Thousands of years before Women’s Suffrage was a thing in Europe and America, Egypt had things more or less figured out.
Although the West tends to nod to ancient Greece when remembering its cultural heritage, there is at least one important cultural movement whose roots are firmly buried in ancient Egypt: Feminism.
Ancient Greek women – with the exception of the Spartans – had virtually no rights. In fact, they weren’t even regarded as citizens, were excluded from many public spaces and were basically seen as the property of their fathers and husbands.
Even though Spartan women were an exception to this practice, their rights and freedoms still fell far short of those afforded by ancient Egyptian women. You see, in Ancient Egypt, men and women were regarded essentially as equals.
“From our earliest preserved records in the Old Kingdom on, the formal legal status of Egyptian women – whether unmarried, married, divorced or widowed – was nearly identical with that of Egyptian men,” a professor of Egyptology Janet Johnson told Al Jazeera.
So, thousands of years before Women’s Suffrage was a thing in Europe and America, Egypt had things more or less figured out.
Here’s a closer look.
1. Ancient Egypt women could choose their partner freely … and divorce freely
Unlike their neighbors across the Mediterranean in Ancient Greece, women married completely of their own choice. Whether for love, money, convenience or any combination of the previous, it was their decision.
And if they ever wanted a divorce for any reason? That was just fine as well.
2. They could own property
And no, they didn’t need their husband’s, father’s or brother’s permission. If they saw something they wanted and could foot the bill, they purchased it without the need to consult anyone but themselves.
3. They could work freely
Women ran powerful enterprises, traded in the markets and managed substantial estates. Any business ventures they decided to pursue, they were free to pursue.
This level of equality didn’t sit well with the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. He referred to Egypt’s gender equality as “exactly reverse the common practice of mankind.”
4. They worked in leading professions
There were even women working in Ancient Egypt’s most respected fields – as scribes and priests.
While some women did make it to the top professions and the highest levels of society, their numbers were unfortunately relatively small.
Putting this in perspective though, 21st century women still struggle to break through the “glass ceiling” in business, politics and many other fields. In the US, less than 15 percent of executive officers are women.
5. The first female doctor in recorded history was Egyptian
Merit Ptah, an ancient Egyptian woman, is the first female doctor in recorded history. Notably, another ancient Egyptian woman doctor was Peseshet, known as the “overseer of doctors.”
6. Several powerful Pharaohs were women
Although the infamous glass ceiling ensured that the vast majority of Egypt’s Pharaohs were men, there are several exceptions in Egyptian history.
Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra were all powerful rulers who proudly held the reins of the kingdom and didn’t let any man stand in their way.
Egyptian women remain a powerful force today
Up until the present, Egypt remains home to some of the world’s fiercest women. Although many would lament that ancient Egyptian women, in many ways, lived in a more equal society than their contemporary counterparts, powerful women continue to lead the country’s feminist movement.
From Hoda Shaarawi, who stood at the forefront of the 1919 revolution against the British, to activist Esraa Abdel-Fattah, who is credited with helping to ignite the Egyptian revolution in 2011, Egyptian women set an example for the world to follow.