Introduction 1

Are Women Losers in the ? 5

Enhancing the Primacy of the Constitution, the Rule of , and Equality before the Law in the Arab Region 6

Spring Blossoms 8

Toward Women Working for Community 11 Women after the Arab Awakening Syrian Women’s Role in the Post-Assad Phase – An Introduction harassment in the streets, and previously-resolved Unpredictable Future 13 issues affecting women and their rights are being Are Women Mona Youssef and Kendra Heideman, revisited by the new regimes. Marginalized after the Arab Program Assistants, Middle East Program The present marginalization of women in the Awakening? 17 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is now well documented in the mainstream and My Body vs. His Beard 21 Amidst the ongoing revolutionary fervor in the social media. The Middle East Program convened Middle East, an undercurrent of frustration and a series of meetings to examine the post-revolu- Women after the Arab fear runs deep among women. Across the region, tionary status of women in the region. The first Awakening 24 women actively participated alongside their male one, held in May 2012, brought together expe- counterparts in protests and demonstrations, No Spring without Flowers, and, eventually, years of dictatorial rule began to rienced women leaders from around the region No Arab Spring without crumble from Tunisia to and in between. to discuss the implications for women’s rights Women: The Essential Their participation was encouraged and wel- under the emerging Islamist regimes. The second Role of Women in ’s comed, and women felt, often for the first time, meeting in the series, held in October 2012 and Democratization 27 that they may actually have an equal say in the on which this publication is based, sought the Yemeni Women after the future of their countries. Unfortunately, it would views of the younger, up-and-coming generation Arab Awakening: Are not be so for most women. of activists, journalists, and politicians in the women marginalized after As one of many such examples, in Egypt, MENA region to describe the current situation the Arab Awakening? 31 the women’s quota in parliament was scrapped on the ground for women and the strategies they altogether, sidelining women’s decision-making can use to organize themselves and move forward Egyptian Women: Two potential in that country’s transition to democra- in the post-revolutionary phase. The third in the Years after the January 25 cy. In addition, women are experiencing increased series intends to bring these two groups together Revolution1 35 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

About the Middle East Program

Director The Middle East Program was launched in February 1998 in light of increased Dr. Haleh Esfandiari U.S. engagement in the region and the profound changes sweeping across many Middle Eastern states. In addition to spotlighting day-to-day issues, the Program Assistants concentrates on long-term economic, social, and political developments, as well as Kendra Heideman relations with the United States. Mona Youssef The Middle East Program draws on domestic and foreign regional experts for its meetings, conferences, and occasional papers. Conferences and meetings assess Special thanks the policy implications of all aspects of developments within the region and indi- Special thanks to vidual states; the Middle East’s role in the international arena; American interests Kendra Heideman and in the region; the threat of terrorism; arms proliferation; and strategic threats to and Mona Youssef for coordinating from the regional states. this publication; Daniel Boger The Program pays special attention to the role of women, youth, civil society and Laura Rostad of the institutions, Islam, and democratic and autocratic tendencies. In addition, the Middle East Program hosts meetings on cultural issues, including contemporary art Middle East Program for their and literature in the region. editing assistance; . the Design staff for designing the Occasional Paper Series; • Current Affairs: The Middle East Program emphasizes analysis of current issues and Mona Youssef for taking and their implications for long-term developments in the region, including: the events the photographs. surrounding the uprisings of 2011 in the Middle East and its effect on economic, political and social life in countries in the region, the increased use of social media, the role of youth, Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, Iran’s political and nuclear ambitions, the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and their effect on the region, human rights violations, globalization, economic and political partnerships, and U.S. foreign policy in the region.

• Gender Issues The Middle East Program devotes considerable attention to the role of women in advancing civil society and to the attitudes of governments and the clerical community toward women’s rights in the family and society at large. The Program examines employment patterns, , legal rights, and political participation of women in the region. The Program also has a keen interest in explor- ing women’s increasing roles in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction activities.

• Islam, Democracy and Civil Society: The Middle East Program monitors the growing demand of people in the region for the transition to democratization, political participation, accountable government, the rule of law, and adherence by their governments to international conventions, human rights, and women’s rights. It continues to examine the role of Islamic movements and the role of Islamic parties in shaping political and social developments and the variety of factors that favor or obstruct the expansion of civil society. The following papers are based on the authors’ presentations at the International Center for Scholars on October 2, 2012. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors 2 and do not reflect those of the Woodrow Wilson Center. to exchange lessons learned and formulate best ing on societal issues, not just women’s issues or practices for women in the region. how issues relate to gender; increasing opportuni- Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Wilson ties for women to work in mixed-gender environ- Center’s Middle East Program, moderated the ments; encourag- first of two panels. She describes women as the ing competition real “losers” in this struggle, drawing parallels among women; between the experiences of women in Iran dur- and focusing on ing the 1978-9 revolution then and in the Arab training young Spring countries now. In both cases, Islamist par- women leaders. ties came into power, thereby eroding the gains Al-Mutawakel women had made in their social, economic, and cites the politi- political lives. Esfandiari is optimistic, however, cization of both because the MENA region has undergone an irre- Islam and wom- versible change that will only serve to empower en’s issues as the women to fight for their equal place in society. two challenges Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the director of facing Yemeni the Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership women today. Initiative, moderated the second panel of this Honey Al Sayed, a Syrian journalist and meeting. As a lawyer by training, she addresses expatriate, reviews how women in have the legal dimensions of the Arab Spring revolu- been affected by the country’s violence and chaos tions and how they affect women. Of particular and how they have contributed to the revolution- concern is the issue of new constitutions, as she ary cause. While Syria is unstable and the future says it is not enough for women’s rights to be uncertain, Al Sayed says Syrian women must enshrined in them, but for women to actually define their role now rather than let it be defined participate in the drafting process. With Arab by others. She highlights the need for men and women’s economic and political participation women to work together to secure the goals of ranking at the bottom of the world, she sees the Syrian revolution: “democracy, dignity, and the role of women as decision-makers as critical freedom for all .” for the advancement of women in the MENA Rihab Elhaj of Libya writes about how region. women have become increasingly marginalized Hala Al Dosari of discusses despite their involvement in the country’s revo- a society that is living vicariously through the lution and civil society. She reviews how such protest movements of its neighbors. Because marginalization has affected women with regard Saudi women have low economic and political to Libya’s security situation, sexual harassment participation, they turn to social media to initiate problems, and segregation. While women rep- campaigns such as the campaign to lift the ban on resent approximately 16 percent of parliament, women driving. She emphasizes the vital role that Elhaj indicates that their leadership throughout online activism has played in empowering Saudi the country remains low. She argues that women women. Al Dosari notes that while the country has implemented new restrictions on freedom must remain engaged, continue to make con- of expression for fear of public uprising, women tributions, and support other women as Libya continue to work through various networks and progresses. media outlets. Representing one of the MENA countries Based on years of experience with her Sana’a- not experiencing regime change during the Arab based NGO, Gabool Al-Mutawakel outlines a Spring, Hanin Ghaddar of describes four-part strategy for Yemeni women to move for- the country’s sectarian system whose govern ward and advance their position in the post-rev- family life in the absence of civil law. This system, olutionary period that saw the overthrow of that divided into 18 religious sects, forms one part of country’s president. The strategies include focus- what she calls the “power triangle” in Lebanon— 3 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

