What Do Women Get? Measuring Outcomes in a Post-Revolutionary Society (Part 2)


egyptian women Two Revolutionary Outcome Models: Patriarchal or Modernizing?

Moghadam identifies two types of revolutionary/social transformation models that pertain to women’s rights: the women’s emancipation or modernizing model and the woman-in- the-family or patriarchal model of revolution.

The women’s emancipation model encompasses revolutionary movements in which women are mobilized and used in ways that further the revolution, making them an important part of the movement itself. Discussion of women’s rights and their position in society leans towards equality, and women are usually “liberated from patriarchal controls expressly for that purpose [the revolution]”.

The populist and socialist revolutions in China, Vietnam, Democratic Yemen, and Nicaragua wrestled with “the woman question” in both discourse and state policy, and afforded women increased rights as a result.

The patriarchal model identifies revolutions in which women are defined by their role in the family and are forced to remain in marginalized positions. This model usually connects religious values and nationalism to legitimize the patriarchal standards in place. It excludes women from important political positions or the re-construction and formation of the new government, and strives to keep women in traditional roles.

The French Revolution provides one of the most apparent examples of patriarchal values, relegating women to the private, familial sphere of influence, justified by the “natural fact” of sexual difference. Robespierre’s Reign of Virtue painted the ideal picture of a woman as one who created children for the revolution and stayed away from politics because it would lead to social disorder.

In revolutions such as Iran, “men took over the reins of power, assigned to women responsibility for family, religion, and tradition, and enacted legislation to codify patriarchal gender relations, including second-class citizenship for women”. Through the interactive process of transition between the regime and the masses, women tend to experience emancipation and greater freedom, or are relegated to positions in society that affirm patriarchal views.

In order to examine the Egyptian revolution, it is crucial to distinguish the different types of interests women may have within the revolution, and to analyze whose interests are being met.

One can also ask what women got out of the revolution, distinguishing which model, modernizing or patriarchal, best explains the Egyptian case. To do this, I examine four areas in society that display post-revolutionary changes, or lack thereof, for women.

Research Approach and Method: Applying Zimmerman’s Four Areas Of Analysis

Although considerable literature exists that examines revolutions as the dependent variable (i.e. why they came about, how they differ, etc.), there is a gap in the literature that analyzes revolutionary outcomes, especially as they relate to the role of women.

However, Zimmermann identifies four aspects of the state that can be examined to measure revolutionary outcomes. The four spheres of revolutionary outcomes are: politics, the economy, the social-cultural realm, and state power.  Though Zimmerman discusses these four areas in their entirety, I focus on one specific indicator for each.

First, the outcome for politics “can be distinguished according to the composition and turnover of political elites”. In other words, the politics area entails looking at the number of women in political positions before and after the revolution, and how their numerical representation has changed.

Second, the economy area focuses on the percentage of women in the work force.

Third, the social-cultural area pertains to “disorderly” political participation (i.e. grassroots groups and activities). I look at the vitality and number of women’s grassroots organizations for this category, noting any trends.

Finally, state power examines the type of government installed after the revolution and the new national laws and institutions put in place.

Because there is a lack of analysis on both revolutionary outcomes and how women fit into these outcomes, I will apply Zimmermann’s analysis to past revolutions, and later assess the most recent Egyptian revolution under his framework in order to contextualize Egyptian women’s status today.

My method is a theory-confirming case study. To do this, I conduct a theoretical exploration confirming if Zimmerman’s approach works for other countries. Then, I apply this same analysis to Egypt. My data came from UN and World Bank data, noteworthy journals (including the Journal of International Women’s Studies), Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), several law journals, interviews with prominent female leaders, Egyptian newspapers, and historical case studies on revolutions.


“The revolution is not 18 days, nor a year, or two. The revolution is permanent. The fact that we, women, have not reached our aspirations does not mean we should lose hope”. Women’s rights activist Mariam Kirollos expressed this inspired sentiment to rally others as the environment of promise during the revolution has slowly morphed back into a society where women are largely ignored and subjugated.

However, out of Zimmerman’s four areas of analysis, grassroots organizations display a greater inclusion of women in society. An increase in women’s civil society organizations has allowed for greater discussion about women’s position in society and the development of concrete feminist platforms, forcing the government and citizenry to acknowledge their growing presence in civil society.

In the other three areas, what women want has been pushed aside while the government focuses on creating a theocratic state. Since the revolution fewer women occupy positions in parliament, female unemployment rates are rising, and the new constitution removes some protections and rights that led to emancipation from constraining customs.

The positive findings in civil society can be explained in part because many women’s organizations have been around longer than the new parliamentary or constitutional laws.

In other words, grassroots organizations have a stronger foundation and support network that existed before and during the revolution, and women have had more time to learn how to navigate the grassroots arena.

Similarly, an overall growth in civil society has occurred under the new administration, which enables women to move forward without the consent of the government as civil society gives women access to tools, information, and power that would not be possible without a large coalition of feminist organizations.

