Gender gaps do exist, even in western countries such as Canada that are renowned for their democracy and human rights. While the inequalities may be different from those suffered by Egyptian women, nevertheless, in both countries women need to take charge and continue to fight for their rights.
Women around the world are a distinct group of individuals with important stories that deeply reflect a society’s values. In Egypt, where the country is in the process of intense political reform, it is important to examine women’s stories carefully and learn from them.
The western media dubbed the January 2011 Egyptian revolution as a new beginning for women’s equality in Egypt and the Middle East, but evidently this idealization has been wrong. Amidst the recent uproar, rival clashes and protests against the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi and the controversial constitution, women have played an important role in exposing a truthful and candid narrative about women’s inequality.
Many Egyptian and Muslim feminists are deeply distressed about the new constitution believing that it opens the door for extreme fundamentalist interpretation and discrimination against women, reversing Egypt’s forward march on women’s equality.
Many prominent liberals in Egypt criticize the new constitution stating that it is lacking in important rights protections for minorities and women. A recent article about Egypt’s recent political changes called the new constitution, “a slap in the face for Egypt’s women.” Above all, there were very few women in the drafting committee of the constitution and they were not representative of all sectors. Many Egyptian and Muslim feminists are deeply distressed about the new constitution believing that it opens the door for extreme fundamentalist interpretation and discrimination against women, reversing Egypt’s forward march on women’s equality.
Following the current and compelling story of Egyptian women, I felt obliged to research about women’s equality in my country: Canada. Some readers may be asking themselves, “In Canada, a country reputed for its democratic and equal systems, do gender gaps between men and women really exist?”
Throughout Canadian history, if we examine women’s continued struggle for equality, it is evident that Canadian society has valued and treated women unequally. I am not saying that the inequalities of women in Canada should be compared to Egypt’s; I'm just pointing out that different realities and perspectives of inequalities exist for both groups of women. With International Women’s day coming up, let this be a reminder that women in every country have also fought for every step towards equal rights for women and it didn’t come easy!
We need to rethink Canada’s “Equality” from a woman’s perspective. Although in law and on paper women may have the same equal rights as men, the reality of women’s lives is far from what is perceived as equal. For example, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Single women, unmarried, widowed, or divorced, have the highest rates of poverty at an astounding 18% (according to statistics Canada in 2005). Women continue to be victims of violence especially family violence. Approximately 8% of women in Canada report experiencing some form of violence by their partner over the previous five years. Although in education women seem to be leading the way in Canada with more females enrolled in post-secondary education compared to men, below the surface there are gender distinctions between the types of education men and women are receiving. For example, fields of engineering tend to be male dominated, while “nurturing” careers such as nursing are female dominated. In addition, women are paid an average of 70.5 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn even with university degrees.
We need to rethink Canada’s “Equality” from a woman’s perspective. Although in law and on paper women may have the same equal rights as men, the reality of women’s lives is far from what is perceived as equal.
The Federal House of Commons continues to be male dominated with only 25 per cent of the 308 seats belonging to women in the House of Commons. This means that mostly men are continuing to make policies and laws for women.
Data such as these suggest that women have distinct and unequal status in Canada.
What sheds hope in the women’s movement in Egypt are the number of women taking charge and protesting to fight for their rights in law and constitution, and although some may say that feminism is dead in western countries, women in Canada are continuing their fight to uphold the rights they have.