the others being the religious institutions and gain support but neglected to advance women’s the man of the house. Ghaddar notes that the issues. There have been some improvements: pressure exerted by this system on women makes women’s organizations have unified their efforts, them the society’s “weakest link,” forcing them to and women lead the Ministry of Human Rights finally protest in the streets for their rights in the and the Ministry of Social Affairs. Despite this, revolutionary spirit of their neighbors. She argues women have been attacked, harassed, kidnapped, for a separation of religion and state if women are and detained. Al-Fotih calls for greater coopera- to improve their status in Lebanon. tion among women, indicating it is still too soon Omezzine Khélifa of Tunisia analyzes wom- to know whether Yemeni women will experience en’s role in the National Constituent Assembly a true “spring.” (NCA) and in the country’s overall transition, Yassmine ElSayed Hani focuses on the nearly noting that while there has not been a regression two years which have passed since the Egyptian in women’s rights, there has not been progress revolution overthrew the Mubarak regime. either. During the constitution drafting process, Women’s rights activists are struggling to pre- women addressed several issues related to gender serve gains made in the past, prevent lawmakers equality, most notably the possible replacement from revisiting decisions that negatively affect of “equality” between men and women with women, and expand their role and level of respect “complementarity.” With women representing in Egyptian society. The very low representation 27 percent of NCA members, women continue to of women in the current parliament, coupled play a vital role in the democratic transition and with its Islamist majority, does not bode well for in the fight for women’s rights. women’s rights. While Hani outlines these chal- Dalia Ziada lays out the struggles faced by lenges, she also points to opportunities women women in post-revolutionary Egypt. As a wom- can benefit from. The situation for women in en’s rights activist, she discusses the importance Egypt is still tenuous, though Hani is optimistic of including women, in both participatory and about their future. leadership roles, in the country’s democratic tran- One after another, these young women sition period. The patriarchal nature of Egyptian describe an environment in the MENA region society, however, has marginalized women and in which women are increasingly unable to attain largely kept them out of the democratic pro- equality with their male counterparts. From cess. Ziada notes this exclusion of women is not inheritance to citizenship, to matters of divorce something new in post-revolutionary Egypt but and marriage, to political participation, and to “a continuation of Egyptian women’s pre-revolu- the rights over one’s own body, women are, for tionary sufferings.” She says such exclusion serves the most part, losing each and every battle. Is it to undermine the potential for true democracy any wonder, then, that women in the MENA in Egypt. region rank well below their global counterparts Reviewing Yemeni women’s involvement in in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender the country’s uprising and transition, Fahmia Gap Index 2012? Despite such obstacles, women Al-Fotih notes how women have contributed throughout the Middle East are working togeth- and how they have been exploited. She explains er more and developing strategies to empower that women’s empowerment was sidelined after themselves and to turn the “Arab Spring” into a the uprising; political parties used women to “Women’s Spring.”

4 Are Women Losers in the Arab Spring? Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center

In December 2012, it will have been two years Today, women’s rights activists in the region since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The feel a sense of unease. They ask if women’s rights self-immolation of a fruit and vegetable vendor, are being gradually eroded and if women are , in the small town of Sidi being marginalized. Bouzid in Tunisia sent a ripple effect around the For example: what will happen to the personal region the likes of which we had not witnessed in status law in Tunisia, or the law criminalizing decades. One autocrat after another fell. Regime female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt? What change took place in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and will happen to the existing quota system for Libya. The turmoil spread to other countries. political participation in Tunisia, Morocco, and Syria is in the midst of a civil war. Bahrain had to Jordan? What will happen to the representation ask for Saudi help to quash Shi’a demonstrators. of women in national assemblies and local coun- Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, and even Saudi cils? Can women run for president? How many Arabia have not been spared demonstrations women will join cabinets? What will happen to either. These countries have been grappling with NGOs? an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and protest Women also ask how committed the new movements. regimes will be in adhering to the international Looking back, we remember that men and conventions they had joined in the past, such as women, old and young, conservatives and lib- CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of erals, Islamists and secularists, rich and poor Discrimination against Women), UN Security worked together to restore the lost dignity of the Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace people who had been treated as minors and fools and Security, the Convention on the Rights of by their autocratic heads of state for too long. The the Child, UDHR (the Universal Declaration of people, especially the young, who came out into Human Rights), and many others. the streets of Middle Eastern cities wanted their Another important question is whether the voices heard and a say in shaping the future of new regimes will revisit the personal status laws in their societies. each of these countries. Experience has shown us Revolutions have their own momentum, and that the work of women activists over decades can they ignite a passion and a fever that embraces be dismantled with the stroke of a pen. everyone. But once the euphoria ends and the This is what happened in Iran in 1979. people start dealing with the realities of post-rev- With the stroke of a pen, the Family Protection olutionary times, winners will emerge and losers Law that regulated family relationships was sus- will be pushed aside. pended. Once again, the age of marriage for girls As in the 1978-79 revolution in Iran, Islamists was reduced to 9 (i.e., puberty). Divorce, once have emerged as the strongest parties in the again, became the prerogative of men. Child cus- countries of the Arab Spring. Tunisia and Egypt, tody was given to the father. Polygamy became where the Al- Party and the Muslim legal, and many other discriminatory laws that Brotherhood came to power, are in the process relegated women to second-class citizenship were of completing the drafting of their constitutions. passed. All this was done in the name of Islam. All eyes are focused on these two countries to The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of see what prominence is given to shari’a in their Iran states that women’s rights are defined in the constitutions. Is shari’a going to be a source of framework of Islamic Law. the law or the source of the law? In Iran, shari’a is Such a clause in the constitutions of the Arab the source of the law and, therefore, not friendly Spring countries would limit women’s rights. to women’s rights. One has to make sure that equality between 5 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

men and women is embedded in the constitu- ment but where there is only one woman in the tions with no conditions and no ifs or buts. Nor cabinet is not ideal; nor is the Libyan allocation of should women be defined as complementing 10 percent of seats in parliament for women ade- men, as was suggested in the debate over the quate. Yemen is considering a 30 percent quota Tunisian Constitution. The age of marriage for for women across the board, but the inclusion of girls should remain at 18, not 9 as the Egyptian such a quota in the constitution remains doubt- Constitutional Assembly was contemplating. ful. Egypt has to reinstate and strengthen the Child marriage should be criminalized as no girl weak quota system that it abolished altogether. should be married off at 7 or 9. The Convention The new regimes in the region may toy with on the Rights of the Child sets 18 as the age when the idea of marginalizing women and excluding a child passes into adulthood. FGM should con- them from the decision-making process, but they tinue to be regarded as a crime committed against will not succeed. The region has changed. More a girl child and not revisited, as some members of women than men enter in the major- the Egyptian Constitutional Assembly suggested. ity of the countries in the Middle East and North Each of these new constitutions should Africa. These women will fight for their rights, include an article specifying a high percentage for economic and political participation, and for for women’s political and economic participation progressive laws. They will no longer settle for across the board. The Iraqi model where women a nominal role and a nominal say in their own are allocated 25 percent of the 325 seats in parlia- future and the future of their countries.

