While the Arab Spring has provided women with space to make their voices heard, “It has also become clear that there are real risks, especially [for woman] in places like Egypt and Libya,” said Head of Human Rights Watch’s Women Division Liesl Gerntholtz.
“[Arab] women were visible, they went out and demonstrated for changes, but unfortunately right after the ousters of [Tunisian President Zeineddine] Ben Ali and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, we saw a backlash,” added her colleague, Nadya Khalife, the Middle East North Africa researcher in HRW’s women's rights division.
I am writing to you to tell you about the situation in Egypt at the moment, as I am not sure about the accuracy of the media. Last Friday there was a huge demonstration in Tahrir Square calling for ending the military rule, to end military trials for civilians (more than 12,000 civilians have been referred to military tribunals) and to object to the supra constitutional principles. There was a huge numbers from different communities that attended the demonstration and most of them left the Square by evening.
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square has been an inspiration to pro-democracy activists across the globe. Now one woman is fighting to make sure the public space, which became the focal point of the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak's government in Egypt, does not become a symbol for state-sponsored misogyny too.
FOR A FREE AND SECULAR MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
76 secularists and human rights campaigners, including Mina Ahadi, Nawal El Sadaawi, Marieme Helie Lucas, Hameeda Hussein, Ayesha Imam, Maryam Jamil, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Farida Shaheed, Fatou Sow, and Stasa Zajovic have signed on to a Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa.
Nine months after a popular election toppled the dictatorship of former Tunisian president Zine Abidine Ben Ali, voters headed to the polls Sunday to cast their ballots for fresh leaders to rewrite the laws of the country’s political system.
The election campaign in the birthplace of the Arab Spring has been, among other things, a battleground for women’s rights as voters set out to choose from about 11,000 candidates, half of them women.
In a tiny hall in Nasarallah, a poor agricultural village in the hills beyond Tunisia's historic Islamic city of Kairouan, Jamila Brahid is irate. Sitting in a huddle of country women wearing traditional rural headscarves, the 50-year-old villager is proud to have had a primary school education in a place where many of her female friends – mostly seasonal fruit-pickers – cannot read or write. A carpet-weaver who owed debts on wool and has never married because of her obligations looking after elderly relatives, she gives thanks for Tunisia's prized status as the most feminist country in the Arab world. But, she says, Sunday's elections will be the true test.
At the age of six, in the summer of 1937, Nawal El Saadawi was pinned down by four women in her home in Egypt. A midwife, holding a sharpened razor blade, pulled out her clitoris and cut it off. "Since I was a child that deep wound left in my body has never healed," she wrote in her first autobiography, A Daughter of Isis.
"I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days, the bleeding stopped, and the daya [midwife] peered between my thighs and said, 'All is well. The wound has healed, thanks be to God.' But the pain was there, like an abscess in my flesh."
The enormous role of women in the uprisings in the MENA region is undisputed. They faced verbal and physical abuse, violence, arrest and death just as their male counterparts. The transformation of these countries has been groundbreaking, and their participation is as important as ever. After the dust of the battle settles, will Arab societies remember to include women in the rebuilding of their countries?
Since the start of the wave of uprisings that have swept the Arab world, "establishment" figures, especially women, have been celebrated as the "icons" of the revolution – symbols of its homegrown, indigenous nature. Tawakkol Karman in Yemen, and Saida Saadouni in Tunisia are examples of this fierce matriarchy. They are of the tradition, and respected more so because of it. Hijab-clad, religiously conservative and socially conventional, they reserve their rebellion for the political arena, rendering them relatively immune to accusations of immorality or harsh personal attacks.