As popular revolts continue to rock autocratic regimes across the Arab world, women are defying both taboo and stereotype and emerging as a driving force that is keeping the momentum of the protests going.
“Women played and continue to play an integral part in the uprisings and revolutions in the region, and what is key is that they are there, physically present in the streets, showing their numbers,” Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Agence France-Presse. “That is a hopeful sign. They should now play a key role the new governing structures that will emerge from these revolutions.”
In T-shirts and jeans or long black robes and veils, tens of thousands of women have made their voices heard in the streets, from Tunis to Cairo, from Manama to Sanaa, to demand reform in a region long ruled by autocracies.
Inspired by the uprising that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, women turned out en masse for weeks in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down Feb. 11 after 30 years in power.
Bahrain, where thousands of mainly Shiite protesters have been demanding the fall of the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, has also witnessed a massive turnout of women, who form a sea of black in their traditional robes and headscarves at the gender-segregated rallies.
And in the conservative countries of Yemen and Libya, women have overturned social norms and joined the insurrections against Ali Abdullah Saleh and Moammar Gadhafi, marching openly in the streets and speaking to journalists on camera.
“Women play a decisive role in the region, from Tunisia to Egypt and Libya, and they have been a key factor in sparking the revolutions in every city,” said Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist who is spearheading the participation of women in the Sanaa protests.
“The revolution aims primarily to topple regimes, but it has also succeeded in doing away with the archaic traditions that have long told us women should stay at home and out of public life,” Karman told AFP. “This has also been a social revolution. The role of women is helping create a new society. The Yemen revolution has helped woman rise to a better place.”
It is not only in the streets that women have found their voice. While women from all walks of life have joined the protests, a young and educated segment of society is also turning to new media to bring about change in their homelands.
Asma Mahfouz, a young Egyptian woman whose video blog, or “vlog,” calling for an uprising in Egypt became a viral hit, is widely credited with having inspired Egyptians to take to the streets in defiance of a long-running autocratic regime.
“I am making this video to send you one message: If we still have any honor, if we want to live in dignity in this country, we need to get out into the streets on Jan. 25,” said the fresh-faced, veiled activist. “If you are a man, come down to the street,” she said in an Arabic-language video posted on YouTube on Jan. 18. “Whoever says women shouldn’t protest... should be man enough to come with me on Jan. 25.”
Voices of dissent allegedly from Saudi Arabia, which has not yet witnessed major protests, have also begun to surface on the social-networking websites Facebook and Twitter, many under female usernames. “I urge Saudi women to act now. Our Saudi brothers have betrayed us, for they are cowards. Act now, b4 it’s too late!” a Twitter user wrote under the name SaudiWomenRevolution.
Arab women see the uprisings in the region as creating opportunity for equal rights. According to a Bloomberg report, they said there was no inequality at the squares that have been the epicenters of many protests.
Egyptian women’s rights advocate Azza Kamel said the popular uprisings in her country and its neighbors are creating new opportunities for women.
“There was no difference between women who were veiled or not veiled,” Kamel said at the United Nations in New York, referring to the protests that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule last month. “The revolution created a land as free for women as for men.”
Whether the turmoil in the Arab world will yield progress toward full political and economic rights for women is unclear, according to Isobel Coleman, author of “Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Woman Are Transforming The Middle East” and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“It could go either way,” Coleman said in an interview. “In a country like Egypt, where you have powerful Islamist groups and a very influential mainstream that appeals to Islam, women have will have to navigate very carefully. The same is true in Tunisia.”
This week Kamel and other women from the region took part in meetings that marked the one-year anniversary of U.N. Women, the United Nations agency created to promote women’s rights. They asked U.N. officials to help them solidify gains and seize opportunities to end some of the world’s most repressive laws and practices.
And while the region’s future political landscape remains unclear, the uprisings have revealed discontent with the existing political and social structure across the region, experts say. “Right now you cannot speak of a separate women's movement,” said Bahraini academic and former parliamentary candidate Munira Fakhro. “It’s not a gender upheaval, it’s an upheaval of the entirety of society, of which women have long been an active segment.”
