Posts tagged women's rights
Arab women fight to keep gains won on the street
Some members of Egypt’s first freely elected parliament are pressing to scrap laws that protect women
When Yemen’s long-term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to silence Tawakkul Karman, he called in her brother.
Karman was in prison for her part at the forefront of the popular revolution against Saleh’s rule, a role that earned her the Nobel peace prize. The president’s warning to Karman’s brother was blunt. “Saleh told him a clear message: if you don’t restrain your sister, whoever disobeys me will be killed,” she said. “My brother told me the day I was released from prison. The next morning I went protesting.”
The threat says much about Saleh, who was finally toppled in February. But his attempt to use Karman’s brother to silence her says something about Yemeni society and other countries across the Arab world where women were in the vanguard of revolutions – joining protests en masse, facing bullets and being killed – looking for more than solely political emancipation.
“The most important thing the Arab spring brought us was to give women leadership roles,” said Karman. “When women become leaders of men, and men are following, when women sacrifice themselves and get killed in front of men, when they get detained for political issues and men don’t feel ashamed of women who are arrested, this is a change. But is it enough to change the situation of women? The answer is: not yet.”
Karman was among several women who played leading roles in uprisings across the Arab world who gathered in Washington recently for a meeting of Vital Voices, a group founded in 1997 by the then first lady Hillary Clinton to empower female leaders. There was agreement that the revolutions freed millions from dictatorship but are delivering only limited gains in the struggle for women’s equality – and in some cases are threatening to set back the advances already made.
This week Clinton, who is now US secretary of state, said women’s rights in newly liberated Arab countries were a test of whether the revolutions were living up to their promise.
“One of the important indicators as to how the whole process of democratisation, political reform, economic reform is going is the way that the newly formed governments and their allies in the various countries treat women,” said Clinton. “To that end, there’s mixed news. There’s some positive news in that there are certain guarantees put forth about women’s rights and opportunities. But there are some worrying actions that certainly don’t match those guarantees.”
The challenge was demonstrated at the weekend in Cairo’s Tahrir square, the crucible of the Egyptian revolution, as hundreds of men attacked women demonstrating for an end to sexual harassment and assaults. Marianne Nagui Hanna Ibrahim was among the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in the square last year for the protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak.
“During the 18 days against Mubarak there were no women and men. It was just Egyptians in danger. I was in the square almost daily and I didn’t witness a single case of sexual harassment.
“But that changed after Mubarak stepped down. We were back to face the reality of where we are as Egyptian women,” she said. “We’re not a priority even with fellow revolutionaries. They’re just thinking of the political change but no one is thinking of setting the rules for basic rights including women’s rights. I think because even the activists don’t really consider women’s rights part of the larger concept of human rights, which is a huge issue.”
Pictured: Egyptians celebrate the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. But now women are attacked in Tahrir Square. Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP