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Egypt worst for women's rights, poll says

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 11:10 p.m. MST

Among 22 Arab countries, Egypt is the worst when it comes to treatment of women, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts. But some other countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, are nearly as bad.

Manu Brabo, AP

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Women in Egypt may be subjected to sexual harassment, genital mutilation, violence, discrimination and human trafficking — a combination that labeled the country as the worst of Arab states for treatment of women.

That's according to a poll of 336 gender experts who were asked by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to rank 22 Arab states.

"Despite hopes that women would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the Arab Spring, they have instead been some of the biggest losers, as the revolts have brought conflict, instability, displacement and a rise in Islamist groups many parts of the region," the experts said.

"As the miserable poll results show, we women need a double revolution, one against the various dictators who've ruined our countries and the other against a toxic mix of culture and religion that ruin our lives as women," Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy told Trust.org's Crina Boros.

The third annual poll on women's rights said Iraq is "more dangerous for women than under Saddam Hussein." Iraq came in second-worst, edging out Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

Of the 22 countries, the gender experts said the Comoros were best for women. It noted that women hold 20 percent of public office positions and wives have the right to own property after a divorce. Next best are Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar.

The foundation noted the questions were based on provisions contained in the United Nations Conventions to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The release about the poll noted that 19 Arab states have signed or ratified the conventions.

The countries were each scored across six categories: violence against women, reproductive rights, how women are treated in family, the roles they are allowed in society and "attitudes towards a woman's role in politics and the economy."

Among many criticisms of Egypt's treatment of women are forced marriages and trafficking, Boros wrote.

"There are whole villages on the outskirts of Cairo and elsewhere where the bulk of economic activity is based on trafficking in women and forced marriages," Zahra Radwan of the Global Fund for Women told her.

UNICEF has reported that 91 percent of Egyptian women and girls are subjected to genital cutting.

According to a "fact box" accompanying the poll, Iraq's poor score on women's rights "reflects a dramatic deterioration in conditions for women since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Mass displacement has made women vulnerable to trafficking and sexual violence. The Iraqi penal code allows men who kill their wives to serve a maximum of three years in prison rather than a life sentence."

It also notes that a very small percentage of women work and nearly 2 million are widows.

Saudi Arabia, third-worst, came in dead last in terms of women represented in politics and in inheritance rights. But it also noted "stirrings of progress," including the fact women will vote in city elections for the first time in 2015.

Rape victims, it noted, risk being charged with adultery if they report the rape.

Women cannot drive and are required to have permission to travel, get an education, have health care procedures or marry, the foundation said.

But a BBC article noted progress for women, too. Of Saudi, it said, "The conservative country scored better than many other Arab states when it came to access to education and healthcare, reproductive rights and gender violence."

A number of news and foundation reports have looked at treatment of women in that part of the world in the last few years. The Gatestone Institute reported last year, "Saudi authorities have sentenced Najla Yehya Wafa, a 35-year-old Egyptian woman, to 500 lashes. Her family says she was arrested after a business dispute with a Saudi princess. Leila Jamul, a 23-year-old Sudanese woman, was sentenced last July to death by stoning for adultery. She is being held in prison, meanwhile, with her six-month-old baby.... In countries where Sharia laws are enforced, women have often found themselves subjected to various forms of persecution and intimidation."

Amal Abdel Hadi, head of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation in Egypt, told Reuters News Service that it is "important not to feel defeated. These days it's very depressing, so if you don't push yourself to see the positive aspects we are working for in the longer term, you die," she said.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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