The following is a piece I wrote for 100år event done in Norway to remark the 100 Year Anniversary of Norwegian women’s suffrage, this year. The piece sums up what I spoke about during the 100år seminar that took place last week, titled, “Power to Change: Strategies in Feminist and Human Rights Activism” .
Just over the past two weeks, a 19-year-old Tunisian woman, identified only as Amina sparked massive controversy when she posted two photos of herself topless on the Femen Tunisian Facebook page (FEMEN is a women’s movement promoting women’s rights through topless struggle). In one of the picture Amina posed while smoking a cigarette, baring her breasts and it was written across her chest “my body belongs to me and it’s not the source of anyone’s’ honor.” The purpose behind that was “to make the voice of the Tunisian women heard and protect them from suppression,” Amina told a local Tunisian press.
It’s very debatable how nudity can be used in delivering a message that serves the struggle for women’s right. What interest me the most about this though is how the cyberspace has been taken by many young ladies in the Middle East and North of Africa region (MENA) to protest and demand gender equality. For the past two years, if not the past decade, the internet has been an important digitized arena for MENA’s female population to utilize and voice out their political demands and challenge authority like never before. For instance, the popularity of “The Uprising of Women in the Arab World” Facebook page is remarkable. And from my own experience, I turned to cyber activism and became a blogger to document and write about women’s movement in Yemen; aiming to contribute in Yemen’s democratization process.
This tendency among young Arab females to take advantage of the cyber space to be politically engaged is quite understandable because the current Arab generation is largely consisted of a very young density who would use means for achieving social and political changes in an unprecedented way.
That cyber activism had also its echo on the ground. Through the past two years, people stroke revolutions and have deposed their old dictators in pursuit of freedoms and respect for Human Rights. Men and women stood together in squares around several Arab countries; putting all gender differences aside and struggling equally to make a difference. They both were empowered by each other with a hope to implement social justice and freedom. Since then, women have been attacked, marginalized, “they just pushed us all back; saying that we helped them in the square and now it’s time for the women to sit at home and men will be doing the talking,” an activist from Egypt tells me. Women were an integral part of those revolutions, but, will the revolution betray them?
I often get asked, will women in the Arab countries achieve democracy and seize their rights? My usual answer is why won’t they? The challenges we, Arab women face today are not any different from any other challenges a women’s movement had to face anywhere across the world. History tells us that any civil rights movements including women’s rights movements will achieve its goals as long as its people are willing to continue the struggle and never cease its social and political activism. And as long as they don’t give up, they don’t lose.
Arab Women’s activism was not born for the first time during the Arab spring. Their political and social struggle has a long history that somehow has been pushed aside at certain point in an increasingly patriarchal societies and media outlets.
Arab women have had a great role in protests against colonialism during the past decades. Today, what’s different is that this is the first post-colonial civil rights movements in the MENA region. Their fight now is against Misogyny that’s consisted of political, religious and tribal layers.
Soon we will mark the 100 anniversary of suffrage in Norway and we will be reminded of the hard work and great struggle Norwegian women had to demonstrate for today’s women to enjoy the right to vote. That will be also a reminder for women around the world that the struggle for women’s rights is fruitful eventually.
As an Arab activist woman who admires Women’s rights struggle in the Scandinavian region, I would like to focus on what do Arab women want from their sisters in the Scandinavian countries who represent one of the best models of Women’s rights struggle in seizing their social, economical and political rights. It is your absolute solidarity that we need and that is what would assist in our struggle’s continuity.
To sum up, as we see, women’s rights movement is unstoppable, anytime and anywhere. Their struggle is a process that goes through phases and stages, hence it requires time and a continuous effort until it achieves its goals. While not forgetting the effort and sacrifice women activists of previous generations had done to pave the road for us, we shall celebrate them today and continue the struggle until an absolute gender equality and respect for Women’s rights is achieved. And the revolutions won’t betrayal them as long as they keep up the struggle.