Why Women Empowerment is delayed?

How can ever a society fortify its own progress and attain democracy if almost half of its population are not empowered to practice their rights, nor are they appropriately voiced in neither the aggregate social, political nor the economic reformation scenes?

Mainly due to their scaling illiteracy rates stemming out of gender discriminatory issues and misogynistic traditions, as in the case of Egypt.

One of the main building blocks of women empowerment in Egypt is having access to educational and knowledge resources, but unfortunately quarter of the Egyptian population are illiterate, and 36% of those quarter are females, putting Egypt among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of illiteracy.

Owing to the fact that education is the key to gender discrimination awareness and elimination; it is not surprising to find out that Egypt’s feminism waves, were led by highly educated women such as “Malak Nassef” “Hoda Sharawyy”, “Dorrya Shafiq” and “Nabweya Mousa”; by which all had the element of their educational background as their common fundamental factor, contributing to their consciousness about women’s deteriorating conditions in Egypt, and their societal strive for it.

Such women achieved variable levels of education in a time where women were banned from getting out of their homes.

As for Malak Hefny Nassef, she was the first Arab woman to receive the primary school certificate in 1900, while Nabawiyya Mousa was one of the first and last women to complete the education exam and be accepted into the Saniyya School under colonial rule, and then finished her High School education in 1907 to become the first girl ever to finish high school in Egypt.

Dorria Shafiq could pursue her post graduate degree, and earned her PhD in Philosophy from Sorbonne University, France around 1940.

However, if those Egyptian feminists struggled for marvelous triumphs throughout the Egyptian course of history yielding the female education and voting entitlements, yet the current societal misogynistic traditions, which can be referred to as the social abuse for women, especially with regard to the high illiteracy rates of women in Upper Egypt, rural areas and slums by which 45% of the Egyptian population live in the latter areas of deprivation; a matter which is paradoxical to an era defining illiteracy to computer illiteracy, so how about lacking the ability to basically read and write in the knowledge-based era of IT in the 21st century?! 

Therefore this article tackles the dangers of women illiteracy in Egypt, and delves deeper into its root causes backed up by empirical data, mainly to articulate the fact that women’s empowerment rates in all life facets whether they are societal, political or economic are significantly plummeted by the high women illiteracy rates which will never act as a platform for any societal progress if such a deepened problem is not addressed nor visionary articulated.

Women illiteracy and the Urban-Rural Gap

If UNICEF announces that primary-school enrolment rates among boys and girls is 94 and 91 % respectively; facts prove that the actual de facto net school attendance rates are lower than the formal results for both sexes, especially for girls; for example, according to the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research, there were 3 million school dropouts in the last 10 years and 30 % of them, staying at home for long periods of time after attending schools, therefore, forgetting how to read and write, and becoming eventually illiterate.

As well, the study conducted in 2012 by the CAPMAS, revealed that almost 5 to 11 million women in Upper Egypt and rural areas have never attended schools, demonstrating that” the number of girls outside the educational system is double that of boys”. Specifically, illiteracy rates in Minya reached 37 %, while in Beni Suef, they are 35 %, in Fayoum 35 %, Sohag 34 %, in Assiut 32 % and Qena 30 %, based on the same study, which also suggests that high rates of illiteracy coincide with high poverty levels in Upper Egypt, with 44 % of the population living under the poverty line, for having to survive on less than 2 dollars per day.

In fact, what complicates such a problem is that empirical studies prove that the daughters of such millions of illiterate women are more prone to be deprived of education themselves, and to undergo societal misogynistic traditions such as female genital mutilation, FGM, when compared to the educated female sectors of the society. Therefore, such a fact produces millions of cross-timed generations of illiterate girls being born to parents knowing no value of education, and finding no apparent reason to encourage their children to enroll in schools.

“Women Abuse” .. the untackled reason for high illiteracy rates

In a society which has deeply rooted misogynistic traditions, such as preferring boys to girls in terms of all life endeavors, and constraining the woman to her sole role in performing her domestic chores, as well as, child-rearing activities, it is normal to define all such societal practices as women abusive.


The term “women abuse” is commonly referred to as the women being exposed to sexual abuse and harassment; however, the term indeed is much broader than its marketed definition, to further encompass any sort of psychological pain inflicted on the woman to deprive her of any of her basic rights and needs in her society rendering her more of an animal, less of a human, thereby powerless.

