Marianne Ibrahim – Activist, Egypt
1. Were women’s roles in the Arab Spring more or less meaningful than men’s roles?
It depends on the time of the role played by women. During the actions through the 18 Days of the revolution, when it was dangerous and the killing was a daily action, women stood side by side with men on the front lines. When the time came to defend their country and their freedom, women were not only on the field hospitals, or the back lines helping and supporting, as the romantic picture portrays women during hard times. They were on the front lines, fighting security forces with guns and bullets.
Many unknown heroines were killed, beaten, even abused during these times and after; all of us can tell 1,000’s of stories about brave women and men who stood together. I believe women forced men to change their protective attitude towards women during these days.
But… when the time came for politics, everything changed. And when it became peaceful, the old culture was back!
So you can easily notice that there were no newly-appointed women ministers in any of the governments formed after the revolution. No women were chosen in any of the “wise men” committees formed to solve the situation and negotiate politics. Even the revolutionary youth coalition, formed of “revolutionary youth,” had no women on board.
The whole situation became clearer on March 8th, on International Women’s Day, where women who tried to demonstrate for their rights were attacked and harassed by men on the square.
2. Have the revolts of the Arab Spring improved the position of women’s rights in the region?
It is too early to judge; the immediate look into it doesn’t look bright, since women’s rights are dealt with as not a top priority in Egypt, for example – for now. Due to cultural and political issues, women’s rights are not considered a priority in the given situation in the country.
The current situation is Egypt is considered a real challenge to women in the country. The ruling institution at the moment (the Army) is actually women-free by default. So women are not on the top of their agenda, by no means. Add to it the surge in religious groups and parties: some of them have a dangerous image of women.. some considered back from the Stone Ages!
3. How can the women of the Arab Spring turn this activism into long-term/sustainable gains?
A strong local and regional network must be formed to connect women activists, experts, business women, civil society leaders and academics, to work together to support certain and clear causes one at a time with regional support. For example, if a group of women in a certain country are working on a law change, other women on the same network should support them online and offline to widen the effect of the work beyond borders.
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