“The importance of the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, for example, is not just in getting rid of the figurehead, of ousting the dictator,” added Houry. “It’s getting rid of all the ‘isms’ that have kept this region lagging behind: from sexism to confessionalism and more.”
* Compiled from Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg reports by the Daily News staff.
Saudi women follow developments in Libya with concern
Published: Mar 8, 2011 00:13 Updated: Mar 8, 2011 00:13
ABHA: The demands of Libyan women during the ongoing revolution in the country are no different to those of men.
“We aspire for freedom, democracy and rule of law,” Libyan political activist Saud Al-Wahidi, who lives in France, told Arab News from Paris on Monday.
She said Libyan women are part of the revolution and are out every day with their men as they rise against Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
Al-Wahidi said Libyan women were more concerned with the immediate stoppage of the bloodbath and the protection of their sons from African mercenaries hired by Qaddafi to kill his own people.
“Have you ever seen a leader bringing in mercenaries to slaughter his own people? Is there any bigger treason than this?” she questioned.
She said this very fact refuted Qaddafi's allegations that his opponents were calling for foreign intervention. “It is him (Qaddafi) who called for foreign intervention by hiring African mercenaries to kill the Libyan people,” she said.
Al-Wahidi said the young Libyan protesters were facing Qaddafi's war machine unarmed and added that they were blessed by Allah and supported by angels as they were able to liberate large areas of the country.
“The Libyan people want an honorable and dignified life away from the dictator who made their lives meaningless.”
Al-Wahidi lauded the protesters who, unlike other revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt, were not calling for the downfall of the system, but instead for the establishment of a system which Libya did not have under Qaddafi's rule.
She asked Saudi people who lived close to the two holy mosques to help the Libyan revolution by praying for those involved.
She also asked them to provide the Libyan people with medicines and vaccinations.
“Diabetic and high-blood pressure patients are in need of medicines. The children need vaccinations, especially in the eastern region of Libya that is currently under siege by Qaddafi's forces. Food is also decreasing,” she said.
“I hope the Saudi people will send to Libya truckloads of flour. This is of course in addition to moral and media support.”
She added that Saudi women have shown great concern for what is happening in Libya.
“Many of them are glued to TV channels to see if Qaddafi will be more merciful to his people and quit, or whether he will insist on remaining in his position with his sheer military power,” she added.
“We are proud to see Saudi women concerned for our revolution. This is not something strange or new to Saudi women, who consider a wound in the Arab body politic as personal wound.”
Meanwhile, Fawziyah Ahmad, a 48-year-old Saudi mother of eight, said she was always sitting in front of the TV to follow news coverage of Libya and hoping that the protesters would finally win.
“I am anxiously waiting to see Qaddafi's reaction and what he will say in his funny speeches,” she said.
Ayesha, a 25-year-old Saudi woman, said she has never missed any news bulletin since the outbreak of the revolution.
She said she had some sympathy for Qaddafi because he seemed confused and did not know what to do. “Sometimes he will threaten to use force, but other times he will seem tolerant and forgiving,” she said.
Wanita memegang peranan penting dalam mana-mana perjuangan sekalipun. Mereka adalah pendorong semangat, mereka adalah rakan seperjuangan dan mereka bahkan pendepan dalam menongkah perubahan.
Wanita, lazimnya, lebih mudah dikuasai oleh 'semangat' berbanding lelaki.Apabila mereka telah dikuasai oleh semangat, mereka lebih bersedia untuk berkorban harta-benda dan apa sekalipun demi perjuangan, Apabila mereka telah dikuasai oleh semangat, mereka menjadi lebih berani dan hilang kebimbangan, mereka menjadi sebegitu tekad.
Hal ini sentiasa berlaku sejak sejarah awal manusia lagi. Ianya berlaku dalam pelbagai peradaban dan di kalangan semua bangsa
Semoga kita didampingi oleh wanita yang solehah yang dikuasai semangat ingin berbakti kepada agama dan mengabdikan kehidupan untuk Allah