Enhancing the Primacy of the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and Equality before the Law in the Arab Region Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, Woodrow Wilson Center; and Senior Scholar, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College

Although democratic transitions where women the Constitution, of the rule of law, and of equal- are full and equal participants can provide stra- ity before the law ....”1 In that spirit, as countries tegic opportunities to address past inequities, to in the Arab region recast their constitutions, it date, women are not making the breakthroughs is vital that women be at the decision-making in the Arab region that they had hoped for during table. As the supreme source of law, the new the revolution. Nation building calls for hetero- constitutions in the Arab region will provide the geneity, cross-cultural dialogue, and discourse in legal foundation for governance, and the con- order to expand internal reform. Enlightened stitutional provisions enshrining women’s rights constitutionalism recognizes that transnation- will be vital in defining and determining the al influences have persuasive authority. Nation status of women in the Arab region. Women’s building must reflect a capacity to select and participation in drafting the constitution is as modify traditions to the changing needs and aspi- important as the constitutional guarantees of rations in modernity and diversity. women’s rights. Women must engage fully and In March 2011, King Mohammed VI of equally in constitution making in terms of both 6 Morocco called for “enhancing the primacy of substance and process. In terms of the substance of the constitution, on the Elimination of Discrimination against gender must be included as a prohibited category Women. States’ Parties should take measures of discrimination. Moreover, many constitutions to ensure that women, on equal terms with around the world have also guaranteed women’s men, have the right to hold public office and participation in decision making. It is only when perform all public functions at all levels of gov- women are at the table that issues impacting ernment. In 1995, the Beijing Conference and both men and women are addressed. Rwanda, Beijing Platform of Action reaffirmed that “wom- whose constitution enshrines a 30 percent quota en’s equal participation in decision making is not in parliament, is the nation with the highest pro- only a demand for justice or democracy but can portion of women parliamentarians in the world, also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s currently at 56 percent. Women parliamentarians interests to be taken into account. Without the in Rwanda seized the window of opportunity active participation of women and incorporation for change by spearheading efforts in the transi- of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision tional parliament set up after the 1994 genocide making, the goals of equality, development, and to modify discriminatory laws, such as the old peace cannot be achieved.”2 laws on nationality and citizenship which were In 2010, the UN and the Arab League report- not gender equitable. In Tanzania in 2004, a ed that women constituted only 10 percent of few years after the constitution was amended to the total of parliamentarians in the region—the include a minimum 20 percent quota for women, lowest rate in the world. The economic par- a revision to the Land Act provided equal rights ticipation of Arab women remains the lowest of to women to access land, loans, and credit. women anywhere in the world at 26.3 percent. As new systems of governance are built in the The women in the region must not let go of the Arab region, advancing women in the ranks of opportunities to change these statistics. public service is as important as achieving gender balance in political participation. Gender balance in public service during times of transition ensures plural perspectives for shaping policymaking and empowers women as decision-makers. Strategies to increase women’s leadership positions in public service must include not just targets and quotas Endnotes but capacity building, networking, and mentor- 1 ing initiatives. These commitments are part of beyond-kings-speech-a-constitutional-reform the Arab states’ obligations under the Convention 2


Spring Blossoms Hala Al Dosari, Ph.D. candidate in health services research; and opinion writer

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The King For instance, more than 2,000 female lawyers is the source of all powers: legislative, regula- graduated over the last decade, but the Ministry tory, and administrative. Political parties, civil of Justice denied them the permission to practice. society organizations, and freedom of assembly Educated Saudi women are not actively inte- are banned. Shari’a, or Islamic law, is the basis grated into the economy. Some barriers include of legislation. Decision-making in Saudi Arabia the official ban on gender mixing, the lack of safe is usually made by influential members of the public transportation, the ban on women driving, royal family who hold key positions in the gov- and the requirement of guardians’ consent. Lately, ernment. The Shura Council is an advisory body the Ministry of Labor has revoked the condition that provides the King with recommendations of obtaining a guardian’s consent to work. In on public policies. The Council of Ministers is reality, however, banks and other institutions still the executive branch of the government. There is request women applicants to get consent prior to no written penal code in Saudi courts, with few hiring them, without allowing legal redress for regulatory and administrative laws. Judges who women. have graduate training in shari’a are the only legal In the wake of regional political unrest, King instruments within the courtroom. Abdullah ordered a program of financial aid to Earlier in 2011, three public petitions calling ease the impact of youth unemployment. Each for reforms and signed by thousands of citizens unemployed youth, women included, would were circulated and published online. One made receive $500 per month. An overwhelming 85 by intellectual leaders specified women’s rights percent of applications were received from unem- as a major area needed to combat poverty and ployed women, the majority of whom were high violence. It called on the government to empower school or graduates. Though more job women with equal rights through educational, opportunities were created for women as cashiers economic, political, and public participation. and sales representatives at women’s and families’ shops, the ratio of women to men in economic Employment participation remains modest. In 2011, Saudi Arabia was ranked 131st out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Protests Gender Gap Report.1 It outranked only Yemen The spirit of street demonstration in the Middle within the Arab region. The gender gap index East provided a model of action to Saudi women measures the ratio of women to men in each without resources. Women challenged the politi- country in four sub-indices: economic participa- cal and religious authorities, with the latter issuing tion and opportunities, educational attainment, a religious edict in 2011 to ban demonstrations. health and survival, and political empowerment. Protests started with female students objecting to Economic participation and political empow- the conditions at King Khalid University, then erment were the two main sub-indices with with teachers for better contractual terms, and extremely low scores in Saudi Arabia. finally with female relatives of prisoners held in Women’s economic participation sits at a arbitrary detention. Police forces and members of very low rate of 28 percent. This has placed the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Saudi Arabia at one of the lowest ranks in the the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) dismissed the world in economic participation and opportuni- protests.2 Some women protesters were allegedly ties for women, above only Pakistan and Yemen. beaten and held for interrogations. Expanded educational opportunities for women In 2005, Saudi Arabia opened half of its 8 have not improved their economic participation. municipal seats for elections for the first time. At the time, women were banned from participa- desperate measure by the government to control tion due to logistical reasons, but officials assured public uprising. The main media outlets in Saudi women of participation in the second round. In Arabia are owned by members of the royal fam- 2011, again, no women were allowed for logisti- ily, and further tightening of censorship moved cal reasons. Women initiated the “Balady,” or many writers to online platforms by 2011. The “My Country,” campaign for the municipal elec- “Almaqal” website became one of the most nota- tions. A handful of women in Dammam, Khobar, ble online platforms for uncensored, indepen- Jeddah, and Mecca headed to voting centers to dent Saudi commentaries and opinions. Women get voter tickets. One woman managed to get writers were writing and debating freely on all one. The card with her name was symbolic and of domains of politics and society. It was ironic that no value; however, it created a buzz in the media Islamists organized a huge conference on “The about women’s participation. Some women were Woman: Rights and Duties” in , inviting arrested for carrying posters outside the voting guests from all over Saudi Arabia. The conference centers, but they were later released. Eventually, was dominated by religious clerics and scholars King Abdullah granted Saudi women suffrage who enforced the patriarchal, collectivist view of and appointment in the Shura Council. Details women’s roles. Needless to say, the conference were not discussed or given. Many commentators was an all-male event with a minimal representa- joked that women in the Shura were driven to tion of women seated in a segregated room. work by their guardians or drivers. Observers noted the new restrictions on free- A campaign to lift the ban on women driv- dom of expression when several literary and cul- ing (W2Drive) was initiated online on 2011. tural events were repeatedly canceled. Al-Nahdha Activists welcomed the call on YouTube by Manal Youth Forum is an annual conference sponsored Al-Sharif. Shortly afterward, she was arrested and by reformed Islamists and held outside Saudi detained for nine days until her father submitted Arabia.4 The third year of the forum was planned in person a plea to the royal court for her release. in Kuwait. Ideally, it aimed to discuss civil society Nevertheless, over 60 women across Saudi Arabia tools and goals. Speakers were selected to repre- drove their cars on June 17. Most women drivers sent the diversity in Saudi civil society. Liberals, were taken to police stations to sign pledges not Islamists, Shi’a, and one woman (myself), were to drive again and were later released with their among the speakers. Attacks on the forum were male guardians. Two women were taken to court fairly common in the past, but they were taken in Jeddah, and one was sentenced to 10 lashes, to a higher level with the current regional unrest. but the punishment was not delivered. Though Online and media attacks accused speakers of the campaign failed to secure the right to drive, having foreign agendas, of conspiracy to topple it brought to local and international attention the their governments, and, naturally, apostasy. Some plight of institutionalized discrimination against Islamist Kuwaiti members of parliament joined Saudi women. the campaign, leading the Kuwaiti Ministry of the Interior to ban the forum. Saudi Islamic Online Activism scholars issued an online statement to denounce Information is power. Social networks, blogs, and the speakers and the agenda. Ironically, it was citizen journalism have enhanced communica- Kuwaiti civil society that saved the day. A parallel tions and networking among like-minded citi- forum was planned instead. Some of the original zens. Despite limited and censored access to the speakers, including myself, were able to deliver Internet, a new law was passed in 2011 requiring their lectures to the public. Several other events anyone who utilizes blogs, email groups, personal were banned inside and outside Saudi Arabia, websites, chat rooms, mobile phones’ MMS or highlighting the limitations on the freedom of SMS applications, or any other forms of online speech and expression in the region. A response exchange of information to register with the by youth was spontaneously generated. Over 3 2,000 young men and women signed an online Ministry of the Interior. The move signaled a 9 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

