Sunday, July 27

The Egyptian Working Woman

A few weeks ago after a long busy day, I decided to sit down and watch a little TV. I was flipping through the channels when I came across an episode of "elbeyout asrar". I started watching in the middle of the episode, and figured out that the subject was women's work. There were two groups of people on the show... The invited guests, which were men and women in their late 40's and 50's, and the audience, which were mainly younger people... Some were college students and others looked like they were in their early 20's. I do not recall the exact words of every person on the show,however, The older people were all pro work. the women all talked about their experiences in life, how their careers helped them, and how their husbands supported them. They talked about their children. More than once they were asked if their careers compromised the care for their children, and they all answered that the children were not compromised. Until here, it all sounds fine and dandy..... you would think that since the older generations think this way, the younger generations will definitely be more open minded, and women will be more career oriented....

Sadly things were not at all this way. The moment the young audience members were given the chance to express their opinions is the moment that things began to go downhill..... A young man, possibly in his early 20's stated that he will not allow his wife to work.. no matter what. He believed a woman's place is her home and nothing more. Another young man said I will give my wife a chance to work and see if she can work, take care of the children alone, and take care of the house alone...( and get this)..... and take care of ME!!!! ( is he 2 or something?? does she need to change his diapers as well??) then he will "ALLOW" her to work, however if she defaults in any way, or if he feels that she is not up to par.... then he will "FORBID" her getting a job or having a career!!!! ( Ya LAHWY!!) Much to my dismay and utter disappointment his sentiments were echoed by several male audience members.. The Female audience members let me down even more.... ALL and I repeat... ALL the women in the audience ( whom I will add that judging from their appearance were in their early 20's) Stated that their "DREAM" was to get married and sit at home.... no one.. I repeat... NO ONE mentioned the desire for a career.... success was nothing they referred to or thought of in any way. They were all college graduates who "chose" to throw away their degree forever!! A couple mentioned they would like to work until they meet the right man.... so for them work was a way of "catching" a husband! When these girls were asked about their ambition, their comment was very similar to the young men... they all agreed that women have no ambition, that a woman's ambition should be to cook and clean and care for children... They agreed that a woman's career ambition is a "myth" that the western media tries to brainwash women into believing!!!

I cannot even begin to express my utter dismay at this picture, or my disappointment at the young women and men of Egypt... At a time when our country is falling deeper and deeper In debt, our educational system is corrupt, various groups are fighting over control of our government... poverty is rampant... health care is sub par to say the least, and inflation is tearing homes apart.... gas prices are rising, bread is scarce... our industries are practically non existent... there is absolutely no form of organized scientific research... no publications, and no funding or resources... at a time when all our young talents are leaving the country to look for a better life abroad.. thus costing us billions... unemployment rates are so high that the norm for young graduates is not being employed At time where our borders are being breached, fundamentalism is gaining new grounds every day, and our country needs a complete overhaul... These women are only thinking about sitting at home... and the men are thinking about how to keep them at home!!

The way I look at things is that our country needs every ounce of work and energy available to help us rise out of this economic and social depression. The concept of a woman working should be a no brainer... The subject has been discussed over and over for more than 120 years... and women have been working since our grandparents came of age in the 40's and the 50's. It is unusual for a society to fall back so much, and for women to lose so much in such a short time. What Egyptian women have worked so hard for is slowly being yanked out from under their feet... and they are totally oblivious. The amount of brainwashing that has happened in our culture over the past 20 years is astounding!! The mystery to me is how do you oppress people while at the same time convincing them that oppression was their idea in the first place... so they think that their oppression is liberation??? I know it sounds confusing but we are living examples of this twisted logic.

I am not against a woman deciding to be a "stay at home mom" . The concept itself is a noble one that involves hard work, selflessness and endless dedication to the growing children. But if all women suddenly decide to stay at home... It is no longer a selfless act... it is actually turned into a very selfish act... Let me explain why:

1- For starters... Children only need their mothers in the first few years of life..... After the age of 4, all kids go to school, so really a mother sitting at home isn't doing much for the child... the child is not getting any more attention, care or love than a child who has a working mother. So sitting at home at this point is selfish... The person is just being lazy and not contributing to society.

