Monday, December 5, 2011
Arab Women Fight to Defend Rights
The Arab Spring saw women emerge on the streets to assist in the overthrow of regimes. It was an awakening for women’s rights also. Yet this article shows how fragile any such rights are. These are societies quite prepared to look the other way when a sociopathic male uses his position to abuse his female family members as we recently saw happen in
. Here a father drowned his two westernizing
daughters and his wife who was unhappy over his taking a second wife against
the laws of the country they resided in.
It is the prevalence of this attitude of complete control over another’s
life that is so objectionable to western sensibilities. Canada
This social problem can only be solved by insisting each and every child receive a modern education through their late teens. It must be the first priority in the Arab world if they ever hope to properly join the modern world as something other than a beggar.
We have seen instead a subversion of the education system in
in particular and some form of it elsewhere.
Only the children of a few fortunate families seem to escape all this. Pakistan
The good news is that it is likely the emergence of democratic elections will attract politicians who will cater to the needs of women finally and who will begin to curb the excesses been experienced.
Arab Women Fight to Defend their Rights
By Mathieu von Rohr
The Arab Spring seemed to herald a new era of emancipation for women in the Arab world. But Islamists are on the rise in
and Egypt, and there are
worrying reports of sexual assaults on demonstrators in 's Cairo Tahrir Square. Many women in the region
fear a rollback of what rights they had under the dictators.
She looks serious in the picture she has posted on the Internet. She is also naked, a young Egyptian woman showing her body to her country. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a 20-year-old art student at the
University in , wanted to protest against the
oppression of women and conservatism in her country. To achieve that, she did
something that is almost unheard of. Cairo
"Undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups," she wrote in her blog. In a country where couples cannot kiss in public, her act came as a shock.
Since triggering a scandal two weeks ago, the Egyptian woman has had to hide from the hatred of religious conservatives, and even secular Egyptians have distanced themselves from her. They don't want to be associated with her act, and they are afraid of being characterized as worldly, licentious and immoral.
There is much at stake at the moment for Egypt's young people, who are protesting once again on Tahrir Square, this time against military control of the country, as if the revolution of January and February had never happened. It is no longer merely a question of whether the country will achieve the transition to democracy, but also of what kind of society Egypt wants and what the status of women will be in that society.
There have been numerous reports within the last week of sexual assaults on women at
assaults involving both security forces and protesters. The Egyptian-American
journalist Mona Eltahawy, who had taken part in the protests on the square, was
held for hours while blindfolded. Policemen groped her and broke one of her
arms and a hand. "(They) groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital
area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers," she
wrote on Twitter. "They are dogs and their bosses are dogs."
Confusion about Female Roles
The West is confused. In January and February, many were enthusiastic about the uprisings in
particularly when it came to the role women played. Women protested alongside
men on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Egypt Tunis and on Tahrir Square in . Their involvement
conveyed a new image of Arab youth and Arab women. The many photographers in Cairo Cairo and
sent their editorial offices images of attractive women taking part in the
People in the West recognized themselves in the faces of the young female protesters, and they were pleased that people in these countries were not as different as many had previously believed. The certainty that Arabs were incompatible with democracy was destroyed, as well as the cliché of the Arab woman as a passive, oppressed being.
None of the uprisings in the Arab countries would have been possible without the participation of women. They were among the first to protest at the Pearl Roundabout in
they organized women's protests in , they were part of the Libyan
uprising from the start, and a Yemeni activist was one of the winners of the
Nobel Peace Prize this year. Syria
Fears of Losing Rights
All of this explains why so many people have been disappointed by news reports in recent weeks. In
where the Arab Spring began and where women enjoy more freedom than anywhere
else in the Arab world, the Islamists emerged from the recent election as the
strongest party. The same thing is likely to happen in Tunisia , which is
currently holding elections. And not a single woman
was appointed to the council that has been charged with drafting a
it isn't just the Islamists who have been responsible for serious assaults on
women since then. It's also members of the old and new regime. In March, there
were reports that the army was performing "virginity tests" on female
protesters, a procedure that many of the women perceived as rape. Egypt
They were undressed by jeering soldiers, who used their mobile phones to film examinations of the women's genitalia. A general subsequently announced that the women "were not like your daughter or mine." More recently, acts of sexual violence are being perpetrated against women on the square once again.
Did Arab women fight for their freedom, only to then lose even the rights they had previously enjoyed under the dictators?
An Elite Project
There has long been an urban class of well-educated, professional women in
Tunisia and . But
achieving women's rights was a project of the elite. For despots like former
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali or former Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak, it was also a means to an end. They used their support for women's
rights to lead the West to believe that their regimes stood for progress. Egypt
But the reality left much to be desired. Indeed, the famous United Nations' Arab Human Development Report of 2002 cited the poor state of women's rights in the Arab world as one of three reasons why this part of the world had remained so underdeveloped.
it was Suzanne Mubarak, the now-hated wife of the former president, who
championed women's rights and fought the horrific practice of female genital
mutilation. Although she made some progress, many of her achievements on behalf
of women are now associated with her name. Egypt
It is not surprising that an Islamic counter-model is now gaining traction in the wake of the overthrow of regimes that masqueraded as Western and secular. Particularly in
the secular elite always behaved as if it were more European than Arab,
emulating the lifestyle of the former colonial power, . In the
upscale suburbs of France ,
it was not unusual to see women wearing short skirts, and feminists were proud
of it. Tunis
women are on equal terms with men in almost all areas. They can divorce their
husbands, polygamy is banned and abortion is legal. The effects of this policy
are reflected in two numbers. Whereas half of all women were already married at
the age of 20 in 1960, by 2004 only 3 percent of women aged 15 to 19 were
married. This status of women can be attributed to Habib Bourguiba, the
secular founder of the Tunisia Tunisian Republic, who is often regarded as a Tunisian
counterpart to 's
first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And yet it remains primarily an urban
phenomenon. Like Turkey Turkey, was
largely secular because it was what the elites wanted. In the country's
interior, people are conservative. Tunisia
It was a mistake to believe that the Arab world would become more Westernized after the revolutions. On the contrary, in many places residents are returning to their own values.
