Egypt and Women’s Rights: Fluke or Possiblity?

All eyes have been on Egypt and its process of transformational change. With the sexual assault on news reporter Lara Logan, attention has turned to the issue of Egypt’s treatment of women, and the discussion poses a significant question about the dynamics of transformation. Was the temporary absence of sexual harassment of women during the uprising a fluke or an illustration of the power of shifting people’s focus to a larger issue, a higher goal?

Historically, women in Egypt have been living under the threat—and reality—of frequent harassment when out in public, and even within their families. However, during the uprising, women report that they did not have that fear; they were a part of a larger force for change, side-by-side with men, fighting for something they ALL believed in. They walked the streets, participated in huge gatherings, and even slept out in tents on behalf of the declaration they were making for the downfall of the old government. They experienced the possibility of a transformed social norm, a partnership of equality with their fellow Egyptians: mutual, cross-boundary respect between men and women.

With the assault on Lara Logan, we know that even in the celebration of the success of the uprising, the reality of sexual harassment was still present. Her assault has brought the issue to the media spotlight—an awful and harsh experience for her, but a positive step for the women of Egypt. It appears from subsequent media reports and interviews with various Egyptian women that the old pattern still lives and the fear has returned. But the issue of the treatment of women now has attention, and women’s new-found courage to speak the truth of freedom for all needs to extend explicitly to Egyptian women as well as all of Egypt. It is not just the government that needs to transform; it is the social reality that the government condoned. Even though the harassment behavior seems to have returned, the larger issue is still present. The question is whether these old ways are what Egypt wants in its new reality.

Was the temporary absence of the fear of sexual harassment and disrespect during Egypt’s 18 days of demonstrations a fluke, or something more? Isn’t it possible that the uprising allowed a new reality to be experienced?       

WIN-Win-Win Model, Key to transforming mindset and behavior

WIN-Win-Win Model, Being First (c)

When people shift their attention to a larger cause or higher goal, their old behavior, patterned to serve their prior “lower” focus, changes. Their new behavior aligns with the higher outcome they aspire to. This is an illustration of the WIN-Win-Win principle we teach in transformation: Committing to a higher goal that serves all of us, first and foremost, changes everything. We behave, treat each other, make decisions, and act differently living from the larger perspective—the Big Win. When we align to what is best for us all and that becomes the top priority, then we easily work collaboratively across boundaries to achieve that goal, allowing “me” to win and “you” to win as well.

This is what took place on a grand social scale in Egypt, at least during the uprising. The commitment and priority of the greater goal of freedom and respect caused men to view women as partners in the struggle, and not as targets of their disdain. Their behavior changed—albeit unconsciously—because of their commitment to the Big Win.  But why has the old behavior apparently returned? Is it not possible that the Big Win commitment can be proactively and consciously used as the new government and social reality realigns? How can this new behavior be named, celebrated, and sustained?

WIN-Win-Win is a simple dynamic that has enormous implications—for relationships, teams, organizations, communities, politics, society, nations, and the world. We witness commitment to the Big Win most often in times of crisis—massive fires or floods that consume communities, the earthquake in Haiti, the miners in Chile. The issue is how to sustain that commitment after the adrenaline of the crisis subsides…after the uprising succeeds and life “returns to normal.” But in transformation, we don’t want “normal!” That has us backslide from the ground we just gained.

The key is helping the collective become conscious of the value of the new behavior, on behalf of the better social or organizational outcome it chooses. The work of leading transformation is making the Big Win overt and naming it as a priority and ultimate goal, embedding it, monitoring it, celebrating it and reinforcing it. These are the dynamics we need to master and carry out as conscious change leaders.

The temporary shift of social mores in Egypt, as a reflection of its Big Win, is a demonstration of something the Egyptian people are capable of collectively co-creating. In the coming months, the question is how to use the awareness of the initial social change to sustain progress. What would it look like for Egyptians to become conscious on a mass scale of the change that happened, then collectively choose it, and work together to sustain it because it serves them all and the higher outcome Egypt as a nation benefits from? The plans made and carried out by the organizers of the uprising were nothing less than brilliant. Now, can that same intelligence be used to evolve the society of the new Egypt going forward? Can their Big Win be sustained for the good of women as well as the rest of their freedom agenda?

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think what occurred in Egypt was a demonstration of the Big Win? Do you think it is possible for the people who lived it during the uprising to make it a conscious choice for their new collective reality? For Egypt, for women, and for us all, I hope so.

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Marshall School of Business
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