The Georgia Commission on Women had the honor of hosting a delegation from Egypt touring the United States to learn more about our efforts for equal rights and opportunities for women. Six women and one man were here to exchange ideas and find ways they can better advocate for women at home.
We met for lunch at Mary Mac’s Tea Room on March 2, 2015 for a true cultural exchange—really, what is more southern than this Atlanta institution? Over fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread, we discussed the lives of women in Egypt and our guests’ efforts to make things better.
We learned a very unshocking truth—women in Egypt want what women the world over want. They want safety. They want opportunities for women to raise the standard of living for their families, and they want to be part of the political process.
Our new friends listed violence against women as one of their top three problems to address. This surprised me. We discussed how our legal system works to protect women in the United States. We also discussed our efforts with our partner organizations to lobby our state legislature for stricter laws and harsher penalties for human trafficking.
Economic opportunity also made the Top 3 for our Egyptian guests. They shared with us that in Egypt women are the sole supporter in twenty-three percent of families. Most of these women make just enough for daily sustenance. Women who want to start businesses in Egypt need more training and greater access to loans. We learned the private sector does not supply small business loans, only the government, and Islam does not allow interest so loans require collateral which poor women in rural areas lack. There are local programs by non-profits in place at the village level to bring women together in agricultural businesses—raising chickens, rabbits, etc.—and to provide training and interest-free loans. The trick is to expand those programs and make them available to more people.
Our friends are also seeking political empowerment to ensure wider opportunities for women in Egypt. They want a seat at the table in their government. They want a hand in making the laws that will affect them. They are finding some success, but they still have a long way to go. As do we. Most of the women we met are lawyers, and they are on the front line working to make changes in their laws and government policy.
The whole conversation intrigued me. I was fascinated to hear about the lives of women in Egypt, and the passion of our guests inspired me as they work to make women’s lives better in their country.
My thoughts turned to our own efforts to achieve equality of opportunity, and I realized that we have come a long way in the United States in equality for women. There are many more women working as doctors and lawyers than there were a generation ago. Women have joined the top ranks of corporate offices and led companies as CEOs. Women are in positions of power in Congress as well as state legislatures across the country. We are governors, mayors, and city council members. We head non-profits and start small businesses.
Our futures are wide open. Today we have choices and options our grandmothers only dreamed of. Our daughters and granddaughters will take us further still. I grew up hearing that I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard enough. I have a twelve-year-old daughter. I don’t have to tell her she can be anything she wants to be; all she has to do is look around and know that this is true.
Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.