statement demanding respectful dialogues and guardian, even if he is the defendant. Women an end to the authoritarian control on thoughts in prisons, rehabilitation centers, or other insti- and speech. Freedom of expression gained more tutions are at more serious risk if their family ground. refuses to accept them at the time of their release. The role that online activism has played They usually end up indefinitely imprisoned in in empowering women is evident. Anonymous government institutions. Adult women are not women have been recording the incidents of legally recognized without their guardians, creat- abuse with which they were struggling. A video ing a serious limitation on women’s autonomy showing a young woman challenging the authority and choices. of a member of the CPVPV received massive attention. Later, the chief of the CPVPV issued a Conclusion 5 modest apology. In particular, the court system Activists are working through networks of local was targeted for the prejudice of judges and the and international NGOs and media outlets. lack of regulatory laws. In many cases, online The virtual world is the hub for women activ- pressure increased the attention given to cases and ists, allowing them to maneuver around official brought justice to some of the victims, including censorship and experience the freedom of unlim- one working woman who was placed in prison ited interaction. Women are creating a discourse for refusing to live with her abusive father. After on gender roles and expectations, social norms, months in detention, the woman was finally and women’s rights. They are becoming visible released to the custody of her uncle to live with despite gender segregation and lack of representa- her divorced mother and brother. tion. Sometimes, campaigns created locally and internationally succeed. The inclusion of two Family Law Saudi women in the 2012 official Olympic team In 1997, the prepared was one small victory that has not yet translated a legal document to be used as a personal sta- into sporting opportunities for all Saudi women. tus law called the “Muscat Document.”6 Saudi Regardless of Saudi Arabia’s reservation to Arabia’s Minister of Justice approved the docu- only adhere to Islamic standards in the imple- ment as a guide in 2000. Twelve years later, the mentation of the Convention on the Elimination law has never been enacted or implemented. In of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 2012, family dispute cases numbered 75 percent extremists inside Saudi Arabia have distorted the of all cases. The slow, unresponsive legal system is tenets of CEDAW. However, gender equality is unmoved by complaints or a boost in additional still possible. Activists believe that the alignment budget. A draft law aimed at protecting women, of local laws and regulations with the Basic Law children, and migrant workers was introduced to of Governance should take precedence. Article the Shura Council in 2007; to date, the draft is 8 of the Basic Law states that the government still being discussed. is based on the premise of justice, consultation, Meanwhile, an alarmingly high rate of domes- and equality in accordance with shari’a.8 Aligning tic violence cases is continuously reported. One local laws with Article 8 is crucial to empowering shelter in Riyadh reported an average of 30 cases women in the public sphere. In personal space, a per month.7 Women who seek redress from the personal status law will be needed. “Om Salama” shari’a-based courts rarely see justice served. For represents several groups of women in Jeddah, one, fathers usually claim disobedience charges Riyadh, and Dammam working to reinterpret against their defiant daughters, so judges would women’s rights through 60 verses of the Qur’an. compel women to obedience. Also, women are The groups were named after a wise wife of the reluctant to report their husbands for fear of los- Muslim prophet who once solved a serious politi- ing custody of their children or returning to an cal dispute. Their mission is to introduce a new unreceptive family. Additionally, many courts egalitarian concept of women’s rights and to 10 do not allow entry to women without a male eventually draft a new personal status code. Grassroots building is a long process, but it Endnotes is the only possible route available to educated 1 Hausmann R, Tyson LD, Zahidi S (2011). The Global Gender Gap Report and well-informed women who find the current (World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland). Available at system unresponsive to their needs. The French writer Anaïs Nin said it best, “There came a time 2 when the risk to stay tight in the bud was more 3 painful than the risk it took to blossom.” When 4 the time comes, the Arab Spring will show its 5 blossoms. police-trying-chastise-having-painted-nails--posts-video-online.html 6 7 8

Toward Women Working for Community Gabool Al-Mutawakel, Co-Founder, Youth Leadership Development Foundation and co-founder of the Al- Watan Party in Yemen

It may be disappointing to many women activists ran for parliament, and the plan was to have her in the Middle East, and particularly in Yemen, name at the top of the party’s ticket. However, to witness how their public roles have nearly a few weeks later, the party’s leadership asked vanished after the Arab Spring. During the revo- her to sacrifice her top spot for the party because lution, women’s participation was pivotal. They the Egyptian people would not accept seeing a were in the streets demonstrating, protesting, woman’s name at the top, and, thus, it would be and raising their voices with demands for a bet- better to put a man first. She struggled to keep ter quality of life for all Yemenis. A woman from her position but, in the end, was convinced to said, “I have a vision of a democratic state, go with the mentality of the people instead of which is proud of its religion, with a government challenging it, which proved to be a mistake and that is for all people and not in the hands of one lesson learned. This scenario has been common in family, where power is ceded in a peaceful man- Yemen and may be part of a similar trend across ner rather than through war.”1 However, just as other Arab Spring countries as well. The ques- the country started its transition period, women tion that arises here is whether this exclusion is a were asked to step aside. “Political parties only cultural or political act. Some people will say it is support women when they can benefit from it,” cultural and that societies are rejecting women’s expressed a woman from Sada.2 participation for traditional and religions reasons. During my participation in the conference However, that cannot be true, as the majority of “Women after the Arab Awakening” at the people who were in the streets accepted women’s Woodrow Wilson Center, a young Egyptian participation, and in city squares we saw hus- activist revealed the story of her own experiences bands with their wives, sisters with their brothers, in founding a new, liberal, all youth party. She and fathers with their daughters. 11 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