For working mothers in Egypt, The Egyptian government has done a lot. A very generous law that does not exist everywhere is the "child care leave". A working woman in Egypt by law can take up to 5 YEARS!!! off of work., and can go back to her job immediately in the same position she was in before she took her leave... so mothers have the option of keeping their jobs while caring for their families at the same time... so if you have 2 kids or less..... you have enough vacations and leaves to cover time off to care for your children... So why do Egyptian mothers want to leave the work force? Unfortunately I cannot answer this question, since everyone who leaves says the excuse is to "care for the family".. Which is a redundant argument....

2- Men argue that they need a wife to "take care" of them...

Unless the man is incapacitated or handicapped in some way, No adult responsible working man needs a woman to take care of him. Men can feed themselves, dress themselves and clean themselves after bowel movements just as well as women... so no, they do not need to be cared for. Men are taught from a young age that they should not lift a finger to care for their house... they should not clean, they should not cook..... all of this " dirty work" is beneath them.... leave it all to the woman... women should do these jobs... to men these jobs are insults.
My question is... why not share house work? share caring for the kids? this way spouses have more time together... women are happier and more rested, so can dedicate more quality time to their significant others and children.. And how exactly does this interfere with a woman's ability to have a career? The young man on TV who mentioned that he will "test" his future wife's ability to multitask without lifting a finger to help her really infuriated me... Is this how we are raising Egyptian men? to be selfish self-centered conceited judgemental spoiled brats? and at the same time we are teaching the young women that they are not worthy enough to complain?? Just be quiet and quit work and do what the almighty man dictates!!!he is superior so his opinion shall prevail no matter what?? Excuse me while I go barf at the mere thought !!
I would have been happier if the young man had said, I will see what my wife can do, and help out with the rest so we can both have careers, and we can both be happy!!! Why are they all oblivious to this concept??

3- Men argue that if a man can afford to care for the house financially, a woman doesn't HAVE to work....

This is actually one of the most annoying arguments. Women in Egypt cost the government thousands of pounds to get a college education.... so if a woman chooses not to work, she should pay back this money so another person can use it to be educated and benefit society. Sitting at home after costing hundreds of thousands of pounds to get an education is a waste of public resources that should not be allowed.... It is no wonder we are in debt... money is being thrown left and right to give "free" college education to people who do not need it and will not use it.

If this money is used by the ministry of education to fund research in labs wouldn't it be better spent? wouldn't it help Egyptians more than if the money is thrown away by women who would like to sit at home?? One of the major reasons of lack of scientific research in Egypt is the lack of Equipment and supplies that are needed to run the labs.... intelligent people who know science or medicine are not enough for conducting research..... equipment that no one can afford... which costs millions is needed before any research can be carried out. .. so this is my argument..... if you don't want to use it, then don't take it!!!

I believe in free college education only to those who will use it to benefit society... so no... there is no such thing as someone who doesn't "have" to work.

4- People argue that women are crowding men and pushing them out of work... They make this claim saying that women don't need the jobs and are doing it for "fun" so it is best that they just sit at home and clean and cook.....

To this claim, I would like to respond that not all women have someone who supports them. Some women are widows with children... some are single, some are married, but with the current level of income in Egypt, one salary is never enough!!! sometimes 2 salaries are not enough either, and one of the spouses ends up getting a second job. To men who feel that women are overcrowding them I say, please don't be short sighted.... do not underestimate the value of the woman who works in the neighboring office.... she may be doing more for her family than any man could. Women in the work place need to be acknowledged, respected and appreciated. They do not "overcrowd" and their value in the workplace is not any less than their male colleagues. I came across this very interesting documentary on youtube. If women are suddenly not allowed to work, or their presence is not tolerated in the workplace, what would the women in this video do??

5- People argue that there aren't enough jobs for everybody... so women need to sit at home, and let the men work, so every family will have at least one income!!

To this claim I would like to say that even though there aren't enough sources of income for work for everyone, however, there is so much work that needs to be done that no one is doing. The one concept that we rarely ever hear of in Egypt is volunteering.

I believe it is the duty of every capable Egyptian person whether male or female to volunteer in some way to help society. Public hospitals are a mess. Patients need assistance left and right. In most countries high school and college students volunteer in the summer to help in hospitals. they wheel patients to their rooms. They sit at information desks and give directions. They assist with placement of patients in rooms in the public clinics.... they even help clean the place. This practice is much needed in Egypt, it will give idle young people something to do,they will get experience and they will help others.

