Research puts student “in the moment” in Egypt

Hannah Lawrence in Egypt

Hannah Lawrence ’13, a political science and justice studies dual major, traveled to Cairo, Egypt, this summer to examine how women have fared politically and economically since the 2011 revolution. A Hamel Center grant funded the 10-week trip. Associate Professor of Political Science Jeannie Sowers served as mentor.

“It was really moving and inspiring from the moment I got off the plane,” she says. “I was fortunate to be there when people were openly talking about politics and the revolution. Everybody wanted to tell you their side of the story, their take on the revolution and how it’s shaping everything else. It was really special to hear those firsthand accounts.”

Through interviews with 12 Egyptian women, Hannah learned quite a bit about the current state of women’s rights in Egypt.

Hannah discovered that Suzanne Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s wife, had backed laws benefitting women, including Parliamentary quotas and divorce rights. However, “those laws have become branded as Suzanne’s laws,” observes Lawrence. “They have western feminist connotations that have harmed the women’s rights movement. They’re seen as part of the old regime.”

Last year, the country’s military rulers jettisoned the quota for women in Parliament. Without a quota system, and with the names of female candidates often placed low on party lists, only eight women were elected to the 508-member legislative body. This year, Parliament members unsuccessfully tried to rescind the right to a divorce for women and to lower the minimum age of marriage for girls to fourteen.

“A lot of women were feeling like they can’t even work toward gaining further economic and political rights because they’re having to fight for the rights they’ve already achieved,” Lawrence says.

Another challenge she found is an overall lack of coordination among the various groups advocating for women’s rights in the new Constitution. “That’s what a lot of women I talked to said was hurting them. They do not have a united front to express their demands.”

Read the full story by Sonia Scherr ‘13MFA in UNH Today.

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