In the streets of
women wearing headscarves were still the exception in January, but by June it
seemed that about half of women were wearing the garment. Some were doing so
simply for religious reasons, but for many the hijab is an expression of a
newly discovered identity. Before the revolutions, it was almost seen as a
stigma to be an Arab. But since the successful ouster of Ben Ali, a new sense
of national pride and Arab identity has become evident in Tunis . Tunisia
Sana Ben Achour, Tunisia's leading feminist, doesn't try to hide her regret over the changes. She doesn't like it when the impression is created that a woman's body is something that has to be covered up. She points out, however, that when one looks at young women wearing tight jeans with the veil, it is clear that nothing is actually being covered up. Achour describes it as a fashion, and yet she is not pleased about it.
on the other hand, for years few women have ventured into the streets without a
veil. It is a sign of a conservative society that seems far more removed from
Europe than Egypt . Tunisia
But veiled women already took to the streets to protest against the British as long ago as 1919. After Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in 1954, the country experienced a social awakening, and women were encouraged to take part in professional life. Nevertheless, there has been a strong resurgence in conservatism since the 1980s, with women being pushed back into traditional roles.
Many Arab feminists look with concern to
, where the overthrow of a
secular tyrant did not help women, and where four-fifths of all female pupils
and students have discontinued their education since then. Iraq
Part 2: A New Model of Female Islamists
A beaming, attractive woman appeared before Western journalists to speak on behalf of the winners on the evening after the Islamists' election victory in
No one will be forced to wear a headscarf in the new Tunis , she said. She was wearing
makeup and had a colorful headscarf wrapped tightly around her face. She seemed
self-confident and intelligent, and when asked what the Islamist win meant for
women, she said that she saw no contradiction between Islam and women's rights. Tunisia
The woman was Soumaya Ghannouchi, the daughter of Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party and the country's new strong man. She grew up in
where her father lived in exile for 20 years, and where she worked as a
journalist, writing for the Guardian, among other publications. She is a
politically engaged, independent Muslim woman who supports her father's
movement, as does her sister Intissar, who works as an attorney in London . London
Ghannouchi's four daughters do not fit Western notions of the downtrodden Arab woman.
Is this what female Islamists are supposed to be like?
The Ghannouchi daughters, who have become role models for some young women in
are not the only evidence that it is possible to be a Muslim woman, wear a
headscarf and still be strong. For years, the Arab satellite broadcasters in
the Gulf region have also popularized the ideal of pure female beauty
throughout the entire Arab world. Tunisia
Self-determined women don't necessarily have to look the part envisioned by the West. Years ago, researchers with the Washington-based think tank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified a movement that could be characterized as Muslim emancipation within such organizations as the Egyptian Muslim Sisterhood. Even this group of conservative Muslim women encompasses a new generation of self-confident activists who are educated, claim their rights and insist on being heard within their organizations.
Many of them were at the front of the protest marches last winter, and now they are there again, side-by-side with secular female protesters. Together they are facing off against the most noxious adversary of Egyptian women: the military. During the revolution on
Tahrir Square, many young Egyptian women
experienced gender equality for the first time. They protested together with
the men and were just as instrumental in bringing down Mubarak, and there were
no sexual assaults during that period.
Since then, it has been primarily the security forces and
military council that have sought to put women in their place through violence
-- not the Islamists. Egypt
At the same time, the radical Salafis have become increasingly influential in
Salafists are fundamentalist Muslims who want women to remain in the home and
cover their bodies from head to foot. The Salafist Nour Party's campaign
posters depict seven bearded candidates. There is no photo of the party's
eighth candidate, a woman, only the image of a rose. Egypt
But the Salafis are not in the majority in
. The Muslim Brotherhood,
which is also Islamist and will likely win the elections, are more pragmatic in
their position toward women. They are conservative, and yet an interpretation
of Islamic law based on the misogynistic Saudi Arabian model is not to be
the Islamists under Rachid Ghannouchi purport to be more favorable to women
than anywhere else. In the election campaign, they insisted that they would not
seek to scale back equal rights, and they are not interested in polygamy or
making it compulsory for women to wear the headscarf. They cite the moderate
Islamist governing party in Tunisia ,
the AKP, as a model. Turkey
But many conservatives feel emboldened by their election victory, and there has also been worrisome news coming from
. Women report that they have been
criticized in public for their style of dress. At the university, male
students prevented female lecturers who were allegedly dressed immodestly from
entering lecture halls. Tunis
Nevertheless, it is not to be expected that the strong position of women in
will change soon. It is too firmly established, especially in cities. In Tunisia ,
on the other hand, women are not just forced to defend their rights against
Islamists, but also against an alliance of macho men of widely differing
ideological stripes. Egypt
After last week's assaults, the young activist Lara El Gibaly wrote on Twitter: "At the risk of sounding like a feminist, 2day in particular, I am really sickened by the patriarchal, testosterone-driven society I live in.
is a terrible place to be a woman." Egypt