Manal Al-Sharif – Driving Advocate, Saudi Arabia
1. Were women’s roles in the Arab Spring more or less meaningful than men’s roles?
It’s unfair to put men and women opposite to each other in any comparison. So we should shift from the competitive “more” and “less” to see how they complement each other in the Arab Spring! Each play a vital and unique role that can’t be played by the other. I believe if the Arabs succeeded in achieving liberty and human and political rights in their spring, women’s rights would be part of that for sure.
2. Have the revolts of the Arab Spring improved the position of women’s rights in the region?
It’s too early to tell, as each country and revolution is different. But so far, my thoughts about it go to the favor of countries like Tunisia, which granted women the freedom of choice to wear hijab, or veil. But they are not in the favor of allowing parties like the Muslim Brotherhood their goal of canceling Egypt’s Family Law (known as Suzanne’s Law) because they claim it’s against Islamic Sharia. In countries like Saudi Arabia, where we lack any form of “Personal Status Laws,” we are pushing to regulate it as soon as possible, while it makes me concerned that Egypt could go backwards. In Libya, they are canceling the women’s quota in the Parliament, and that also takes women’s status backwards.
3. How can the women of the Arab Spring turn this activism into long-term/sustainable gains?
This is the best time for women to claim their rights and to be fully engaged in the human and political rights movements in their countries. I am hoping this will lead to the placing of more and more active women in decision-making bodies when things settle down. More women will be inspired to speak up and break the societal restraints imposed on them. Those women should then act as the guardians and voices for women’s rights in the new governments. I am also hoping to see the first Arab woman president. All these can be factors to sustain gains for women’s rights.
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