The growth of grassroots activity in Egypt is vital because, according to UN Women (2011), “civil society plays a vital role in advancing shared strategic objectives to promote gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment…[and] serve as forums for dialogue and sustained engagement.”

Second, organizations may be more insulated from the fragile nature of a post-revolutionary society. It takes a long period of time for a society to rebuild and restructure after revolution, and a state’s economy, legislative body, and constitution are all closely linked to the newly instated government and their respective societal changes.

Conversely, organizations are less affected when a government is restructuring. Women’s groups can persevere through regime changes and periods of instability more easily than other areas directly connected and dictated by the government and its new policies. CSO’s also can thrive when normal politics break down because they represent a new option.

Applying these findings to the theories examined above, it is evident that women hold diversified interests during any revolution. Molyneux’s three types of interests are all represented in Egypt in varying levels.

women in egypt

Women interests are a noteworthy factor in the feminist movement in Egypt, and can be seen in the dissonance between Islamist groups (the Muslim Sisterhood) and more secularized feminist groups. There is a clear distinction between their interests, yet both are fighting for more involvement in governmental processes. Practical gender interests are evident in the economic and parliamentary sectors, where women are now trying to work within the system to achieve a better standard of living.

Many Egyptian women are focusing on economic stability before they can address widespread changes in the electoral process. The fragile economic state puts the issue of employment and familial income above long-term institutional transformation.

Strategic gender interests are less widespread or apparent. There was a larger emphasis on these modernizing actions during the actual revolution. Women’s interests were not marginalized under men’s or forced to conform to the revolution’s other more prominent goals, and women highlighted their own unique platform within the protests (and the world took note).

But since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in 2011, women’s goals have been forced into the background, allowing Sharia law to take precedence. Women are still fighting to alter national legislation, but after the constitution passed it became difficult to influence broad based legal change. Women hold strategic interests, but the state is not meeting them.

Because many competing women’s groups with varying goals exist, only a few women’s interests can be seen across the board and said to represent a majority of women. More women in government bodies, greater protection of women through constitutional laws, and a healthier economy in which women can support their families are overarching interests.

With that in mind, I examine what model of revolution more readily characterized Egypt. This revolution displays the patriarchal model of revolution. Although during the revolution women were liberated from strict patriarchal rules and not afraid to protest alongside men, the new government conversely emphasizes women’s role in the home as dictated by Islamic law.

There is a notable lack of “full integration of women in public life,” which is an important tenant of the modernizing model. The Muslim Brotherhood and Sisterhood hold Sharia law as the foundation of society, which dictates that women hold a separate and usually subordinate role to men. They use nationalism and religious values to legitimize women’s role as housekeeper and mother.

A few aspects of the modernizing model have been present after the revolution. The “woman question” has been more prevalent in the media and during the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood has had to answer to an increasing number of women’s and advocacy groups, yet it is not clear what this pressure has accomplished.

Women experienced the modernizing model during the revolution, but the newly elected theocratic government has created institutions and laws make it again dangerous and forbidden to stand with men on equal terms.

This case study differs from Zimmerman’s analysis because of the period of time examined. Zimmerman utilized decades of historical research to analyze the outcomes of revolution, and found that even the beginning of sustained institutional and integrated change occurred only several years after a revolution.

This leads one to assume that the interests that women are fighting for cannot be achieved in only a few years, and allows feminists all over the world to look to Egypt with a patient and hopeful eye. Not all outcomes of the revolution have been negative. The protests and activities during the Arab Spring gave women a glimpse of what equality and integration feel like.

Noted activist Rasha Kenaway believes that the Arab Spring took away long-standing fear and gave woman a stronger sense of belonging and connection to their country explaining that,

[before] it was forbidden to speak, to raise your voice, to express your opinion…but today it’s not the case anymore, you go out on the streets knowing that there will be many of you and you are not alone.

This new feeling of togetherness has empowered and revitalized many women’s organizations, giving them valuable mobilizing experience and a more concrete set of objectives. What is key to achieving some of these goals is stability. Before women and the citizenship as a whole can concentrate on tearing down gender-based impediments, a viable economic plan must be introduced to begin a path towards Egyptian economic independence and strength.

Women must also fight for more transparent and open media. The Brotherhood has taken steps to control and suppress certain media sources, and women must keep writing, blogging, and reporting information to their fellow feminists and the international community.

Finally, the fervor that a new generation of Egyptian youth brought to the revolution must be sustained and channeled to build a more inclusive governmental system. The female youth revolutionaries have broken away from the older generation, seeking greater diversity and a shared vision of a new Egypt, both connected to the surrounding area and the wider world. Now is the time for women to re-awaken the revolutionary spirit seen two years ago.

As other MENA countries look on at the region’s most prominent political player, Egypt has the ability to pave the way for a new wave of female liberation in Arab nations. It is in this winter, after the initial promise and warmth of the spring has passed, that these women must display their untiring dedication and perseverance to the rest of the world.


Please note: This is a portion of Ms. Sarah Houston’s thesis introduction, which she is kindly allowing the Middle East Collective to republish in two parts. If you would like further information regarding Sarah’s thesis and academic research, please feel free to get in touch.