Egypt: International Women’s Day: "I am happy, despite being harassed"
As everyone knows, today is International Women’s Day, and it is the first day for the celebration of women rights after the success of the Egyptian Revolution, which forced the former president Mubarak out of power in February. For the past two weeks, a call was made for citizens to participate in a million women march in Tahrir square to celebrate the day and honour the martyrs of Egypt: women and men. The march was supposed to be between 2:00- 6:00 PM on March 8 and the square was chosen as a symbol for the determination of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement.
The political demands of the march were clear:
- A civil state in Egypt
- A new civil constitution that respects the values of citizenship, guarantees equality and eliminates any sort of discrimination.
The first demand was guaranteed to provoke the anger of some groups, while the second will further enrage them as it means a woman could be elected for the presidency.
When I arrived in Tahrir Square, late as usual, the march had already reached its destination one hour earlier and I could see some women rights activists engaged in a heated discussion with some men present at the march. We had hung up banners and we held smaller banners with the above demands, as well as distributing some flyers. We formed three long parallel lines of women and men with a banner above our heads and the smaller ones in our hands. We were faced with a group of men chanting against us and our demands. It was like a ping-pong game: we chanted our demands until we lost our voices and they countered that God did not choose a female messenger so why should women want to be head of state. We were called foreign agents and we replied by singing the national anthem, which brought tears to my eyes.
The march had its comical moments, such a when the men chanting against us brought a woman who was dressed modestly and, pointing to her, shouted that this was the real Egyptian woman. We replied, pointing to ourselves, that we are Egyptian women.
I went crazy when they chanted that the voice of a women shameful, and I had to grab the arm of a male colleague arm to hoist myself up to the highest point possible in order to chant "Egypt is for everyone, no matter their gender or religion". This line of argument always had this effect on me: I am a professional woman with a well-established career and I am studying for my Phd, and I do not accept the notion that I have half the value of a man or that the sound of my voice will disturb anyone. All the women walking in the same march are like me.
When they got hold of some of our flyers and tore them and threw them in the air so they fell on the ground, it was heart-wrenching. It was not so much the act of tearing them up, but the fact that they left the torn papers in the streets I participated in cleaning only two weeks ago.
A guy standing behind me was constantly hitting on me and a colleague standing next to me; I put on my most charming smile and turned to him to ask him why he was there and he replied honestly: There is lots of media coverage of the march so I thought I would appear on TV. I replied with the same smile: “if you hit on me again, I will cut off your balls”; he vanished within seconds.
I could not judge who was making up the group of 50-100 men facing us: they could have been thugs from the old regime, some of them could have been Islamists or just ordinary men who think that women’s empowerment is a threat to them. I know that they dared to attack us and run after three of my brave, uncompromising colleagues harassing and hitting them all the while, and for my own safety I was prevented by some male colleagues from pursuing the aggressors. I feared equally for my male colleagues and friends as some of them were threatened openly by members of the counter-demonstration. The scene turned chaotic to the extent that some army soldiers stationed nearby had to interfere. To sum it up, today Egyptian women paid the second installment for their freedom; the first was during the revolution.
Only a civil constitution, which is unbiased towards any group, will help us as women to fight challenges to women rights. I attended the march for that reason, for a constitution that guarantees my rights as a female, Egyptian citizen. I am not looking for superficial amendments, but for a real civil text that respects me.
Whatever happened on Tuesday, I am happy we made our voice heard and more backlashes there are, the clearer it becomes that we are doing something right.
The path to achieve justice and equality for women is long, but I am sure that all my colleagues, comrades and friends (men and women) who were present at the march are ready to walk it. This is the beauty of democracy – you never know what will happen, but you do your best to make your voice heard. A similar march would not ever have taken place before the 25 January revolution. Now, women are focusing on the new democratic horizons that have opened for them and they are more determined than ever to bring about a just and equal society.
By Doaa Abdelaal, a WLUML council member from Egypt.
1. The call for the march came from the Facebook group: Egyptian Women for Change, but several Egyptian NGOs participated.
2. Twitter followed all the day’s activities: @Women4Democracy
3. The Statement from the Coalition of Women Rights Organizations to the new Prime Minister of Egypt (in AR)- March 5, 2011
The first banner held with the demands says "100% Popular Initiative"
The second banner says: A civil state: Not Religious or Military – the Coalition of the Women NGOs