Yesterday, moms in America were honored by the celebration of Mother’s Day, a holiday established by Anna Jarvis in 1912. What I love about this holiday is that it celebrates the significance of mothers and their contribution to a strong family unit. Women all over the country were celebrated and honored by their families. On different days, women in Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and UK are also exalted for their contribution to the family.
At the same time, I read a news story in The Hindu, which reported on a new law being proposed in Egypt, called the “Farewell Law”. The law states that a man will be allowed to engage in martial relations with his wife, up to six hours after her death. In addition, the minimum age of marriage for women will be reduced to the age of fourteen. The lack of respect and basic human consideration for women as reflected by this proposed law is unconscionable. Once the story broke, there was a public outcry from women’s groups. Dr. Mervat al-Talawi, who is the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women, expressed her concern, “marginalizing and undermining the status of women in future development plans would undoubtedly negatively affect the country’s human development.” (1) The media coverage prompted a strong reaction from inside the Egyptian Embassy in London, who said the claims were “completely false” and “forbidden in Islam” and “could never imagine it happening”.
Although the validity of this legislation remains in question, the issue of women’s rights has been a growing concern in Egypt since the election of the country’s new parliament, which took place in February. The parliament does not even come close to representing women fairly. There are only eight women, in the 508 member Egyptian Parliament—less than two percent.(2) . One of the major grievances against Mubarak’s regime was the lack of freedom of speech. With the woeful lack of female representation in the present parliament it does not appear that the voice of Egyptian women will be heard by Egyptian lawmakers and more laws such as the despicable “Farewell Law” cannot be too distant.
A society that marginalizes and dehumanizes women, cannot hope to survive. I am not a die hard women’s rights activist, but this blatant disregard for half the population of Egypt, can only result in a damaged and broken community. Any country that does not see the value of a woman is unable to recognize that women are essential to the foundation of the family—and the family is the basic building block of any thriving community.