Photograph by Rawan Ibrahim
CAIRO – 29 August 2017: Egyptians have double standards in their culture especially when it comes to women that head home late, drink or live alone. For Egyptians it is socially unacceptable to do so. While on the other hand, men who head home late, drink, or live alone are socially acceptable. Women either live in their parents’ home or they live with their husbands. However, living alone is not an option for them.
According to Rabia Sharawy, a political science student at BUE (the British University in Egypt), women in Egypt have changed after the 2012 revolution. They started to take actions for themselves and stopped caring about what society or people say about them.
“I have a curfew when I’m here in Cairo, but when I travel with my friends to Gounna, or El Sokhna, my father gives me all the privileges that he usually takes away from me in Cairo. One of them is my curfew,” added Sharawy.
The problem is not that my parents don’t trust me, the problem is that my parents are scared of the neighbors’ criticisms or from family members who are a bit conservative as Perihan Gamel, economics student at AUC, said.
“The year that my sister and I moved to Cairo to study at The American university in Cairo (AUC), members of our family were criticizing my father and mother for leaving us alone and staying at the dorms without supervision,” said Dana Elbashbishy, an economics senior student at AUC. “My father checks on us every single day by phone and he checks if we are home early or late, so he is doing the same kind of supervision; the only difference is that he is not living with us under the same roof.”
“The aspect of culture has changed, parents now are willing to send their daughters to study abroad alone, or even work abroad,” Ebtehal Nassef stated. “My father is sending my sister to Canada to study there next year.”
Elbashbishy added, “A few years ago before it was socially unacceptable for a girl to travel alone, but this has changed in the Egyptian culture after the 2012 revolution. In some households they started treating the girl as the boy by giving her all means of freedom.”
Madiha Al-Safty, a sociology professor at AUC, said to Al-Ahram Weekly that “This is not a widespread phenomenon. There are only a few single young women in Egypt who leave home and go to live alone, or with a friend or two. What is new is that more girls have left home since the January 25 Revolution. It is an exclusively urban thing and is unheard off in rural areas, however.”
“It is a privilege of the rich. No poor young woman can afford to live alone and leave her parents’ home. Socially, it would be totally unacceptable for a young unmarried woman to live alone or leave her parents’ home. The daughters of the elite can afford to do so, but not the middle or lower-middle classes, and certainly not the poor,” Al-Safty told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Young ladies became independent and started living alone; they either rent houses or buy their own properties, but only in certain upmarket areas of Cairo such as Zamalek, Maadi , Heliopolis, 6 of October, and Katameya . So, living alone for women in Egypt is starting to become acceptable in some of the Egyptian households, but drinking is still not acceptable in most.
“I drink behind my parents’ back even though they drink just like me,” added Sharawy “I don’t understand why I shouldn’t drink around them or even when I’m with my friends?”
“I’m a parent, and yes I drink, but I don’t want my daughter or my son to adopt this negative habit that I have,” said Lamia Moussa, a housewife. “ My daughter is the most sacred thing in my life, that is why I forbade her from drinking because I don’t want the neighbors to talk about her behind her back or spread false rumors about her just because she drinks.”
“Egyptians as a society tend to talk behind people’s back, they even like to spread false rumors on one another,” said Gamel, “hence, our parents get so conservative sometimes and protective because of peoples’ judgmental eyes and words.”
Sharawy concluded: “If every single person just minded their own business, I feel that women and girls will be able to feel safe, secure and free in this country. They would be able to do whatever they wish without any social boundaries.”