In 2005, designer-turned-activist Hind el-Hinnawy created a national scandal when she took famous Egyptian actor Ahmed el-Fishawy to court to prove that he was the father of her child. Egyptian law stipulates that if a woman gives birth outside legal marriage, the child is illegitimate and is not recognized under the law.
Hinnawy sought to prove that an urfi marriage contract -- an Islamic agreement that binds a couple under God -- existed. "It was only when I faced the laws and talked to lawyers that I understood how difficult it would be," said Hinnawy, who hurdled legal battles to eventually win the landmark case.
Legal cases like Hinnawy's are just one set in a series of struggles facing Egyptian women, says Hala Galal, who directs films that deal with women's rights. "[A woman] doesn't have the right to wear what she wants, to marry who she wants, to go out in the street any time she wants," Galal said. "Small things like this show she doesn't choose her life. She's not a free person."
A 2008 report conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights found that nearly half of Egyptian women are sexually harassed every day. Eighty-three percent of the Egyptian women surveyed reported being harassed on the street at least once in their lives.
But some old habits changed in the days leading up to Mubarak's ouster. Despite isolated, albeit extremely disturbing, incidences of sexual violence such as that experienced by CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, many Egyptian women say cases of abuse in Tahrir Square were unusually low -- even with men and women pressed shoulder to shoulder on some of the square's most crowded days.
In the weeks ahead, activists vow there will be more transformations. "The future will show us a lot of systematic and organized groups of women fighting for their rights more than ever before," Galal said.
Fatma Emam, head researcher for Cairo's women's rights research organization Nazra, is documenting experiences of women in the revolution, establishing a forum to aggregate young feminists' demands in the upcoming era, and taking steps to stop legal discrimination against women.
Some are already beginning to see change. "Before [the revolution], my dad would only really talk about politics with my brother," said Sarah Abdelrahman, a student at the American University in Cairo who was featured on the cover of Time magazine. "But now he's talking about it with me. It's like a barrier was lifted and I feel more empowered and appreciated than ever."
Still, activists concede many challenges lie ahead. "I am optimistic, but I also believe that we shouldn't think it's going to be something that will come mechanically," said Iman Bibars, regional director of Ashoka Arab World, an NGO that develops the citizen sector through entrepreneurship. She has lobbied for decades to have women included in important governmental committees. But as recently as last week, efforts were clearly lagging. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces appointed a committee to amend the country's constitution, but not one woman was included.
In fact, it wasn't until 2003 that Egypt appointed its first female judge, Tahani el-Gebali. In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Council swore in 30 female judges to preside over family courts in what feminists saw as a major step for women's rights. But in February 2010, council members voted to bar female justices from serving in administrative courts. The new Egyptian cabinet includes few women, with less than a handful of female ministers.
Amy Mowafi, managing editor of Egyptian women's magazine Enigma, counsels patience. "Democracy, as history has shown, is the first step," Mowafi says. "Then we start to look at subtitles of that, and one of those things is equality and freedom for women."