Emancipation Of Women In Egypt

946 words | 4 page(s)

Qasim Amin was an Egyptian scholar who advocated for the emancipation of women at the turn of the 20th century. He argued that the emancipation of women was a prerequisite for reforming the Egyptian society and liberating the people from foreign domination. Amin used religious teachings and arguments of European intellectuals to support his views. Although Amin advocated for the emancipation of women, he was interested in societal development rather than gender equality.

Amin’s approaches the issue of women’s empowerment from the perspective of the well-being of the society. He questions the preservation of social structures that restricted the rights of women and associates them with lack of economic progress. For example, he refers to the condition of women in some African and Asian countries where they were not allowed to interact with strangers and whose life depended on the wellbeing of their husband. According to Amin, these social structures exist because of ignorance on the impact of restricting the contribution of women to societal development. On the other hand, Western women are given freedom and this has enabled them to play an active role in the society. Also, Amin did not foresee a situation where women would compete with men in social and economic activities, and instead believed that women would contribute to societal development in other ways. For example, he says that the role played by women in bring up a good generation is no less important than the role played by an engineer, doctor or any other male professional.

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Amin believes it was necessary for women to get involved in social development so that they can “bring up their children in the best way possible, in the mold of human perfection”. This indicates that Amin was highly motivated with empowering the women for the sake of the society, rather than the need to achieve gender equality. Amin believed that Egyptian women were not prepared to help the society towards the path of success. There was the need to help them understand the best ways to take care of a modern family and operate in a new social environment where individuals had more freedoms.

Amin’s argument shows women are very important on the development of virtues, moral characteristics and values required in creating the basis for social transformation in Egypt. He says that change cannot be driven by government decrees or through coercion. The society should prepare the people to accommodate the new social ideals, and the most effective way is to influence personal character through the process of upbringing. Amin appreciates the role played by women in influencing personal values through upbringing, and therefore, supports their empowerment to ensure the values passed to children are in line with the goals of social development in Egypt. He says that if Egyptians want to make social changes in their way of life, they “must start at its source”. Households and families are major sources of personal values, and women play a critical role in shaping their characteristics. The social environment in families equips men with certain qualities for success and survival. Amin believes that it is necessary for women to get educated so that they can properly manage the households and families to allow for the development of desired qualities.

Amin believed that some aspects of Western culture were superior to those of Egyptians, and thus saw the need for the societal transformation in which the social and political systems would allow individuals to accommodate western values. Education for all the people would ensure that there are shared ideas, hopes and totality of virtues in the society. As a result, the Egyptian society would be better placed to acquire some of the attractive values from Western cultures.

Amin’s arguments are based on the changes that were taking place in Egypt regarding the societal perspectives towards social issues. These changes include increasing desire by families to educate their daughters, reluctance by young men to marry according to traditions and changes in sociopolitical policies. For example, Amin refers to a proposal by a grand mufti of Egypt to reform Shari’a courts to address polygamy and women’s divorce rights. Overall, the condition of women in Egypt was improving, and this was facilitated by the interaction with westerners. He, however, blames the existing prejudices on the resistance towards women empowerment. The successful introduction of these changes in the society would require societal approval, and hence the need to prepare women to operate within the desired sociopolitical environment.

Thus, Amin’s arguments for the emancipation of women in Egypt were based on the perspective of societal development rather than the need to create gender equality. Amin believed that the condition of women in Egypt prevented the society from achieving some of the desired goals of development. He shows that restricting women’s freedom was injurious to the society because they were important in influencing social values and bringing up individuals with the desired qualities. Amin did not intend to destroy the structures of a patriarchal society, but rather reform it to allow societal development to take place. The move would result in more freedoms for women to operate in the new social environment. Although Amin appreciates the role of women in societal development, he still views their contribution from the perspective of a domestic role. He wants women to get educated so that they can be equipped with the skills to manage a modern household and help in promoting the desired values by bringing up their children in a particular way.

  • Amin, Qasim. The new woman: A document in the early debate on Egyptian feminism. SamihaSidhom Peterson (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000), 2000.

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