Evolution of Women’s Issues in Arab Protests

 Kandy –>

What happened in Egypt and Tunisia sparked other movements, far and wide. Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq and maybe even the United States. The revolutionary spirit is spreading, sparking new movements. How about this: The revolutions are also having an impact on women of the world. There are some hopeful signs that something new is happening. New conversations are taking place via Twitter, facebook, offline as well as online.
As women, we have a shared experience regardless of nationality: Sexual violence, gender discrimination, unemployment, low wages, domestic violence and the list goes on. But, often, stereotypes of the other, specially the Muslim woman, created a wall. Conversations ended in anger. I know this because I worked in the women’s shelter movement for many years. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to explain that a woman wearing the hijab is not by definition a weak woman. Below is Naomi Wolf opinion piece on AL Jazeera
The Middle East feminist revolution

Among the most prevalent Western stereotypes about Muslim countries are those concerning Muslim women: doe-eyed, veiled, and submissive, exotically silent, gauzy inhabitants of imagined harems, closeted behind rigid gender roles. So where were these women in Tunisia and Egypt? In both countries, women protesters were nothing like the Western stereotype: they were front and centre, in news clips and on Facebook forums, and even in the leadership.

This image of Esmaa Mahfouz says a lot. Veiled woman as “The leader of the Egyptian revolution”.
Arab Women Lead the Charge By Emad Mekay

Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26-year-old Egyptian woman who two weeks ago had only one name, now boasts at least three. These include “A woman worth 100 men”, “The girl who crushed Mubarak” and “The leader of the Egyptian revolution”. “I am a woman and I am going out on Jan. 25 and am not afraid of the police,” she said a few days before the unrest broke out. “For the men who brag of their toughness, why exactly are you not joining us to go out and demonstrate?”
Her message reverberated she says, “beyond the wildest of dreams”.

She posted this video on Jan 18th, planning the Jan 25th date, the first day of the  the 18 day protest that led to the Egyptian revolution. She said in her video, “Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire, to protest humiliation and hunger and poverty…and the degradation they had to live with for thirty years.”
In the comments section of the video on youtube, someone wrote: Asmaa Mahfouz- you didnt know it when you recorded that – but you have just gone down in Egypt’s long and prestigious history.
Watch and learn people…. ANYONE can change the world.
Another comments: Asmaa Mahfouz for the Nobel Prize! Obama should give his prize to her.
Women like Esmaa were front and center of the Egyptian revolution. And there are many of them.

The daughter of a political activist who was imprisoned at the time of her birth and the sister of a blogger who was jailed by the Mubarak regime, Mona Seif says nothing could have prepared her for the scale and intensity of the protests. “I didn’t think it was going to be a revolution. I thought if we could [mobilise] a couple of thousand people then that would be great.

Women of the revolution 24-year-old blogger and activist Mona Seif (@monasosh on Twitter) is another amazing leader of the revolution. Wathc this!
Her cry in the dark interview with Al Jazeera became viral on facebook, youtube and Twitter, shared by people who were moved by her bravery.
Another powerful woman is Gigi Ibrahim: A political Science major who went to high school in California, Gigi uses technology to spread the message of the revolution.
Citizen Journalist Gigi Ibrahim Uses Tools of the Web to Spread News of Cairo Protests

Armed with little more than her Blackberry and a webcam, Ibrahim – who spent her high school years in California and recently earned a political science degree from the American University in Cairo – is on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Vimeo. She tweets and posts, shoots stills and video, all in an effort to chronicle the unrest.

In the comments section of the this article, a young woman who went to high school with Gigi in California defends her against someone else who says of Gigi (of course this was on Feb 3rd, before Mubarak left and many doubted they would have any success), “She is nothing but a weekend warrior”.  
In response to that comment,  Lauren Biedenharn says: You are wrong about Gigi, I wen to high school with her and she is one of the strongest and most intelligent women in the US of this time!
Think of this: She has single handedly brought the USA youth into this movement through the eyes of a warrior there, present, and in action!

