As we celebrate Women’s History Month and the significant political and social events taking place this year, such as the launch of UN Women or Brazil’s first woman president taking seat, we should particularly observe one special milestone towards women’s equality observed this year. The unprecedented amount of women that organised, attended, reported and were leading forces in the protests in Northern Africa is of historical significance not only in the vital contributions they made to the uprisings but also to forthcoming gender relations in the region.
The future in the region is very unclear but these revolutionary women have demonstrated that they defy the stereotypical Western myth of Muslim women as veiled, submissive and passive. The new regimes of their nations will undoubtedly need to acknowledge women as real partners for genuine change, and entitle them to ownership of this event in their history, which they greatly helped shape.
However, the participation of women in the North African uprisings did not come without sacrifice. Boldly patriarchal societies are not used to having women participating in politics, let alone political movements and apart from the casualties that women suffered, some men saw the demonstrations as an opportunity to sexually assault women. The case of CBS reporter Lara Logan who was physically attacked during the protests in Tahrir square in Cairo was more reported than any other. Logan was, however, only one of numerous women who were violated, an all too unnerving reminder that even an uprising for democratic justice can be a real threat to women. Given these risks, the masses of women who nevertheless participated shows not only women’s discontentment with the undemocratic regimes, but also how fed up they are with the ugly side of society that disables women from fearlessly participating as equals.
Egyptian writer and feminist activist Nadal El-Saadawi said in an interview with Democracy Now, “We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women…”
In 1911 more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies calling for an end to women’s discrimination and for the right to vote, work and take office.
A hundred years later, another women’s revolution has only just begun…