The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) gave the women one
month to lose weight and said they could return to work when they had an
“appropriate appearance”, local media reported.
Only female anchors were removed from their posts, leading women’s rights groups to condemn the move as sexist.
The Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness said suspending
the women on the basis of their weight “violates the constitution” and
was a form of violence against women. In a Facebook post, the
organisation called on the ERTU to apologise and reverse the decision.
The ERTU told local media the decision would not be reversed, but
that the women would continue to be paid while they were suspended.
Khadija Khattab, one of the presenters told to go on a diet, told
Saudi newspaper Al Watan that the situation was humiliating and
scandalous. She said she wanted people to watch her most recent TV
appearances and judge if she was fat, and whether she deserved to be
prevented from working.
Another presenter told local media the situation had upset her family
and should have been dealt with internally, without the public finding
Safaa Hegazy, a former news anchor, was appointed head of the ERTU in
April and vowed to overhaul the state broadcaster, which is perceived
as dowdy and has struggled to compete with international satellite
channels that employ younger hosts.
Egyptian media commentators were split on whether or not the suspensions were a good idea.
Fatma al-Sharawi, a journalist at a state-owned newspaper, said she
thought the policy ought to be applied to all local TV stations and the
BBC reported that one female Twitter user described Ms Hegazy as a
“strong woman” for making the decision.
But women’s rights group disagree.
“Judging anybody on the basis of his or her body weight is not the
right criterion,” said Eman Beibers, chairwoman of the Cairo-based
Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women.
“Our problem is that we judge people by appearance rather than
performance and content. I’d have appreciated the suspension decision if
those presenters were suspended because they did their job badly or
appeared with excessive make-up.
“It does not matter if the presenter is fat or thin as long as he or
she does not use nasty words on the air and knows well how to deal with
guests,” Ms Beibers told Gulf News.
“We have Oprah Winfrey as a successful example,” she said, referring to the famous American talk show host.