During the transition period, President people, especially after the Arab Spring. Such a Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi has made several gov- strategy is assumed to increase women’s leader- ernmental appointments, very few of which ship, popularity, and inclusion. have been women. This defies the quota as The second strategy forward is to increase the stated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) number of women working alongside men. This initiative—a minimum of 30 percent of women will boost women’s ability to work in mixed-gen- in all government institutions. On the contrary, der environments and build their self-confidence. women have not been assigned as governors, dep- At YLDF, we had both mixed and women-only uty governors, deputy ministers, or ambassadors. activities and we noted that women’s perfor- Only three women were appointed as ministers. mance increased notably in mixed-gender envi- Among them, one is Minister of Human Rights, ronments. For example, in our business manage- another is Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, ment courses, women who had been working in and the third is Minister of State for Cabinet mixed groups scored much higher than women Affairs. These appointments raise the additional who worked in women-only groups. What is concern that women’s roles in government are more, women’s participation in heavily male- assigned based upon stereotypically gender-based oriented activities increases men’s awareness of social and human rights issues only. For example, women’s capabilities, which is a crucial step for we have seen very few women appointed to posi- women’s progress. tions in the Ministries of Planning, Finance, Oil, The third strategy is to increase the culture of or Communication and even fewer in Defense. competition for women. Affirmative action poli- Again, is this culturally or politically motivated? cies are very positive solutions at certain times and There are different ways forward for women in under certain circumstances. However, the GCC Yemen to combat their current situation. I present quota could lead to complacency among women four main strategies drawn from my own 10 years who know that 30 percent of seats are reserved of experience working with the Youth Leadership for them. This has taken place in Al-Watan, one Development Foundation (YLDF).3 At YLDF, of the new political parties in which I participate. the youth population ideally is composed of 50 As soon as the 30 percent quota was approved percent males and 50 percent females.4 Based on for leadership, women did not compete to prove this perspective, and our strict adherence to the themselves and did not nominate themselves for 50/50 model, we have been using the following positions, as they knew that they would be asked strategies, which we think have been very useful. to join sooner or later. This strategy suggests that The first strategy forward is to establish wom- we encourage competition among women along en’s groups that work on critical issues that affect with their male counterparts, and affirmative the needs of all members of the broader commu- action should focus on building their capacities. nity, rather than limited to issues that are deemed The fourth strategy is to focus on young specific to women. Removing ourselves from women leaders. Young women who were influ- important roles that touch upon real, everyday enced by the Arab Spring do not see themselves life will only increase the gap between women and in traditional and stereotypical roles. Instead, their community. A male friend from Ghana told they have envisioned their roles as revolutionaries, the story of a woman who was the running mate leaders, and change makers. Hence, this is exactly of a presidential candidate in Ghana. During a the right time to start building leadership for radio interview, she discussed the importance of younger women aged 18–25. However, women women’s involvement in politics. My friend men- must overcome certain barriers. Traditional polit- tioned that he would have preferred to hear about ical parties and other recently-established con- her stance on important policies, without simply servative parties may hinder women’s leadership linking them to her gender. What is more, when within the party. Moreover, women may not be women work for the community and for all, it able to reach leadership positions in government. gives them the opportunity to excel and present Yet there are easier channels for young women’s 12 a leadership model that is very much needed by leadership in the private sector, in growing politi- cal parties, as well as through new and existing ordinary citizens. The other challenge is the polit- civil society organizations. icization of women’s issues. The best example in There are two major challenges facing Yemeni Yemen is the issue of early marriage, which was women. First is the politicization of Islam—a first raised as a human rights issue in the past few practice in which religion is used for political years but transformed into a conflict and area of interests, which tends to negatively and dispro- negotiation between the two most prominent portionately affect women more than men. For parties in Yemen, the General People’s Congress example, women’s political participation and and the Islah Party. their ability to reach high leadership positions Nevertheless, the opportunities for women are governed by religious scholars and their in Yemen are enormous during this period of fatwas.5 In addition, religious notions are wrong- transition. Society is still in the mood for trans- fully manipulated to criminalize politically active formation and is anticipating and accepting of women. For example, religion is used in personal change more than ever before. Women should attacks that smear a woman’s reputation and take maximum advantage of this momentum question her credibility as a Muslim woman, in order to increase their leadership roles within which can then negatively sway the opinions of their communities.

Endnotes 1 Strong Voices, Yemeni Women Political participation from protest to transition, SaferWorld, 2012. 2 ibid. 3 YLDF is a Yemeni local Non-Governmental Organization established in 1998 and working on capacity building for youth to increase their community participation. 4 As a side note, we at YLDF do not run projects until we have reached the 50 percent participation target for women. 5 Fatwa: a decree concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar.

Syrian Women’s Role in the Post-Assad Phase — An Unpredictable Future Honey Al-Sayed, Director, Syria Program, Nonviolence International and former host and producer, Syrian radio show “Good Morning Syria”

What is happening in Syria today is critical, ment. For starters, it is important to note that the complex, and murky. There are too many chefs— Syrian revolution has taken far longer than any Iran, , Russia, China, , , other during the so-called “Arab Spring.” This Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the United States— in is both a testament to the courage of the Syrian one troubled kitchen, in addition to a fragmented people and an indication of President Bashar al- opposition inside and outside Syria, all stirring Assad’s refusal to hear what his people have to the brew over 19 months of growing chaos and say. In Egypt, former President an ever-increasing death toll. There needs to be resigned rather than subjecting his nation to the only one “master chef”—and that is the Syrian type of destruction we are seeing in Syria. In people. To achieve this, we need the support of Yemen, former President left the international community. rather than be accused of crimes against humanity We cannot compare the Syrian uprising to the on the same scale as those now being considered rest of the Arab Spring; it is a whole new move- against Assad. In Tunisia, former President Zine 13 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

