Esraa Abdel Fattah
Honoree, Glamour Women of the Year
In early 2008, long before the Arab Spring, young Egyptian activist Esraa Abdel Fattah set up a Facebook group to support a general strike and protest of workers’ low wages at a textile factory in Mahalla al-Kobra, an industrial city north of Cairo.
Esraa launched the April 6 Strike group, reaching out to friends and associates, to show solidarity with the workers. Three hundred members were initially invited to join. Before long, the number jumped to 77,000. On April 6 of that year, thousands of workers across Egypt went on strike and the security police cracked down hard, killing four demonstrators.
Esraa, known as the “Facebook Girl,” was arrested and sent to Qanatir Women’s Prison.
The arrest order that landed Esraa behind bars was issued by the Egyptian Interior Ministry. She was the first woman ever to face such an order, and the distinction earned her both notice and notoriety as a leader of an ever-growing movement for free speech, civic engagement, anti-corruption and labor rights. The Facebook group — the networking platform for what is now called the April 6 Youth Movement — changed its profile image to one of Esraa, with the call to action, “Free Esraa!”
During her time in prison, and following her release a few weeks later, she became a well-known icon among the political and human rights activists who would later bring down the Mubarak government, aided, in part, by online organizing tools that empowered ordinary Egyptians to participate in their own revolution.
Esraa was part of that revolution, and stood with other women, side by side with men in Tahrir Square, to demand an end to a corrupt regime. But equal representation in protest has not carried over to equal representation in victory. Women are absent from leadership roles in the judiciary, academia and key ministerial positions. The military government set up after Mubarak quickly abolished the quota mandating that 64 seats in Parliament be reserved for women.
“We need to change how people in our society think about women,” says Esraa. “All of society will benefit, not only women. I should participate in building my country.”
Back in February 2011, eight days after demonstrations began in Cairo, Vital Voices was in Jordan to train 10 regional teams of women in policy advocacy tactics and strategy. Esraa went to Amman to participate as a member of the Egyptian team. She returned home with new skills and expertise, supported by a network of peers from across the Middle East and North Africa region. She and her advocacy team partners started a campaign to shape a gender platform that could be integrated into the new transitional government.
Today, Esraa is projects manager for the Egyptian Democratic Academy, a non-governmental organization that promotes the use of new media tools to foster democracy and human rights values, particularly for marginalized groups. Over the next year, she’ll continue to build a women’s agenda with input from Egyptian women of all ages, regions, religions and backgrounds.
The April 6 Youth Movement thrives today with more than 100,000 active members demanding a voice in building their new democracy. Esraa believes Egyptians must be driven by the principles and values that guided the revolution — justice, freedom and democracy. “The three main principles we’re working to achieve we hope to feel every day. Not just on paper or in the constitution, but to feel it. We can practice these values every day, in our lives.”