1. Was the role of women in the Arab Spring more or less meaningful than that of men?
In the Arab old world, when people checked new places to live in, they used to judge if the place was livable or not by the existence of women. They said, “a place with no women is a place with no life!” I say the same for the revolution. The participation of women made sure for everyone that this was a “people” matter, not just some angry, hormonal young men acting as they do when they go to football games! Also, the police brutality against women made it clear that something is seriously wrong with the police.
During the sit-in in Tahrir, I saw army soldiers looking at me while I was freezing in the late hours of the day or trying to lie down on a piece of paper on the asphalt. I saw it in their eyes; they were grasping that something new was happening. One time while we were smashing the headquarters building of the state security, a general came up to me and two of my friends and asked us: “So all these people were tortured here?” I told him one of my friends was electrocuted for two months in that building because he joined the April 6th, 2008, movement. As a result, my friend was not able to speak and and his left arm was paralyzed for months. I saw surprise, anger, and confusion in the general’s eyes!
Women are pro-life instinctively. Men tend to subconsciously rely on women to keep life going. It is when a woman is seen covered in her own blood that you know injustice has eaten up everything, and oppression has reached its worst.
Another important thing is encouraging the protestors themselves. I remember all the old women who came to us with food and drinks in the square. They tapped on our shoulders and gave us their prayers. When it became so bloody that it was really hard for women to be in the front row, men knew women were waiting meters away, with medicine, water, and words of support. That means a lot!
2. Have the revolts of the Arab Spring improved the position of women’s rights in the region?
If you mean by human rights laws and regulations, then no… not yet, at least. If you mean general awareness and how the whole society looks at women, there are some changes. These are changes that I don’t see enough personally, but still there are some changes.
One example is street harassment, which is very common in Cairo. Before the revolutions, a girl screaming at a man who touched her was considered bad manners in some cultures. Now it is more acceptable to see a woman fighting with a man who harassed her.
I can see changes in women’s self image. She thinks more highly of herself now, and she is no longer ashamed of her voice, her body, or herself for that matter. Still men’s views have not improved as much as they should. Yet, those men who already are considered on the more understanding side have louder voices now.
3. How can the women of the Arab Spring turn this activism into long-term/sustainable gain?
What is this revolution? It is a revolution for dignity and pride. Why did we, in Egypt, choose Police Day specifically to start the revolution? To protest against their violence and oppression. How do we succeed in gaining any demands? By standing up for ourselves, insisting and never giving up on our rights. How will we be able to kill corruption? By always being on top of things, and never letting go.
These are the guidelines for the Egyptian revolution. If every woman lives her life remembering that, women’s rights activists like me will be unnecessary! Keeping this revolution spirit alive, and turning it into a life style and perspective for women, is what will get us all the long-term gain.
Eman is a blogger for Muslimah Media Watch
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