In Tunisia, Salafist vigilantes have been attacking unveiled women and occupying universities that do not allow the face veil. In Egypt, only eight out of 508 newly elected parliamentarians are female, and the country’s Islamists are threatening to repeal laws making it easier for women to divorce and to gain custody of their children. The head of Libya’s transitional government has promised to bring back polygamy.
The rise of political Islam in all three countries has led some commentators to accuse the Islamists of turning the Arab Spring into an Islamist winter for women. Yet the backlash against women is not confined to Islamists. In Egypt, women who demonstrated for equal rights last year on International Women’s Day were met with ugly jeers and taunts to go home and take care of their children.
Female protesters against the secular military government were subjected to brutal beatings and “virginity tests.” Women who venture into Tahrir Square these days are often sexually harassed.
As the Egyptian anthropologist Hania Sholkamy recently noted, even the left-wing activists who first manned the barricades against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime “reject the whole narrative of gender equality as a figment of a Western imagination.”