In what may have been an unconscious reference to Condoleezza Rice's "birth pangs" metaphor, Ismail likened Egypt's potential democracy-in-the-making to a newborn child whose delivery is welcomed, regardless of sex.
"It's a baby we longed for that's finally being born, and we didn't even consider if the baby was a boy or a girl," she said. "Many women are complaining that there is a problem with rights, that we weren't represented in the constitutional committee. However, we don't need to prove we had a role. They know this very well -- women had frontline roles. I'm not really bothered to be proved or represented."
Fatma Emam, a 25-year-old researcher and activist with the feminist group Nazra for Feminist Studies, thinks that to appeal to women like Ismail, women's rights need to be reframed as a national issue.
"We have to emphasize that the feminist movement is a political movement," she said. "It's not only caring about women's rights, but caring about equality and justice for all Egyptian citizens; it's a national cause. This notion is the crucial message that the feminist movement has to convey."
Soha Abdelaty, an activist with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said this message needed to be spread not just among decision-makers, but the wider public as well.
"What happened on March 8th, that was a real wakeup call to us that it is time for us not to focus primarily on policy and advocacy levels, but to be taking to the street and engaging with different communities," she said.
With a laundry list of problems to tackle -- a decimated economy, striking workers, dozens of political prisoners -- political parties have kicked women's rights issues down to the bottom of the pile. But while Abbas says he hasn't heard much talk about women's rights from any of the established or newly-formed parties, Heba Morayef, the Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch, noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to disavow a long-held principle that neither a Coptic Christian nor a woman could run for president of Egypt. Not long after this announcement, television presenter Bouthaina Kamel announced her intention to run on an anti-corruption platform. Although Emam predicts she won't get many votes, "her visibility and participation are enough for me."
"A lot of people are being pushed to come up with a consistent position on women's rights, so we may see a shift in the coming months," Morayef said.
Brotherhood leader Saad al-Husseini told the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm that while the Brotherhood would not put a female candidate forward, women still had the right to run, a position that irks feisty 18-year-old Sara Mohamed, a member of Muslim Brotherhood.
"I really don't accept this way of thinking at all," she said. "If they are applying Islamic rules, in Islam, there is nothing that says a girl can't be a president, so what are you talking about?"
current political scene is still light on the estrogen, then, Eltahawy
is confident that things are set to change: "Women are bolder now, and
more outspoken ... they recognize that the personal and political exist
side by side."