All of the coverage of the protests in Egypt got me thinking about what, exactly, the perspective is for the women who also want to take to the streets. A New York Times article had a hopeful perspective, suggesting that social media and the general feeling of social upheaval have made it easier for women to participate in and even help organize the protests that seem to be leading to the Egyptian president’s downfall.
A week ago, women were estimated to be a stunning 20 to 50 percent of the crowds that called for Mubarak’s resignation, where in past protests women have only comprised about 10 percent of the turnout, mostly because of the risk of sexual harassment. And in later protests, women were warned to keep away, although as the crowds have grown, this may have changed.
“Female participation is at an equal standing — just like male participation — and female demonstrators are not shying away from marching despite the tear gas,” Amr Hamzawy, a research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told the New York Times. “It’s very impressive. It’s not about male and female, it’s about everyone.”
Even some of the protest organizers are women. Esraa Abdel Fattah, a political activist whose imprisonment in 2009 made her a symbol of resistance, is helming the protests, but her presence has not meant significant participation from women during past events, which suggests that there is something different about this time. Some have speculated that the inspiration from Tunisia, as well as initial promises that these protests would be safer, drew women onto the streets.
Asmaa Mahfouz, a twenty-six-year-old woman, made a video a week before the protests in which she urged fellow Egyptians not to be afraid. She is now one of the leaders in a group that uses social media to reach out to the country’s youth.
Perhaps all of this has something to do with what the NYT calls the feeling on the streets of Egypt: national empowerment. “I am not socialist, I am not a liberal, I am not an Islamist,” explained a school counselor who emerged as a group leader among the people clogging Cairo’s streets. “I am an Egyptian woman, a regular woman rejecting injustice and corruption in my country.”
It will be interesting to see how this apparently gender-defying empowerment manifests under the new regime. But for now, it’s inspiring to see men and women on the streets together, demanding change.
Photo from Flickr.