Since the revolution, women have entered the work place in force. This has been the result of the need for families to bring in more money in order to live, as well as the increase in women’s education. Today, women serve in all levels of Egyptian society – as doctors, lawyers, scientists, civil servants, and small business owners. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for many Egyptian women – particularly in Cairo, to appear in public unveiled, in western clothes. The veil has been part of traditional dress in Egyptian society – as well as throughout the Middle East – for centuries. From the mid 1970s, however, Islamic dress has made a return among many younger women. Such dress incorporates long skirts, a long sleeved blouse, sometimes with a western style suit jacket, and a headscarf. Many women feel that such attire protects them in the workplace – men tend to be more respectful of women who are veiled because they are perceived as “off limits.” Islamic dress makes a statement that the woman is not to be thought of a sexual being, while sexual harassment, though not as common as in the West, when it does happen tends to be directed toward unveiled women since they are thought of as ‘available.’
Regardless of whether they choose to wear Islamic dress or not, women tend to dress modestly. Skirts or dresses (usually ankle length) are more common than pants, though young women often wear slacks or jeans. Long sleeves are also common – it is rare to see women wear sleeves that do not reach at least to the elbow.
Although much attention is focused on what women wear in Middle Eastern society, it is important to point out that men also tend to dress modestly. Men almost always wear long pants and long sleeves. Appearing in public in shorts would likely be uncomfortable, and it is socially unacceptable for men to go shirtless in public. The traditional garment for Egyptian men is called a galabiyya, and it is a long cotton robe, usually white or pale blue, that comes down to the ankles. It is sometimes seen among poor men in the old city, but the galabiyya tends to be associated with poor, country folk (fellahin), and is usually abandoned for pants and a shirt by young men who migrate to Cairo.
Since 1952, women have entered the work force in great numbers. Many of them, like this woman in a factory in Cairo, are in supervisory positions.