Jul 21, 2022 - World

Two femicides in Egypt and Jordan are part of "alarming trend" across the region

The mother of murdered university of Mansoura student Naira Ashraf
The mother of murdered university student Nayera Ashraf attends the first trial session at the Mansoura courthouse on June 26. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

The recent murders of two women in Egypt and Jordan have sparked outrage across the Middle East and calls for greater legislative reforms to protect women who face a daily reality of gender violence and discrimination.

The big picture: Although there have been "some elements of progress" in protecting women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, there have also been "a lot of really alarming trends," Mai El-Sadany, the managing director at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told Axios.

  • "There hasn't been the type of deep-seated reform or changes that are needed," El-Sadany said.

Driving the news: Nayera Ashraf, 21, was a student at northern Egypt's Mansoura University when she was stabbed to death outside the school gates in broad daylight on June 20.

  • Days after Ashraf's murder, Iman Rashid, 21, was shot on the campus of her university in Amman, Jordan, according to the Middle East Eye.

State of play: Ashraf's killer, Mohamed Adel, was a fellow student whose marriage proposal she had rejected and whom Ashraf had previously reported to the authorities and requested a restraining order against, Al Jazeera reported, citing officials.

  • Adel was swiftly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Middle East Eye reported.
  • The man suspected killing Rashid went on the run for several days and ultimately shot himself when surrounded by police, Middle East Eye reported.

In the wake of the two women's deaths, posts about the murders flooded social media, Al Jazeera reported.

  • The hashtag #Justice_for_Naira_Ashraf trended in Arab countries, per CNN.
  • A transnational women's general strike organized by women's rights activists across the region was held earlier this month.
  • Protests were held in Sudan, Lebanon and Jordan, with activists reiterating calls for their governments to pass legislation to combat gender-based violence and to work with civil society groups and leaders to change mindsets about how women are treated.

Women's rights advocates say Ashraf and Rashid's deaths represent only two of the many femicides and other acts of violence against women in the region.

  • In an annual report released earlier this year, Egypt's Edraak Foundation for Development and Equality said it had recorded 813 incidents of violence against women and girls in 2021 — more than double the 415 recorded in 2020.
  • The foundation has already recorded 335 violent crimes against women and girls in Egypt between January and April this year, CBS News reported.
  • In Jordan, over the course of the first half of 2021, women's rights organizations recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence compared to 2020, according to Amnesty International.
  • A Dec. 2021 report by the World Bank estimated that at least 40% of women in the Middle East and North Africa had experienced some form of physical or sexual intimate partner violence during their lifetime.

Worth noting: Femicide remains a global problem that has sparked mass protests in countries worldwide, including France, Mexico and the Balkan nations.

  • The World Health Organization notes that collecting accurate data on femicides is difficult, and experts argue that many estimates are likely undercounts.

What they're saying: "The murder of Nayera Ashraf in Egypt, and Iman Rashid in Jordan a few days later, is gruesome — a new low for a region that continues to witness a growing number of gender based acts of violence and where women’s rights are still not fully guaranteed or protected," said Merissa Khurma, program director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

  • "The public outcry on social media may have contributed to pushing the authorities in Egypt to try Nayera’s killer in record speed and that is a positive step in the right direction but that is certainly not enough," she told Axios.
  • Nayera's death is "the epitome of the horrors women face in the [in Egypt], in the public sphere especially."
  • "If governments in the region and the leaders are serious about maintaining peace and security then they have to put human security and human life at the heart of that."
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