And last but not least, Nawal El-Saadawi:
Egyptian novelist, essayist and physician, whose feminist works have widened the boundaries of the Arab novel. Nawal El Saadawi’s central theme is the oppression of women and womens’ desire for self-expression. She first gained fame with her nonfictional writing. Her books have been banned in Egypt and some other Arab countries.

So now let’s go from Egypt to Italy.
Although the protest was organized before the Egyptian protesters saw Mubarak’s fall, More than one million protesters in Italy marched for freedom and justice on Feb 13th, 2011. Just two days earlier, the world had seen the people of Egypt overthrow their billionaire dictator. In a similar fashion, the Italian organizers used facebook and Twitter. Rallies were publicized via Facebook. People were called to gather in public squares. The protest was sparked by the sex scandal of their prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with a 17 year old Moroccan girl.  But their protest gave voice to a much larger discontent against poverty, unemployment, corruption and  human rights abuses.

After Tunisia and Egypt, can the winds of change blow across the Mediterranean Sea, bringing reforms in another troubled neighbour? Not Jordan or Syria. But Italy. It may not be justified to compare Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power or Ben Ali’s 23 with Silvio Berlusconi’s rule over Italy, interrupted twice by the victory of centre-left coalitions. But many commentators, at home and abroad, have started referring to Italy’s past 20 years as Berlusconi’s reign, an epoch during which the country has been substantially transformed by the power of one man.
It may be equally un-justified to compare the causes that led to the movements in North Africa with those that may spur a people’s revolution in Italy. But, similarly to the young Tunisians and Egyptians who ignited the protests in their countries, young Italians seem to have had their future taken away by a system that frustrates innovation and change from below.


The rest of this article: If Not Now, When?
Finally, the Twitter angle of this story. Something amazing is happening. Women are talking.  In Which Mona Eltahawy Moderates a Muslim Feminist Revolution. “…Hereis an amazing conversation by women, feminist from all over the world, using the hashtag@MonaEltahawy. This conversation started out discussing Saudi Arabia, but evolved into a wider discussion of women’s issues.

That’s not to say that this movement is leaderless—Eltahawy is a leader; no one could doubt that, and I’m sure there are others. But Twitter makes it possible for her to also be a conduit. There isn’t much repackaging she does here; not much shaping of a message or campaign. What one sees instead is a discussion that’s giving rise—organically, if that can responsibly be said of something computer-driven—to something. I don’t know what, but it’s BIG. (I’d suggest, by the way, that what Eltahawy does here—listening, reproducing and amplifying other voices, and building momentum into the discussion from time to time as if she were tending a fire—is “real” leadership, or perhaps the “New Leadership,” as opposed to the grandstanding we’ve come to think of as the sine qua non of, for example, politicians. Eltahawy might be one of the first true leaders of the Internet age. Others include Asmaa Mahfouz and Wael Ghonim.)
After all we’ve written and thought about “selfish” and “unselfish” feminism, about the problems posed by Qaddafi’s female guards and the uneasy relationship between Middle East and West, it’s an honor to witness how Muslim women are talking not to the West (that’s a fraught interaction) but to each other about their vision for the future and—maybe as importantly—their vision of the past.

Here are snapshots of what is being said via Twitter today. @monaeltahawy women perform 66% of the world’s work, earn 10% of world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property: www.weareequals.org
@monaeltahawy I’m on my period 2day but I work as usually think as usualy kiss my husband and child as usually prepare food pray and tweet!
@monaeltahawy To be honest I’ve disowned the concept of religion period. i find it condones war,hate+inequality. It segregates humanity.
@monaeltahawy period&beer:during period,woman emit volatile substances that cud disturb fermentation so women couldnt enter former breweries
@monaeltahawy Its been an eye opener for me personally being a British woman, I can’t even imagine being oppressed by a period.
@monaeltahawy One of my co-workers who is Hindu did mention she cannot perform religious ceremonies during her period.
@monaeltahawy Before men are ready to accept us, we, women, should be ready to accept ourselves, proud of our bodies-period included.
Suddenly, women are talking about periods via Twitter, FGM, too much work and too little pay, sexual violence and beauty myths. What is next? Go women. Yalla feminist

  Copyright. 2011. dailykos.com All Rights Reserved


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