Arab Women Challenge Western Media

CAIRO May 18, 2011 (Her Blueprint) – Though demonstrating, taking risks, mobilizing, suffering and standing side by side with men in the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, Arab women are also challenging the Western media to acknowledge their voice.

From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Yemen and Morocco, women have been at the forefront of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Yemeni women, who represent a third of the thousands of anti-government protestors demanding an end to Ali Abdullah Saleh’s thirty-year rule, are shattering traditions that go back centuries.

“I myself came from a conservative family but my grandmother used to have more freedom in the way that she dressed, talked and dealt with men than I have now,” said Samia al-Haddad, Program and Human Rights Officer for the Yemeni Organization for Development and Rehabilitation in an interview with Her Blueprint.

According to al-Haddad, women’s rights became stifled after the 80’s.

“If you see the footage and the video coming from Yemen and you will see all women veiled in black and this was not the image of women in the 80’s before the expansion of Salafists and Wahabi movements came from Saudi Arabia.”

Hibaaq Osman from Somalia is the CEO and Founder of Karama. She says that the Western media was shocked to see women out on the streets, raising their voices, protesting for democracy and walking side by side with men for a unified cause – political reform and equal rights.

“You have to understand the psychology of the Western media. They want to see a weak, meek and covered woman,” Osman told Her Blueprint.

According to Osman, it’s about time that the West take a good look at themselves before pointing the finger.

"In France, it took them a day or two to come up with a law against the niqab but how long would it take to come up with a law to support, train, give jobs and uplift economically the immigrants that live in their country? It’s easy to point the finger at the Muslim world and how women are treated when the Catholic Church is still having major problems on contraceptives and they can’t decide if a woman should have the right to her own body.”

Founding member of the Union for Women’s Action in Morocco, Fatima Outaleb, says that Western media has ignored the reality that Arab women have always been at the heart of revolutions in the region whether leading, strategizing, raising awareness or mobilizing as bloggers or on Facebook.

“Who can deny that woman who is shouting slogans and just dragging men behind her and repeating her slogans? She’s a veiled woman, she’s a woman but she’s a leader. So how can we say that they are absent? They have never been absent because they’re part of the society,” Outaleb adds.

In recent years, women have made strides in Arab politics. In 2005, almost seven percent of MP’s in the Arab world were women compared to nearly four percent in 2000. In Tunisia, nearly twenty-three percent of members of Parliament were women.

Although women’s voices have never been silent, they are now demanding that they be heard.

“On the social, economical and political level Arab women have made sure that their voice for building civil states, gender equality, social justice and human rights take center stage in the current uprisings but there’s a male patriarchal structure that dominates local and international media so they focus on men as leaders and they ignore the real changes happening in the streets,” Amal Khraisha, General Director of the Palestinian Working Women Society for Development and a candidate for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections within the Palestine Independent List told Her Blueprint. “We want to change the culture of these previous regimes and media is very important because they portray the images.”