El Abidine Ben Ali preferred to step down rather equality in the workplace has been institutional- than subject Tunisians to the type of large-scale ized since Syria’s independence from the French devastation we see in Syria today. in 1936. However, what we are witnessing across the Still, there are Syrian laws that undermine the Arab Spring countries, post-revolution, is the rights of women and conflict with the Convention emergence of not just male-dominated societies, on the Elimination of Discrimination against but now also Islamically conservative ones. Women (CEDAW). For example, Syrian women Given that the revolution in Syria is not the married to non-Syrians cannot grant their chil- same as other Arab Spring revolutions, I believe dren citizenship. We do not have total freedom the outcome for women of the Syrian revolution to travel and/or change residence, nor do we have will not be the same. We must also keep in mind the right to manage marriage and divorce affairs that Syria is made up of a rich mosaic of eth- in the absence of a trustee or guardian. Moreover, nicities, cultures and religions, and all must have Syria is second or third in the world in the a voice in our democratic future. number of honor crimes, with Article 548 of the Syria’s population of roughly 22.5 mil- Syrian Penal Code lightly punishing the killers lion is, as I indicated, a rich mix of heritages. with a minimal sentence of two years in prison. Approximately 61 percent of that population Most of the laws mentioned here are derived from is between the ages of 15 and 64, and approxi- Islamic law.3 mately half are women.1 Since Syria’s future has been unpredictable at best, defining roles for Present Syrian women in the post-Assad phase can only We can only draw on our history to help predict be presumed for now. However, we cannot make our future. Today, we know very well that Syrian light of the role women will play across political, women are active in the revolution. Some of our economic, and social spectrums in the future. top leaders include Razan Zaitouneh, , and a host of others. Last October, human History rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh won the 2011 A brief history of the role of may Award for defending victims be helpful, especially in looking at indicators of in a conflict zone. Zaitouneh continues to be where we will go from here. The reason I say especially active in Syria, documenting crimes “from here” is because we cannot wait until the against humanity and playing a central role in the post-Assad phase to cement our role. Our role— Local Coordination Committees. be it economic, social, and/or political—must be Suhair Atassi organized some of the earliest initiated, developed, and understood now. protests in the uprising. In March 2011, Atassi Traditionally, Syrian women have enjoyed led a sit-in by families of political prisoners in rights even before many of their Western coun- front of the Interior Ministry in to terparts. In the famous Battle of Maysaloun in demand the release of their loved ones. Since 1920, Nazik al-Abid fought with the Syrian rebel then, Atassi has been extremely outspoken, mobi- army against the French military and was dubbed lizing thousands of activists through the Syrian “The Syrian Joan of Arc.” The following year, Revolution General Commission. she became president of the Syrian Red Cross, Our women activists include many who have and went on to found the Red Crescent.2 Syrian taken on leadership positions within the opposi- women were granted the right to vote in 1949, tion abroad. For example, Rajaa Altalli is co- ahead of their counterparts in India, Greece, founder of the Center for Civil Society and Morocco, and Switzerland. Democracy in Syria, and she is conducting the During my professional career in Syria, I have project “Women for the Future of Syria.” She never experienced any sort of glass ceiling because predicts that “in our new, free, and democratic of my gender. I have not been paid less for doing Syria, women need to work hard to empower 4 14 the same work. Indeed, the concept of women’s themselves and to get their rights.” Still another prominent Syrian activist, Rasha about Christian and Muslim. It’s about regaining Alahdab, says, “We are mothers at home and our citizenship.”7 activists on the street.” Alahdab is a found- Even women in traditional family roles have ing partner of Syrian Women for Syria and a been active in the revolution. For example, Syrian founding board member of Syrian Expatriates women created banners and slogans and have for Democracy. An attorney and member of the conducted sit-ins in their homes. From the earli- ’s law office, Alahdab est days of the civil resistance movement, women calls herself a devout Muslim but one with “no gathered in each other’s homes to sing revolu- hijab in my brain.” She said, “Today, Syrian tionary songs and to plan peaceful anti-regime women are equal to their male counterparts in the activities. Who among the can Syrian revolution in every way.”5 forget when the women of Daraya went out into Rafif Jouejati, founder of the Foundation the streets to stage an anti-regime demonstration to Restore Equality and Education in Syria, shouting, “Daraya, where are your men?” Indeed, and spokesperson for the Local Coordination these brave women have been at the forefront of Committees in Syria, emphasizes the risks Syrian demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other acts of women undertake. “We document crimes against civil disobedience. humanity, including rape as a tool of torture,” Nonetheless, we have work to do. Syrian she notes. “We deliver relief supplies, despite the women must overcome the double injustice of danger, to vulnerable communities amid ongoing a conservative society pre-revolution and the shelling.” She adds, “Since we are demanding conservative armed opposition in place now. equality for all Syrians in the revolution, you can We must overcome the poor representation of be sure we will achieve it post-Assad. Women will women in opposition councils inside and outside make up more than half of Syria’s population by Syria. For example, the Syrian National Council’s the time the revolution is over, and we need to by-laws call for 30 percent women’s representation. mentor our emerging leaders and help position Why not 50 percent? In any event, current repre- them to play leading roles as Syria heals and sentation is at less than 10 percent. In many cases, rebuilds itself.”6 women’s representation is almost non-existent in Meanwhile, prominent actresses May Skaf local councils and leadership in the revolution in the and Fadwa Suleiman, along with an increasing provinces, except for relief initiatives in the area. number of media personalities, have publicly denounced the Syrian government’s brutality on Future repeated occasions. Rima Flihan, the renowned If the past and present are indicators for our playwright, has taken on a leadership role in the future as Syrian women and Syria at large, then opposition. Many journalists have overcome their Syria may very well experience years of unrest and fear of the Assad regime, preferring to maintain socioeconomic and political instability. But the their journalistic integrity. I see these profession- price we are paying for freedom is costly, and to als, as well as the leaders I have referred to, as honor our dead and other victims, we must avoid playing a central role in assuring women’s equal- the mistakes of other revolutions. Above all, we ity in the post-Assad phase. must not forget that our revolution started for Farah Attasi, another leading Syrian activist, democracy, dignity, and freedom for all Syrians. indicates “women generally are paying the highest The time to heal will be extensive and Syria price in this revolution.” And she is not wrong. will certainly never be the same again. I like to Women are losing their children, their husbands, think that Syria will be reborn and molded in the and their sisters to the fight for democracy, image we so crave. I am confident that Syrians dignity, and equality. Women are treating the will surprise the world in peace, just as they have injured and harboring other women on the run during revolution. We can alter the extreme, grim from the Assad regime. According to Attasi, “This outcome of public/political analysis that entails revolution is not about man and woman, not a long-drawn conflict, civil war, a fragmented 15 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

Syria, or Islamic extremism. We need to be realis- are focused on the revolution and are working tic and prepare contingency plans for the possible hard just to survive the day-to-day events. Other trajectories Syria may take. NGOs, established abroad to help women in Whichever scenario will play out, the role of Syria, include the FREE-Syria Foundation, the Syrian women needs to be defined today, not Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria, post-Assad. We have a chance for change. What and the Syrian Organization for Women. In we do today determines our future as women and addition, media need to play a more critical role Syrians overall. now and in the post-Assad phase as women mar- We can begin to prepare Syrian women to take shal their resources. For example, I am working an active role across the spectrum of society. We with Syrians from various professions, including can look to friendly nations for guidance, but we the media, to establish an online radio for Syria must make our own decisions. To begin with, called “Souriali,” which has the double meaning we must develop civil society organizations and of “surrealism”—as in the situation in which embrace the concept of true non-governmental Syria exists—and “Syria is for me.” Souriali’s organizations. Through these organizations, we objective is the deployment of a more advanced can educate our women—in fact, all Syrians— level of awareness relating to the concepts of and offer training in things like leadership skills, civil society, democracy, constructive citizenship, citizenship, and communications. We can teach and women’s empowerment—with 50 percent women how to detect and combat sexism and women’s representation. abuse everywhere—in the home, in the work- I would say to women everywhere, from place, and on the street. By building our institu- all walks of life: Please help us. Please keep in tions and our capacity, I believe we can start on a mind that we will need to rebuild not just our massive education campaign that will ultimately infrastructure, but also our entire society, from create a snowball effect that will support our scratch. Our people have been traumatized every emerging democracy. single day during the past 19 months. We must By participating in the political, public health, help our people heal from the psychological and educational, and economic sectors, I believe physical wounds inflicted by a chaotic uprising Syrian women in the post-Assad phase will con- and a regime whose sole focus is to remain in tinue to be a driving force in the future of Syria. power, no matter the human cost. Even today, under the harshest political repres- We have fought and sacrificed too much to sion, Syrian women have been able to start the let this revolution ultimately result in anything process of their own empowerment. They are but our goals. The Syrian revolution will end educating their children, their neighbors, and yes, up a hard-won fight for democracy, dignity, and their husbands, in equal work and equal rights. freedom for all Syrians. This means men and There are more than 15 women’s NGOs—a women equally, across socio-economic, political, huge accomplishment since NGOs in Syria are and sectarian lines. Syria as a nation deserves life, directly monitored and controlled by the govern- liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ment. Many of the organizations inside Syria

Endnotes 1 Syria Demographics Profile 2012 by Index Mundi: 2 Syrian women on the frontlines, determined not to be sidelined – March 8, 2012 Middle-East/2012/Mar-08/165976-syrian-women-on-the-frontlines-determined-not-to-be-sidelined.ashx#axzz2AuGzglcf 3 - A Dishonorable Affair – September 23, 2007 4 Quoted from a personal interview with Rajaa Altalli 16 Are Women Marginalized after the Arab Awakening? Rihab Elhaj, Co-founder and Executive Director, New Libya Foundation