In rural areas illiteracy is rampant. We need volunteers to educate these people.
Our streets need cleaning. We need volunteers to help with that too.
We need money for education, health care, food for the poor...etc. we need volunteers to help.
We have millions of homeless children... we need volunteers to feed them and teach them and get them off of the streets.
We don't have enough blood in our blood banks, we need volunteers to help with the blood drives.
We have special needs children in schools, we need people to help with those children.
We have old people who are alone, or can't cook or are incapacitated, we need volunteers to help them.
We have public schools where there aren't enough teachers, and classes are overcrowded.. we need volunteers there too.

The examples are endless... I can go on forever. So to say there isn't enough to do is an understatement. There is plenty to do, but we choose not to do them. If people are complaining of unemployment, and can afford to live without a job at least temporarily, they should go volunteer. Women who are married to men that can afford to take care of the house financially should go volunteer. High schoolers and college students in their summer breaks should go volunteer. Being idle at home should not be an option. Progress is not easy and it comes with a price. If we don't pay this price, then who will?? Our strength as Egyptians comes in our numbers and in our intelligence. We need to not waste them, since they are our most precious assets. Women who sit at home waste valuable manpower, that we all need to move forward.

SO to say that women should stay at home is selfish, and is something that is said by people who only think of themselves. Our country needs us, we are the driving force behind the progress of our nation. We all need to work together,. Whining about corruption or where money went will not help us. Working together will. I am not saying that corruption is not a factor, but I am saying Corruption has become the excuse for everything wrong with our lives a " mosmar go7a" if you will, that we hang all of our problems on. There is so much more we can do to make Egypt better.... we just need to try!


Eveliina said...

You have a very interesting blog here. I enjoy reading it.

Greetings from Finland!

raaasa said...

Dear EFC,

Truly wonderful article, one of your best, from my point of view, in terms of analysis of the present situation, argument, and practical and constructive suggestions for the present/future. Really well-done!

I too am disgusted with the wholesale and thoughtless acceptance of educated young women to stay at home. While motherhood is one of the noblest, if not the most noble, of life paths, I believe that a woman needs to nourish mind, body, and spirit with more beyond her husband and children. Work outside of the home, paid or unpaid, cultivates a more well-balanced human being, and this contributes to the well-being of the woman, her offspring, in addition to society.

These young women who are so eager to give up careers and education perhaps are blinded by a romantic vision of wedding planning, setting perfect meals in lovely surroundings, greeting their husbands after their working day with a well-groomed set of children and a smile. Perhaps they think that will be enough for happiness.

How long will it take before these women cease to be interesting to themselves, let alone anyone else?

I think your comments and suggestions about volunteering are brilliant, moving beyond that "I'm alright , Jack" attitude towards social responsibility.

Truly well-done, EFC! Bravo!

I must say that I have missed the thought-provoking and dynamic discussions that used to take place on this blog. My absence has been due to disenchantment and disappointment that the interaction has gone elsewhere and that the comment section became more and more sparse.

I am glad that both you and Fanta are still posting articles here. The Egyptian world needs to hear what you both have to say and your readers need to consider your points of view and think through their own.

I will continue to visit and respond from time to time.

raaasa said...

An old article by Nawal al-Saadawi on Women, Creativity, and Mental Health, some of which applies to topics in this discussion:

Anonymous said...

And isn't it amazing that men can only do one job?

And even when women do work outside of home, they won't get paid what men do. Not yet.

I remember, over 50 years ago, my widowed mother coming home from work one day--the work she did outside of home where all the other jobs were ;)--very dejected. All the men she worked with in an office had received a raise. She didn't get one, and asked why. Where was hers? She had worked there several years with no raise, to watch the men get it year after year. Well she had to understand, said he, that the men had families. But I have a family too, she said. Ahh, but you can get married again.

One day, we too shall overcome.

Thanks for this post.


Fantasia said...

