Arab Women Seize the Time

While the world watches the awakening in the Arab world as millions demand democratic freedoms, Egyptian women also took the opportunity to seize the moment and rise up by calling for a civil state and a constitution that eliminates all forms of discrimination against women.

“It's time for a new way of thinking, democracy is just a gate to more gains for women,” says Abeer, a 25-year-old Egyptian woman.

United in popular revolt, calling for an end to injustice, lack of freedoms, corruption and unending poverty. Egyptians took to the streets demanding the ousting of their long time dictator. Although women played a vital role in the country’s eighteen-day uprising, full progress towards social, economic and political rights remains a challenge.

“I think yesterday was a good alarm for everyone that we need social mobilization and explain that women’s rights is not a Western agenda and that women’s rights are human rights and we need to engage the people in this discussion,” says Doaa Abdelaal, a council member with Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML). “You can’t talk about democratic rights without talking about women’s rights.”

Tuesday, the centennial of International Women's Day, marked an historical moment in the history of Egypt’s women’s movement. Under Mubarak’s thirty-year regime obtaining permits from the state security to gather groups of people in the streets voicing their public discontent was unheard of.

“This was the first time women took to the streets with banners calling for women’s rights,” adds Doaa. “In the past we always celebrated women’s day in a closed space. “

Decades of previously-silent female voices broke the sound barrier on Tuesday, but International Women's Day groups were met with dozens of anti-women’s protestors who continue to resist progress toward gender equity. “'Egypt is for all, no matter gender or religion' is what we started chanting...the anti-women’s group started chanting at us that we are products of Mubarak’s regime, [saying that] it’s not time for calling for women’s rights but instead unity and that the voice of women is shameful,” continues Doaa.

Gender blackout

In order to move forward, Egypt must not only do away with its political shackles but must free itself from the social ones as well. Like most women in Egyptian villages, Hiba was circumcised as a child. She has five children of her own, including two older girls.

“One day while I was at work my mother came and took the two older girls and had them circumcised,” Hiba says. “I wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that it happened but I raised with the tradition and important to honour tradition.”

Lack of wars or catastrophic events surrounding gender and a women’s place in society has caused this vital issue of gender politics to never reach the spotlight.

Inequalities in the workforce, increased sexual violence of women by police officers and the country’s state council’s refusal to appoint female judges last February, allotted Egypt a ranking 125th amongst 134 countries and 13th in the Middle East North Africa (MENA). Ninety-five percent of the estimated 27 incidents of rape daily go unreported, 33% of women face domestic violence and women only represent three percent of the ministries, local and Shura council.

“Women have yet to be named to the committee which is drafting the new Egyptian constitution," says Fairuz. “In addition there needs to be a lot of work to help women break the cycle of fear.”