While political aspirations remain very delicately- life. This marginalization is not likely due to a charted territory, Libyan women are whetting subversive plot to keep women oppressed, but their appetites with new careers and business rather a default return to pre-revolution cultural ventures post-Arab Awakening. Having firmly and social norms severely deformed by tyranny planted their feet in public life through Libya’s and cruelty to women. burgeoning civil society, women are seeking Among these socio-cultural threats are a dete- more access and influence yet have been increas- riorating security situation, incessant harassment ingly marginalized in public spaces and through in public places, and a culture of gender segre- social norms. Although the transitional govern- gation, all of which threaten to isolate women ments have thus far not moved to limit the again—this time from genuine participation in participation or progress of women in Libya, very democracy. little has been done to protect women and pro- mote their participation in any sector. Likewise, Security many Libyan women seem to be ambivalent Today, illegal arrests, detentions, and abductions about empowerment, vacillating between resignation are a great threat to both men and women in to what they perceive as inflexible patriarchal values Libya. Despite government attempts to co-opt that persist despite the revolution and the hope and armed militias, they often follow their own pro- desire for more freedoms and a richer life. tocol and are rarely held accountable. One such incident occurred on August 9 in Benghazi dur- Social/Cultural View ing a workshop on the participation of women Just as they did throughout the revolution, in the Libyan Constitution Drafting Committee. Libyan women are leading again by building An armed militia raided the meeting and held Libya’s brand-new civil society, from environ- participants captive without cause. After hours mental protection to human rights advocacy and of negotiations, the militia released some partici- reconciliation. These brave women were behind pants, but detained two women for nearly a week. the protests held on September 22, 2012, in In a public statement, the head of the gov- response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate ernment-run Civil Society Support Center, Attia and the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Lowgali, referred to witnessing the detention of Stevens and other personnel. Over 30,000 people one female activist: “I can say with all confidence rallied to demand the immediate disarmament and certainty that the manner in which she was of all non-state sectors and the dismantling of arrested was a clear violation of her civil liber- extremist militia groups. ties as a citizen, and of the dignity which should The wave of unarmed protests ultimately be granted to civil servants.” The women have prompted the Libyan government to begin its been released and the General National Congress arms collection program on September 25, 2012. (GNC) has yet to issue a single statement regard- This is just one example of the countless ways that women are behind real and positive change ing the incident. in Libya today. Harassment Despite the undeniable contribution of women to Libya’s revolution and civil society, Aside from the security situation, Libya has a a cornerstone of democracy, women are being serious sexual harassment problem. Women are increasingly marginalized in social and public incessantly harassed in public places and often they 17 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

are followed and intimidated physically, left with lead to the growing exclusion of women from the no options but to swallow their pride or stay home. public sphere.” Unfortunately, the day the letter The harassment of women in public spaces was to be issued, extremists began an operation has gone entirely unaddressed. In fact, oftentimes to raid the tombs of Sufi sheikhs and demolish this public form of humiliation is perpetrated the mosques in which they were buried. The and upheld by those that aspire to lead us. One prominent and primarily female group of activ- very high-profile instance was during the nation- ists immediately mobilized to protect the sites, ally televised transfer of powers ceremony from and the GNC has since become nearly entirely the National Transitional Council (NTC) to occupied with ever-increasing security threats and the GNC, Libya’s newly elected body. During prerogatives, including investigating the murder the ceremony, GNC representative Salah El-din of Ambassador Stevens, building an initiative to Badi was disturbed by the sight of the young disarm militias while establishing a Libyan police and unveiled moderator. Ten minutes into the force/army, and dealing with several parliament program, he stood from his seat and yelled, “break-ins” by mobs of citizens desperate to have “Cover your head!” When the moderator refused their voices heard. to obey, Badi exited the program in an appar- ent protest. The president of the NTC, Mustafa Segregation Abduljalil, proceeded to gesture with his hand for Another challenge for women is the very common the young lady to exit the stage, presumably out cultural practice of gender segregation in Libya. of respect for the now upset representative Badi. Whether people are in a private or a public space, She was swiftly replaced and the president then they will almost always be segregated by gender. began his speech with: “We respect freedoms and Segregation puts well-educated and empowered individual rights, but you must understand we women at a disadvantage when they seek to break have our culture and religion.” His comments into typically male-dominated economic and received applause. While the president respected political spheres. Likewise, the general isolation of Badi’s rights to the freedom of expression and women from the public sphere prevents women protest, he denied the young moderator’s right from interacting with other women. Isolation to the same freedoms, and left her no dignity in spells doom for any woman seeking a position the process. That evening, during an improvised of greater leadership. For example, when Libyan interview with Libyan rights advocate Huda Abuzeid, Badi stated, “She should have known women run for office, very few men actually know better than to come today… They want to make them because it is culturally inappropriate for us look like we have no heritage, that we came them to be in the same space as men. Moreover, from the streets.” they have very little opportunity to interact with The incident was never officially addressed by women whom they do not already know because our newly-elected parliament, keeping the culture Libyan women socialize in small, familiar circles of women’s public humiliation and degradation within each other’s homes. With rare exceptions, unchallenged, indeed, perhaps even encouraged. the segregation of genders has caused women These two incidents brought desire for change to suffer from insufficient public interactions, to a boiling point among Libya’s civil and wom- denying them the enrichment opportunities that en’s rights activists, bringing them together to follow. Some, like the country’s Mufti, are calling create the Coalition for Libyan Women’s Rights. for greater segregation of males and females in The coalition prepared a letter of concern to the education and in public. Needless to say, this will GNC requesting a statement of position on the further isolate women and deny them access to two incidents: “we are concerned that the silence critical new opportunities. Furthermore, through of our elected officials following the [two] inci- decades of research on segregated societies, we dents has set a precedent of intolerance which will now know that segregation breeds inequality. likely impact cultural norms and the status and Until Libya’s public spaces are converted into 18 perception of women. Both events consequently environments that afford women safety, dignity, and equal access, arguments for women’s progress remain strictly at home with a few excep- and empowerment will remain merely rhetorical, tions like education or family duties. giving rise to token policies. • Challenges facing businesswomen who seek to venture into non-female clientele-based Economic View businesses in breaking into traditionally Due to the naturally competitive nature of male-dominated networks and “inner cir- employment, Libyan women tend to do better in cles” of business owners and government the economic sector than in any other. On aver- contractors. age, Libyan women are better educated and more Libya’s education and training institutions disciplined than their male counterparts, and are have very limited capacity. Women seeking to often sought after by companies and international enhance their employability by learning a new non-profits that offer greater salaries than the language or technical skill must contend with public sector does. In addition, Libyans still value limited training and education programs, and the traditional role of males as the primary bread- very high tuition fees relative to the average winner, but women often enjoy dispensing of household income of $500 per month. their salary as they please. Libya’s economy is still Three founders of the recently registered closer to a socialist than a free-market economy, Ra’idat Businesswomen’s Council are already so consumption is low and working women are seeking to create solutions to these challenges among the many who enjoy significant savings. with their new businesses in IT training, HR Despite many women making good strides in the recruitment services, and a state-of-the art day workplace, there are still many who are burdened and evening childcare center. by socio-cultural realities, some of which are: As more women venture into professional • Lack of support or services for working roles and launch businesses, they reinforce the mothers: no daycare, after-school programs, need to invest in working women for both and or school bus rides; husbands are often economic growth and capacity building. unwilling to share chores. • Expectations within collectivist cultures Political View that women should fulfill many social and There are 120 seats for independent candidates cultural duties: weddings, funerals, gradua- in Libya’s General National Congress. After free tions, promotions, birthdays, get-well visits, and fair elections, the Libyan people elected 119 farewell visits, etc. men and one woman to the GNC. Initially, one • The fact that Libyan men also struggle might think that women are being intentionally for professional success in Libya, many of excluded from the process; however, a closer look whom seek to establish themselves before reveals that of the 1,800-or-so self-nominated supporting the women around them. candidates, less than 4 percent were women. This suggests that the lack of representation is due to • Disempowering interpretations of Islamic hesitance to self-nominate. This may be due to traditions that are often used as tools to the following socio-cultural obstacles, in addition keep women at home or in female-domi- to those in the “Economic View:” nated careers such as nursing or teaching. • A stigma around women in politics that • Hostility in public spheres, such as harass- remains from ’s charade ment and poor security, which discourages of women’s “political empowerment,” dur- women and their loved ones from letting ing which many women were appointed them venture out. positions of high rank and title in exchange • The romanticized idea in Bedouin culture for insidious displays of loyalty or sexual that an honorable man’s wife or daughters favors, and as consolation for being raped. 19 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

