Egypt’s Uprising: Don’t Drown Out Women’s Voices
As Egypt enters the second week of protests against the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, women are speaking out about what the uprising means to them, and to neighboring Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan where change is also on the horizon. Whatever transpires in the weeks ahead, we hope that these nations and their people will foster a peaceful transition -- and that women leaders and NGOs will be part of the political solution and new governments. We’re posting here some of the women’s voices that we’ve heard in the past few days.
Of the vigorous protests in Cairo, leading Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi wants to ensure that the world knows the central role women are playing alongside men. As she told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, “Women and girls are beside boys in the streets,” she said. “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians.”
The New York Times reported that Mariam Soliman, a 28-year-old Egyptian school counselor, led a group down a street and became surrounded by truckloads of riot police officers. “Women have to go down and participate and demand their rights, or is it going to be the men who fight for our rights?” she said.
Nancy Yousef, who was born in Egypt and now teaches English literature at CUNY Baruch in New York, expressed concern over potential chaos in her home country: “People are concerned for their own families and for the survival of their own families. Tensions between the very wealthy and the very poor are nothing new in Egypt.”
Egyptian-born columnist and speaker Mona Eltahawy spoke on MSNBC about the international response: “Some wonder who should take over. Egypt is a country of 80 million people. We can come up with alternatives. We don’t ask for anyone to rescue Egypt...All we ask for is moral support. We want the world to be on the side of the future, and that future is on the streets of Egypt. Long live the revolution!”
**The Global Fund for Women, released a strong and comprehensive statement on the protests: “The Global Fund for Women stands in solidarity with the brave women and men who are risking their lives to create a new country, one that respects human rights, justice and equality for all...We call upon the US government to stand on the right side of history and support the Egyptian people's right to true democracy and freedom.”
**The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights released a statement last week condemning some security forces’ “use of excessive force against demonstrators in Egypt” on January 25th and 26th. The Center stated that they will “continue to receive reports and complaints and provide legal support for demonstrators, especially women.”
Protesters in Tunisia, who have been credited with sparking reform in the region, include Asma Belkassem, a 31-year-old lawyer, who shared aspirations for a new era for Tunisian women. "What is sure is that we women have rights in Tunisia," she says. "And no one can take them away now. Not the Islamists or anybody else."
A Roundup of Women’s Voices from Around the Region
Democracy Now: Leading Egyptian Feminist, Nawal El Saadawi: "Women and Girls are Beside Boys in the Streets"
Nawal El Saadawi: “Women and girls are beside boys in the streets. They are—and we are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians.”
NPR: Deadly Political Unrest Continues in Egypt
Tunisian activist Khadija Sharife: “The force of the Tunisian feminist movement is that we've never separated it from the fight for democracy and a secular society. We will continue our combat, which is to make sure that religion remains completely separate from politics.”
New York Times: Equal Rights Takes to the Barricades
Mariam Soliman, a 28-year-old school counselor, led a group of men and women down a street as they gradually became surrounded by truckloads of riot police officers...It was a charged picture, with Ms. Soliman playing a role that many women in Egypt would avoid — or delegate to a man. Not this woman...“Women have to go down and participate and demand their rights, or is it going to be the men who fight for our rights?” Ms. Soliman explained.
ABC: Egypt Protests: Sexual Harassment of Women Drops, Witnesses Say
Heba Lashin, 25, told ABC News that in the past she has stayed home during protests. "The risk is too high and the returns are too low," said Lashin. "I could get groped, and no one is listening to them anyway. But now, we aren't even thinking about this. We are all only thinking about one thing. This has become our focus."
The Takeaway: Washington Responds to Events in Egypt
Nancy Yousef, Egyptian-American, Professor of English Lit at CUNY Baruch in New York: “I myself think that the Obama administration has done a somewhat admirable job of walking a tight rope here and responding judiciously to the changing situation on the ground. I think it’s important that America not to be perceived as interfering in the events over there.”
The Takeaway: Arab-Americans Reflect on Uprisings Back Home
Raja Althaibani, from Yemen, is currently working on her BA in Human Rights and International Development: “You don’t really have a middle class. You have the very, very rich and the very, very poor. The majority of the country obviously is very very poor...Yemen is already becoming very very unstable, and the government really isn’t doing much about it.”
NPR: In Tunisia, Women Play Equal Role in Revolution
Asma Belkassem, a 31-year-old lawyer, says she's not scared. "What is sure is that we women have rights in Tunisia," she says. "And no one can take them away now. Not the Islamists or anybody else."
The Guardian: We’ve Waited for This Revolution for Years
Egyptian-born columnist and speaker Mona Eltahawy: To understand the importance of what's going in Egypt, take the barricades of 1968 (for a good youthful zing), throw them into a mixer with 1989 and blend to produce the potent brew that the popular uprising in Egypt is preparing to offer the entire region. It's the most exciting time of my life.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights: ECWR condemns the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) condemns the security forces’ use of excessive force against demonstrators in all of the governorates in Egypt yesterday evening, January 25th, and early this morning, January 26th. These demonstrators included wide sectors of Egyptian society: youth, children, men and women, Muslims and Copts. They all joined together to demand their economic and civil rights in a non-violent way.
The National: With Ben Ali gone, repairs begin at Tunisia's closed mosques
Khadija Cherif, a former president of the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats and a sociologist at the University of Tunis, said: "The rejection of the West is the rejection of modernity. But democracy will allow us to explain that religious faith doesn't mean you can't be modern."
MSNBC, the Dylan Ratigan Show: Why the U.S. Should Support Egypt’s Uprising
Egyptian-born columnist and speaker Mona Eltahawy: “The uprising in my country is the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life...Watching the uprising from New York City exhilarates me and makes me so proud to be an Egyptian. I cry when I see video footage of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, filled with thousands upon thousands chanting: ‘The people want to topple the president.’ Tahrir means liberation in Arabic, and it gives me goosebumps as I watch my country people demand liberty.”