Thus, when parents choose for their daughters to early settle rather than go to schools, it is a kind of women abuse, and when mothers choose for their daughters the fate of helping them with their domestic chores rather than going to schools, it is indeed, another type of abuse for having the “obligatory” element in both matters, and the deprivation of freedom for the girl’s right to education.

The stigma about women born to the matrimony of marriage

A striking example of women abuse in impoverished rural areas, is when parents literally consider their daughters deadly walking creatures because they refuse to legally register their daughters at birth with the authorities, for that girls are considered not a main source of breadwinning, so they perceive having no reason for their existence legally, hence when those girls grow up, they are unable to attend schools nor even access public health services; because they are therefore born to the matrimony of marriage only. This is considered the main hurdle of women’s empowerment in the new millennium in Egypt; the cultural constraint.

Egypt_West Noubaria Development Project_April_2012

Malak Zalouk, the director of the AUC Middle East Institute attributed women illiteracy rates to society’s sex discrimination, stating that “women education has always been a secondary problem to the Egyptian society, in a society that stigmatizes women’s role to primarily marriage”. The same reason of women early marriage is discussed by Ahmad Zayed professor of political sociology of the National Council for Women, to be the main reason for illiteracy because, “It’s very often that families take their daughters out of school when she is 13 or 14, and by the time she’s grown up, she’ll have forgotten how to read and write properly, thus becoming illiterate.

Women’s self defeating behavior: She denies her own rights!

It is noteworthy to mention that if the woman abuse is performed by an entity external to her own herself, it is understandable although never justified, but the true disaster is when that abuse is committed by the woman to her own self, psychologically known as the self defeating behavior, encompassing an underlying element of mental slavery and humanistic alienation from her own rights, because she perceives herself as being incompetent to men.

This low self esteem, is illustrated when one of the women in rural areas mentions that ” women grow up to marry and have children, that is our role in life, and anything else is a luxury,” said Fauzeya, a 40-year-old woman living in Terssa village, in Giza, she continues, “If I were to learn how to read, would it make a difference? Would my husband let me get a job in town, away from him?” adding “reading doesn’t make a woman socially acceptable or useful.”

In fact, the words of Fawzya, and definitely millions who share the same thought, reflect a pathetic approach to women’s affairs in Egypt because she, and millions alike, who show no desire to learn considering it “unnecessary”, as well as, ignoring the fact that by education, they can enrich their skills and gain a job which will alleviate their poverty, let alone making such women belong to the human realm of the world, because it is widely recognized that humans are the only creatures on Earth granted the gift of the mind, education-readiness and consciousness.  

How Radical Islamists shaped the landscape of women abuse?

It is noteworthy to mention that the feminist “Dorrya Shafiq” earned her PhD from Sorbonne University, France with the thesis suggesting that Islam granted women equal rights sufficiently as their male counterparts; however, the radical Islamists and the Salafi movements tend to perpetually mould the religious texts to satisfy their own political, yet societal-destructive, agendas.

Indeed, their religious icon, “Hassan El Bana” stated explicitly that “a woman’s role is at home, bringing up her children as any good mother will be”, and if their women “went outside their homes to work, it would be because their husbands were imprisoned”.

Also, with the rise of the Islamic radical movements in the 1970s after Al Sadat encouraged them to take part in the political and social scenes, it was common for the first time in Egypt, to witness youngsters veiled at the primary schools, such as the case of “Al Rayan family” who initiated the concept of Islamic schools, followed subsequently by further Muslim brotherhood schools acting as their second pillar of societal thought-domination, which were cited to be around 147 schools, having most of  their teachers wearing “niqab”, and the students wearing “hijab” regardless of their age, as an obligatory requirement, being deprived of their inherent choice to either wear it nor it, representing another form of mental abuse and slavery, for removing the freedom element which is granted a woman’s rights as “Dorrya Shafiq” exclaimed in her thesis.

Is there a ray of hope?


In a society by which gender discrimination is deeply rooted, it is a long way to recover from its consequences because it is a matter of tackling the mental construct rather than the technicality of offering resources.

Issues such as gender equality, women rights and the necessity of women education for the overall family’s well-being have to be in the limelight for the society’s functioning. It is important for women themselves, to know their human rights to education instead of the self defeating behaviors and victimization attitudes.

As well, it is shameful to recognize that although the primary education is mandatory for both sexes, offending parents are merely charged a fine of $1.60?; a matter which doubts the seriousness of the government to tackle the issue of illiteracy, which is considered the root cause of all Egypt’s problems in a technology-driven world, again because education is the base for gender discrimination awareness and elimination.