“It’s dangerous to be the first” is the title of a report just published by the NGO Safer World, based on interviews with hundreds of women who are trying to participate in public life in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. According to press release, the report finds that:
..women are seriously worried that states are not responding to their growing security concerns and, in many instances, state security providers are part of the problem. Consultations with over 400 women from a variety of social groups across the three countries found that rising crime, the widespread availability of weapons, and violent conflict between armed groups are major security threats. In addition, women face targeted violence against them, including harassment, sexual assault, threats of violence, and slander. Many perceive the police to be ineffectual and even part of the problem. Threats associated with honour and reputation present a particular challenge for politically active women and are being used by established power-holders as a political tool to side-line women from public life and restrict their opportunities to feed into policy and decision-making.
There are signs that a vicious cycle is in operation where insecurity reduces women’s political participation and low participation in turn means continued insecurity for women as their safety concerns are not taken into consideration by formal and informal authorities.
One of the reasons that Egypt's cultural and political elite advanced for declaring the Muslim Brotherhood beyond the pale was their bigoted views on women's place in society and public life. But the truth is that "liberal" parties and the state marginalize women as well.