Working Women Struggle in Egypt After the Revolution

Working Women Struggle in Egypt After the Revolution
An Egyptian woman carries her child on her shoulders at Manshiyet Nasser shanty town in eastern Cairo
An Egyptian woman carries her child on her shoulders at Manshiyet Nasser shanty town in eastern Cairo

By Omnia Talal from Aswat Masriya

Maha Ragaay, a tourist guide in her forties, is one of those who lost their jobs after the January 25 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Ragaay’s problem is similar to thousands of other women who watched their family’s income decrease to include only the necessities of daily life and exclude any luxury or entertainment.

Ragaay and her husband, who is also a tourist guide, can no longer save up money to support their two sons and their education. One of their sons is a college student and the other is in high school.

“After my husband and I lost our jobs, we were forced to live on as little as possible,” Ragaay said, explaining that she gave up completely on luxuries, including those directed to education and food.

She added that she did not expect conditions to improve under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, but is now hoping things might change under the new constitution and after the election of a new president.

A new constitution was passed earlier this year and presidential elections will be conducted within the next few months.

Egypt’s tourism, a main driver of the country’s economy, has suffered greatly in the past three years as the country faced political instability and a security vacuum.

The number of tourists who visited Egypt amounted to 14.8 million in 2010, before the Jan 25 uprising. That number dropped to 8 million in the following year as constant protests led to European countries warning their citizens against visiting the Middle East’s most populous country.

“I don’t have experience in any other field, such as teaching,” Ragaay said, stressing on the difficulty of finding another job and urging the government to enforce policies to reform the economy and restore stability.

Leather factory-owner, Fatma Rizk, also lost her job after the uprising.

The 39 mother of two middle school daughters had worked for 14 years before returning to her village Kafr al-Mahmoudeya in Sharqiya to build a factory to produce high quality leather products.

Rizk started in 2008 to buy the remains of leather and work from home before building her own factory where 65 women worked.

At that time, she taught 500 girls and women from her village how to read and write, increasing the salaries of those who learn to encourage them.

According to the National Council for Women, the participation of Egyptian women in the economy is valued at 23.1 percent.

“I couldn’t pay off my debts, so the factory stopped producing and 65 workers were harmed,” Rizk said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood regime also fought her.

She added that after June 30, when the army ousted the Brotherhood regime, she had hopes that were soon crushed by her being threatened to either pay off her debts or face a jail sentence.

After her husband retired four years ago, Om Salah, a 50-year-old woman who guards a building, was forced to support her family, which includes four children who all go to school.

Face covered in wrinkles, Om Salah said, “My husband’s pension is 500 pounds which isn’t even enough for our simplest needs of food, clothing, medication, etc.”

She complained of the rising prices, adding, “I can no longer clean houses for money.”

Even though she has lost hope in a better future for her family, she has not lost her ability to face the hard conditions, she said.

Om Salah who once dreamed that the uprising will change the way her family lived said, “Things are a lot harder now and everything is more expensive and we can’t afford food or drinks.”

The 50-year-old mother cooks food with bones instead of meat for added flavor and has completely disregarded fruit from her family’s diet and described it as a luxury she cannot afford.

She only dreams of annual raises in pensions to meet inflation and the increasing living expenses, she said.

According to reports by Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), a person needs about EGP 326 a month to afford their basic needs.

Cairo University Economics Professor Alia al-Mahdy agreed that the past three years have definitely had a negative impact on working women.

She added that 25 percent of households are being supported by working women and held the government responsible for the gap between incomes and prices.

This article, from Aswat Masriya, was awarded a certificate from the Cairo Center for Development on March 26, 2014. 

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Aswat Masriya is a Thomson Reuters Foundation-sponsored website that covers Egypt's transition to democracy. en.aswatmasriya.com

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