hasn’t helped by exploiting women and their cause to mask its hegemonic ambitions in the region, which has enabled Islamists to smear female emancipation as a “Western import” designed to tear apart the fabric of society.

While there may be some credibility to the notion that women cannot be free if the rest of society is not, I believe the inverse is far more true: society cannot free itself if half of the population lives in relative subjugation. A country wishing to prosper, resist internal repression and foreign domination cannot do so without gender equality.

As prominent feminist Nawal El Saadawi recently put it: “Democracy means economic equality, social equality – you cannot have democracy under a patriarchy when women are oppressed.”

In fact, the subjugation of women is partly a product of these ills – when politics is closed off to the masses, the vulnerable suffer. Moreover, the Ottomans, the British and Egypt’s domestic tyrants had an unspoken hierarchy of repression: the elite runs the public domain while men will run the private sphere.

This means that Egyptian revolutionaries looking to free society cannot postpone women’s liberation to an undefined “better” future, but need to make it a central and integral pillar of the collective struggle for “bread, freedom and social justice”.

More importantly, with the Muslim Brotherhood project discredited by Morsi’s presidency and its divisive politics, many Egyptians are questioning their former faith in Islamism. This provides a golden opportunity to advocate more muscularly for women’s rights.

Sadly, this seems unlikely in the political mainstream, which will continue to exclude not just women but also the young for some time to come. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that Egyptian women are not taking this passively and are engaging in grassroots action to change their reality.

Though pioneering Egyptian women lack the safety net of a progressive legal system which safeguards their rights against regressive traditions, they are not waiting for their rights to trickle down from on top.

Every time I have visited Egypt since the revolution, I have been impressed by the increasing number of women I encounter who are defying social norms to live their individual and collective aspirations. These range from the political activists who risk life and limb for the cause to the growing number of women pursue unusual careers, travel abroad or defer being married off (sometimes indefinitely).

When I first decided to live alone in the Cairo of the 1990s, this was unusual even for young men to do. When I was in Egypt a few weeks ago, I was impressed by the surprising number of women who are choosing to live alone.

And not all of them are from the “elite”. One young woman I met was born and raised in a small, conservative village outside Fayoum. University enabled her to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural Egypt. Not only does she live in her own apartment in Cairo, she has worked in China and the Gulf.

“The status of women has deteriorated a lot,” she admitted. “If the civil [Egyptian for 'secular'] current gets its way, things will get better. I hope to one day see the first female president.”

While such an aspiration seems like wishful thinking today, I believe that it is entirely possible as grassroots change climbs gradually upwards. After all, if the Islamist counter-culture of the 1970s managed to mainstream its values, why can’t the secular current do the same? Political revolution needs social evolution.