Arab women make their revolution

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, this Tuesday, March 8, 2011, we wanted to discuss the role of women in the Arab revolutions and celebrate the way they shook misconceptions about Arab women by their courage and perseverance.

Women played a crucial role alongside men in the movements that led to the overthrow of despotic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Some have brought their logistical support, others simply their presence. Real women leaders have emerged. Both in Egypt and Tunisia, women’s participation in committees of neighborhood to watch against looters was of great importance to prevent their country from sinking into chaos. Responsibility and solidarity shown by the people and especially women during the protests and after the removal of dictators have made a great impression. These women have defied and are still defying state violence to liberate themselves from oppressive regimes and defend democracy and human rights, these values yet claimed as Western and considered inappropriate in the Arab world by many voices in the West.

The images of revolutions show us a great diversity of women in the demonstrations. Some dress in Western style, while others wear the veil. The image of many Shiite women all dressed in black traditional dress, the ‘abaya, participating in protests in Bahrain has also amazed more than one. These women do not all look like their European counterparts nor they necessarily fall under the categories of the emancipated woman constructed by the West, yet one thing is certain: far from the stereotypical representations of Arab women as submissive and confined to domestic space, they fought alongside men, they invested the public space supposed to be forbidden for them and have done all of it spontaneously. At the risk of contradicting reactionaries, these revolutions show that Arab women are not conditioned upon submission and aspire to freedom.

But today, to guarantee that their involvement has not been vain and that it is not forgotten, it is essential that women participate in the transitions to ensure that new political systems take into account gender equality. To be sure of it, anyway, women have not abandoned their fight. Several Tunisian associations have launched on March 8, 2011, the national campaign « From popular revolution to egalitarian construction » in favor of a genuine equality and of the inclusion thereof in the Constitution. In Egypt, 63 associations have signed a declaration addressed to the Military Council to rebel against the absence of women in the constitutional committee, tasked with drafting a new constitution. Because a democracy that does not respect the rights of half its citizens, who has also fought for its advent, is a truncated democracy and it cannot be satisfactory. The revolutions were made with women; democracy must follow the same path.

Iman Bahri