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This past week, I had the pleasure of hearing Dalia Ziada, a young activist from Cairo, discuss her experiences as a protester in Tahrir Square and her hopes for the future of Egypt. In the coming months, Egypt will face many challenges: a referendum on the constitution, parliamentary elections, and presidential elections. The people of Egypt are excited for their chance for real change and the potential for democratization.

While there are many concerns to be discussed, there is one issue that worries me most: What will be the role of women in this new and free Egypt? On March 8, International Women’s Day, there was a Million Women March organized, but it turned out to be a major disappointment. Only a few hundred women showed up to the rally and these women were met with fierce opposition and even violence. As Ms. Ziada pointed out, “Male protestors who had previously been standing with women shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir square, they came out and told the women, ‘go back home, it’s not your time now.’” We should all be deeply concerned that women will be left behind as Egypt moves forward.

It is imperative that women’s rights not be neglected in the creation of a new Egyptian state. Women should be included in every aspect, but thus far they have not been. They were already excluded from participating on the committee working on the new constitution, which does not bode well for their inclusion on the ballot as candidates in the parliamentary elections. The Egyptian economy is weak and there is a risk that women business leaders and entrepreneurs will continue to be marginalized when it starts to grow.

Women need to be guaranteed the right to participate in all political and economic processes, not just because they deserve the right to be included (which they do!) but also because it is what is best for democratization and economic growth. According to USAID, “Countries where women’s share of the seats in political bodies is greater than 30% are more inclusive, egalitarian, and democratic.” Additionally, in the developing world, women’s economic empowerment leads to poverty reduction and increased general welfare for society, which may apply to Egypt as well given its current economic downturn and gender disparity.

As Ms. Ziada mentioned, there are still many societal taboos in Egypt regarding women that need to be broken, and it seems as though they have the perfect opportunity to do so. Women stood side by side with men on the streets of Tahrir Square demanding change, and they deserve to be part of the outcome.

Photo Credit: Yasmeen Mekawy