Cairo was named on Monday as the most dangerous megacity for women by an international Media poll.
Women’s rights experts said that the treatment of women in the Egyptian capital has worsened since a 2011 uprising seeking social change.
Cairo came out worst when the Media asked experts on women’s issues in 19 megacities how well women are protected from sexual violence, harmful cultural practices and about access to healthcare and finance.
Women’s rights campaigners and commentators said women in Cairo faced daily harassment while a weakened economy and high unemployment since the uprising had eroded economic opportunities for women and seen health services deteriorate.
“The economy has become so bad in the last two, three years that we are suffering a setback in the thinking that women’s issues are not a priority,” said Omaima Abou-Bakr, co-founder of Women and Memory Forum, a non-government organisation set up to fight misconceptions of Arab women.
However, Naglaa el-Adly, who is part of Egypt’s National Council for Women, an independent governmental body, believes women’s rights have improved – with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declaring 2017 as the “Year of Egyptian women”.
“We have political will. This year, 2017, is the year for women. And everywhere, all ministries, all entities they are helping women to gain their rights,” said el-Adly.
Data on violence against women in Cairo is hard to find but 99 per cent of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment and 47 per cent of divorced or separated women reported domestic abuse.
Campaigners said successive governments since the uprising had put violence against women on the backburner, with authorities failing to acknowledge the extent of the problem.
An outcry over attacks on women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during al-Sisi’s inauguration celebrations in 2014 did prompt a new law punishing sexual harassment, with at least six months in jail.
But campaigners said convictions were few and far between and violence against women in Cairo remained rife.
“Violence against women is a core issue,” said Mozn Hassan, executive director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a non-governmental organisation providing legal, medical and psychological support for victims of sexual violence.
“It is accepted as the problem of the woman – where she was walking, what she was wearing. It’s not about her right to walk safely. Generally streets (in Cairo and outside the city) are not safe for women.”
The faltering economy was also seen as a major setback for women in Cairo, a city whose 22.8 million population is forecast by a Euromonitor International report to grow by half a million this year, more than any other city in the world.
Egypt’s deteriorating economic growth since the Arab spring has driven away tourists and foreign investors and the nation’s unemployment rate only dipped below 12 in the second quarter of 2017 for the first time since 2011.
Female participation in the workforce fell to 23 per cent in 2016 from 26 per cent in 1990, according to World Bank figures, while U.S. figures shows the literacy rate of women aged over 15 is about 65 per cent, compared to 82 per cent for men.
“This is a poor country, going through many problems, economically and politically (and) the awareness about the importance of gender issues is suffering,” said Abou-Bakr.
The Media survey also found that Cairo ranked as the worst city when it came to protecting women against potentially harmful cultural practices.
Egypt has one of the world’s highest rates of female genital mutilation even though it was outlawed in 2008.
About nine in every 10 girls and women are subjected to the partial or total removal of external genitalia, according to a 2015 Egypt Health Issues. (Reuters)