Dear EFC,

Another brilliant article. You nailed it! Yes.. the problem is with the way we were brought up in this society.. all the myth about division of roles, of the ready-made molds and all their destructive consequences. We still view women's work as a luxury or a sport!! I don't know what to call this.. a black comedy?? In a country which suffers from all the problems which you listed.. problems that mount up to the level of huge crisis.. women are still viewed as second class citizens!! We waste half our human resources on serving the other half (who by the way are undeserving lazy brats)! What a logic! What a way to enter the 21st century!

I absolutely agree that women are the number 1 contributers to poverty in Egypt. So much money is wasted on educating them and in return they just delve into miserable marriages, forming deformed families and producing useless children who can't possibly bring any answers to our dilemma.

On the other hand, I should admit that the education girls receive in Egypt do not aim to make them part of the workforce! Ridiculously, it is just following a trend that started with the Egyptian feminist movement in the beginning of the 20th century without the essence of the cause! Girls are never treated or viewed as citizens.. they are merely being taught in order to remove them from illiteracy.. and they are brought up to believe that their sole role in life is to be good wives and mothers.. which, again, they fail at doing so miserably!

I congratulate you wholeheartedly on this article. It opens up the gate to discussing the female condition in Egypt on a socio-economic level. It is time to expose the rotten roots that are forsaking a whole country.

I would also like to thank Raaasa for her continuous encouragement and support. And I promise her that things will get more alive over here soon.

Amre El-Abyad said...

A beautifully writen article as usual, Egyptian feminist chic.

I enjoyed reading it. And I aslo learned from it.

Ravine said...

Awesome post.
I went into panic mode a few days ago when I read something similar in a facebook group that's supposedly all about protecting girls from sexual harassment (but more about blaming them).Somehow people ended up talking about how everything would be so much easier and nicer if women stayed at home.

Please take a look at this lunacy and retardation

This is a perfect example of a woman being sexist against other women and I'm mortified by how everyone else (both male and female) are encouraging her. Is this the average mindset now ? Seriously, how far back are we heading?

Anonymous said...

Panic and then panic some more and then after you're done you will have all the time in the world to panic because the world isn't happening the way you want it to happen femmenist "chics"!

The young men and women Fantasia is talking about are lost but so is Fantasia and her fantastic consistent logic or well-thought of ideas...May God have mercy on this country from both sides of this Ignorantia Maximus society!

jessyz said...

Interesting post. I just had a few points or random thoughts
If a woman wants to work then she should choose a man who supports her decisions
Usually the audiences at these things are not exactly the best people to gauge the young populations ideas on.
Yes there are lots of lazy women out there who don't want to work but there are still lots of women who do and you can tell by the ratio of men to women at the workplace.
"So sitting at home at this point is selfish... The person is just being lazy and not contributing to society." This is pretty harsh don't you think, just because you think she is not contributing does not mean she is not contributing.
"The Egyptian government has done a lot." this is not true for the private sector. You get 3 months of paid leave and then upto 1 year of unpaid leave in some places. Not exactly great is it. Just to clear things I am career girl but on maternity leave, the problem is in the first years when they do not go to school going back to work is very hard, if you dont have the option to leave the baby with your mom or relative you need to send off to the nursery. A good one costs a lot, if the woman is not making enough money then going to work does not make financial sense. Even after they do go to school, they don't exactly have the same schedule as the mother, they finish school at 2 or 3, and most jobs finish at 4 so again what do you expect the mother to do. There are so many logistical issues involved more than the general "she is lazy" argument.
It is also very physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting to work full time, care for a baby and run a household.
I do agree with you that men who claim that they need "taking care of" are not 2 year olds, yes they do have needs but are incomparable to those of a child and the home so it is not an issue that women can work and take care of her man.
As for the third argument, some men can not afford to have a single income household and rely on the wife's paycheck. That said, this has nothing to do with the government's spending on women's education. Spending on education for both sexes at the current level is just long, the number of graduates needs to be decreased and focused towards the more needed proffessions to fit into today's workforce demand.
I also agree with the fact that women are not crowding men, if men were more competent they would not be saying this. The job should go to the best person regardless of gender.
Finally, kudos to those who volunteer, it is probably one of the areas where we are most needed. It would also be a great place for women who choose not to work but can still be useful to the community even for a few hours each week.
After all taking care of the community also takes care of our own families.

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde