Egypt suspends several anchorwomen for being overweight

Egypt’s state-run television has suspended several women off the air until they lose weight, provoking a backlash from rights groups.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Women deemed 'overweight' are being taken off Egyptian television.

Being in front of the screen isn’t easy, especially for women, as can be seen from the suspension of several anchorwomen in Egypt for being overweight. Rights groups have called the move discriminatory, while some Egyptian pundits have praised the decision.

Egypt's state-run television has taken several anchor-women off the air until they lose weight, the broadcaster's chief told Agence France Presse, drawing criticism from rights groups but also praise from some commentators.

Egyptian public television, commonly viewed as a government mouthpiece, has been struggling to compete with private satellite channels with slicker programming.

Safaa Hegazy, the head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union which runs state television, said six to eight anchor-women would be affected by the decision.

The move "is within the framework of developing the broadcaster, in form and content," she said.

Hegazy said she told the anchor-women "that they can work in production during the period they need to lose weight."

"They can then return to the screen," she said.


The move has provoked a backlash from rights groups who labelled it discriminatory.

The Women's Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness in Egypt called the decision "shameful" and said it was contrary to Egypt's constitution and that it is a form of violence against women.

Hegazy dismissed allegations the decision was sexist.

"How can there be discrimination against women in an institution run by a woman?" she said, adding, "We need to know who decides whether an anchor is fit to go on air, and by which standards."

She said the anchor-women "are no longer how they were" when hired, suggesting they had since gained weight.

One of the affected women, Khadija Khattab, said she felt slandered by the move.

"Publishing this decision in the newspapers is tantamount to defamation against the anchor-women," Khattab told AFP.

Egyptian women's-rights groups aren't happy, particularly as no weight requirement is stated in the union's hiring guidelines. Dalia El-Hamamsy, the executive director of an NGO that promotes fair views of Arab women, said her organisation is prepared to fight the ruling either through social media or by filing a court case.

“It’s 2016,” she said. “And we will not accept someone telling a woman, ‘sorry you’re fat, go home.’”

Praise for the move

Others supported the move.

Buzzfeed reported that Radwa Shaaban, a director who works for state television, said she believes the guidelines that saw Khattab and the others sent home should have been adopted a long time ago.

“How did they manage to appear on the screen all this while. We are talking about jobs that first depend on how you look," Shaaban said.

Alaa el Sadani, a commentator for Al-Ahram, said that she was "sickened by the disgusting and repulsive" appearance of the eight suspended anchors, and that she believed the rest of the country agreed with her.

"I agree with this decision because an anchor-woman’s appearance is an important criterion," state newspaper Al-Ahram quoted Sami Abdel Aziz, described as a media expert, as saying.

"An anchor-woman’s fitness gives an impression of liveliness on the screen." 

AFP, TRTWorld and agencies