Here is Why Egyptians need to Re-think the “Feminism is Western” Argument

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Some of the articles I have previously written – containing references to women’s rights or feminism – are often met with one common response: “feminism is a western invention – even invasion –  that ought not be applied to non – western contexts.”


While it is historically true that individual rights in theory and principle are a western concept/invention, the idea that this is a sufficient condition for such rights to be thrown out of the window in non-western contexts is problematic.



Indeed, there it is extremely unfair to say that there is nothing redeemable and useful about individual rights to Arab countries in general, and to Egypt in specific. The same logic ought to apply to feminism, as it’s simply an extension of the individual and civil rights principle that gained explosion in the West during the 1960s and 1970s.


In other words, it is historically true that feminism has historically held a white, western, and middle – class face. This does not mean , however, that the notion of ensuring constitutional, legal, and social measures for gender based equality of opportunity and equality of out come, ought to be completely disregarded simply due to the fact that “they are western.”



What needs to be further known is the fact that – historically speaking – legal, constitutional, and socially stringent applications of patriarchy and gender roles are a western invention. All one needs to do is look at the map of western colonial history, internationally and locally.


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Consider, for example, the First Nations community that currently resides in Canada. This community was historically a matriarchal one. It is only after western colonial rule and forced assimilation did this community start to loose its matriarchal status. Western colonialism came in with a regime of patriarchy that it applied to most – if not all – of its colonies.


Similarly, take a look at Egypt’s both ancient and modern history. From Queens that ruled Ancient Egypt, led armies, and built temples to women being pushed into the labor force to cater to Nasser’s regime of socialist – nationalism, to communities/families in Upper Egypt that continue to highly respect and follow the instructions of elder female family matriarchs; the moments when Egypt possesses applications of gender equality, are the same moments when the role of western intervention is socially and historically absent.



On the other hand, take a look at the constitutional principles drafted by French colonists in Egypt that reflected 17th century western patriarchal ideals. Take another look at the 1970 – 1980s, specifically at Anwar El Sadaat’s move towards western economic principles of mass – consumption and production.


Much like Nasser’s socialism required a gender system that called for equality and female movement into the labor force, Sadaat’s system also required a gender system. Sadaat’s gender system, however, pushed for the institutionalization of the breadwinner/ house – wife model; this model is a prerequisite for applying the western models of capitalism that Sadaat so strongly believed in.



The argument here is not that Egypt was some matriarchal and gender progressive safe have, until Western colonialism game along, or until Western market principles were applied by Sadaat.


The argument is that history is complex, and to say that feminism is western and not dare consider nor question how certain formulations of patriarchy and sexism might in themselves be western, is very problematic and historically inaccurate.



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