As massive demonstrations continue to sweep across Egypt, and protests spread throughout the Arab countries, you might have been wondering, like I was, where are the women? Prominent early video and photos of demonstrations — first in Tunis, then Lybia now in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, showed angry young people standing up to police and army — heads wrapped in kuffiyyas, throwing rocks at police, covering their eyes from teargas. And the women? We were absent from news footage, and political critique that reached us in the opening days.
As we all wait to see what the next days hold – it is important to remember that social and economic issues ARE women’s issues. As Egyptian feminist and former presidential candidate Nawal al Saadawi said yesterday on the US radio program “Democracy Now,” Women and girls are beside boys in the streets… calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system.” Gains in political freedom are as important to women as they are to men. And, although we infrequently see and hear from women during these critical historical moments (and much less so once the dust has settled, and new governing systems are put in place) women’s work and presence is critical to any step forward.
I am not making essentialist arguments about women’s unique sensitivity. Nor am I arguing that having a few women in key positions of power is a gain for “women’s rights” (US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been supporting the Egyptian government all along, is after all a woman).
I am simply asking that we recall that revolutions are notorious for using women’s images, bodies, and labor in the heat of the moment - and then later reproducing the same systematic exclusion of women lived in earlier regimes. (See for instance the Algerian Revolution, Black Power in the United States, protests by Tobacco Regie workers in Lebanon from the 40′s to the present)
A new political leadership is insufficient, in Egypt or elsewhere, without a comprehensive new arrangement of political power. This means in addition to political and economic changes that make it possible for Egyptians to live and work in Egypt, guaranteeing protection from rape and domestic violence, the ability to pass nationality onto our children and husbands, and real equality of access to education, political institutions, and economic opportunities.
While I also got excited about pictures of Egyptian women published in the press (yes, in fact we Arab women do stand up for our own rights), it’s not enough to look at look at them yelling. Let’s try listening to some actual Egyptian and Tunisian women’s voices.
Below you will find some statements of women’s groups from Egypt, Tunis.
- Association of Arab Women in Development
- نساء ثورة تونس
- Tunisie: l’héroïsme ordinaire des femmes
- Watch and Listen
- Which side of the street for Arab women?
- Interview with Nawal al Saadawi
- Egypt and the Universal Rights of Women
- بيــــــــــــان من أجل العدالة الاجتماعية
Please send along more as you find them! And in an internationalist spirit, I leave you with a Position Paper put out by Women in the Young Lord’s Party, a Puertoriccan liberation movement active in New York and Chicago in the US in the 60′s-80′s.
Forward to Sisters in Struggle.
*Compiled by Mary Jirmanus