Egyptian women were a strong, defiant force in that country’s revolt last month, making up a quarter of the million protestors who poured into Tahrir Square at the height of the upheaval.
Now those same women are fighting to keep their role in the building of a New Egypt.
Women And Men Fighting Together
Egypt’s popular revolution was the work of men and women, bringing together housewives and fruit sellers, businesswomen and students. Veiled and unveiled women shouted, fought and slept in the streets alongside men, upending traditional expectations of their behavior.
Other citizen reporters in Tahrir Square – and virtually anyone with a cell phone could become one – noted that the masses of women involved in the protests were demographically inclusive. Many wore headscarves and other signs of religious conservatism, while others reveled in the freedom to kiss a friend or smoke a cigarette in public.
Egyptian Women In Charge
Egyptian women also organized, strategized, and reported the events. Bloggers such as Leil Zahra Mortada took grave risks to keep the world informed daily of the scene in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
And what is true for Egypt is true, to a greater and lesser extent, throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes, and women in the Muslim world are changing radically.
More Than Half Of Egyptian University Students Are Women
The greatest shift is educational. Two generations ago, only a small minority of the daughters of the elite received a university education. Today, women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities.
But Can They Maintain Their Role In The New Egypt?
But still, as The New York Times notes, the challenge now is to make sure that women maintain their involvement as the nation lurches forward, so that their contribution to the revolution is not forgotten.
“Things have not changed, they are changing,” said Mozn Hassan, 32, the executive director of the organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. She barely returned home during the 18 days it took to topple Mr. Mubarak, but that is not enough, she said. “Revolution is not about 18 days in Tahrir Square and then turning it into a carnival and loving the army,” she said. “We have simply won the first phase.”
Egypt is a step ahead of other popular uprisings in the region, which have had similar bursts of female participation, accompanied by a recognition from men that their support is vital. In Bahrain, hundreds of women wrapped in traditional black tunics stood up to the authorities in the demonstrations against the government, but in a nod to their conservative culture, they slept and prayed outside during protests in a roped-off women’s section. In Yemen, only in the past few days have significant numbers of women started to protest in Sana, the capital, but their numbers were dwarfed by the crowds of men.
…The committee of eight legal experts appointed by the military authorities to revise the Constitution did not include a single woman or, according to Amal abd al-Hadi, a longtime feminist here, anyone with a gender-sensitive perspective.
A coalition of 63 women’s groups started a petition to include a female lawyer on the committee, arguing that women “have the right to participate in building the new Egyptian state.” Ms. Hadi noted that in past Egyptian revolutions, in 1919 and 1952, women’s contributions had been met with similar setbacks….
Million Women’s March Planned For Tuesday
A coalition including Nawal el-Saadawi, a leading feminist, is planning a million women’s march for Tuesday, March 8, with no set agenda other than to promote democracy.
Whatever happens next, these are important times for Egyptian women, and very far removed from my own memories of visiting Egypt, over 20 years ago, when I simply never saw any women out on the street.
Happy International Women’s Day!
To read more about International Women’s Day, click here.