• Lack of confidence in themselves to take on but little to nothing has been done to create an major leadership roles, and by virtue of pro- environment that genuinely fosters the political jection, lack of confidence in other women empowerment of women. Indeed, the deafening seeking to do the same. silence of our female GNC members on several • Lack of role models who challenge the per- incidents that have violated the very basic rights vasive mentality that women do not belong and dignity of Libyan women suggests that in or cannot succeed in non-traditional or although many women have made it into the political roles. GNC, very few have begun to lead. As the Libyan government focuses on its cur- • Fear of the social stigmas and gossip that rent priorities of security and order, women’s inevitably result when a woman ventures empowerment does not have to take a backseat. into new, scary, and uncharted territory Simple protection policies can ensure that the outside of rigid and widely adhered to social basic civil liberties and dignity of women are norms. upheld; strong public statements and demonstra- In addition, a few lawless individuals seeking tions of support from our political leaders can to enforce their oppressive views of religion have dissuade those seeking to debilitate the progress embarked on a mission to desecrate faces of nearly of women. all women candidates on their campaign ads. The Libyans at large must acknowledge the great offenders have been videotaped by private citi- significance and value of women’s contribution zens; however, it does not appear any efforts have in developing a nation. Finally and most impor- been made by the state to capture them. tantly, Libyan women themselves must choose One attempt to oppress the political aspira- to support one another and together take what is tions of women in Libya turned deadly in May rightfully theirs. 2011 when a radical militia leader shot and killed It is worth noting that the dialogue on wom- a woman, now simply known as Ms. Shteta, en’s rights in Libya has been expectant and after having mistaken her for a woman that was oftentimes extraneous, considering the backdrop running for office. The suspected murderer, of chaos in the newborn democracy and particu- who is believed to be linked to the murder of larly exacerbated by Libya’s institutional voids. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, remains free Efforts toward promoting just and empower- and there appears to have been no investigation ing socio-cultural shifts and policies are mostly into the death of Ms. Shteta. bound to be ineffectual due to Libya’s absolute The good news is, despite the fact that only lack of institutions to implement them. Libyans one woman was elected for a seat in the GNC, and our allies would best benefit from a collective Libya enjoys the participation of 32 women acknowledgement and dialogue on the urgency candidates via seats reserved for political parties, and importance of building strong, transparent, putting representation of women in parliament effective, and inclusive institutions as an essential at roughly 16 percent. This is thanks to a “zipper first step toward the viability of a democratic list” policy that civil society and women activists state. Ensuring women are fully engaged in the put forth and the transitional government put institution-building dialogue and process can into effect. guarantee that Libya’s political, civic, and eco- The indication is that, in general, Libyans are nomic institutions work for women as a matter open to the participation of women in politics, of course.

20 My Body vs. His Beard Hanin Ghaddar, Managing Editor, NOW News (Lebanon), and Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center

Introduction If there was any significant street action or demonstrations, it was by two groups: Islamists Ironically, Lebanon has been one of the only in the Sunni cities of Tripoli and Saida and civil Middle Eastern countries in the past couple of society groups in . Both of these groups years that did not witness a revolution to topple used the street to demonstrate in support of the a dictator, simply because we do not have one. Syrian revolution, each in their own way and Our malady is the sectarian system that provides for different reasons. However, when it comes us with various little dictators, each over his own to local Lebanese issues, women’s civil society sect. These little dictators are not just individu- groups are the most apparent, the most genuine, als in power; what rules the Lebanese sectarian and the least politicized. communities is the power triangle: the sectarian The Arab Spring opened the streets for women, leader, the religious institutions, and the man of and in the past 18 months, women hit the streets the house. And this triangle makes women the to demand rights they have been addressing for common weak link in all communities. years. They felt it was time to go to the street and Because of the dominance of this triangle over create their own “spring” with a small “s.” family life, the sectarian system divides women in Has this spring been successful so far? Yes and Lebanon across all sects without exception, weak- no. It succeeded in creating public and media ening their collective struggle and giving them the attention and breaking the silence, but has so far worst end of the personal status laws. failed in changing any legislation that can make Women in Lebanon face a high level of dis- the lives of women in Lebanon easier. crimination embodied explicitly and implicitly within the personal status laws. Lebanon has no Example: Domestic Violence civil law to govern family relationships. Instead, these are regulated by religious laws belonging to Let’s look at an example. According to Kafa, a the 18 religious sects that exist in Lebanon—and Lebanese NGO against gender-based violence they all discriminate against women. This hinders and exploitation of women, one woman dies women’s participation in decision making and every month as a result of family violence in subjects them to violence without any special Lebanon. This disturbing act of violence is called legal protection. femicide, and it is often the result of an escalation Despite the obvious negative effects of this in violence that goes unreported and unaddressed system on all Lebanese women, depriving them and eventually leads to a murder. of real citizenship, the Arab Spring did not push As long as we don’t have any protective us to the street to change this system or demand mechanisms for women in Lebanon, and in the our citizenship. On the contrary, our disagree- absence of a legal guarantee, women and girls are ments over mundane politics and our fear of constantly reluctant to report abuses and to claim each other made most Lebanese seek more than their right to a decent human life. ever the protection of the power systems in their Kafa worked hard to draft a law against communities. domestic violence, accompanied by a strong Of course, Lebanon was not and did not lobbying campaign and street action, until the become a haven of stability and prosperity. What government formed a committee to decide on the is happening in Syria did not stay at the borders; issue at hand. However, the committee included however, the “revolutionary” spirit that swept the a group of parliamentarians dictated by their own Arab street has made its way into Lebanese hearts parties that, in turn, coordinate strongly with the and minds. religious institutions. 21 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

In addition to criminalizing marital rape, tutions. It has been frequently reported that the original draft bill creates specific sentences Hezbollah has a more open attitude toward for perpetrators of domestic violence and allows women’s roles in society than do many other women and children to quickly seek restraining Islamist organizations. Women have significant orders. The country’s highest Sunni and Shi’i space within Hezbollah’s social welfare, media, religious bodies have both come out against and administrative institutions. the law. In Lebanon, neither marital rape nor However, we have not once seen a Hezbollah domestic violence is criminalized by legislation. woman assuming a political, security, or military Consequently, a section of an anti-domestic vio- role. lence law that would criminalize marital rape was Hezbollah also strongly criticized the late Al removed by the parliamentary subcommittee. Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah whenever he issued a pro-woman fatwa. For example, he Dividing Lines made a fatwa on the occasion of Women’s Anti- Violence Day in 2009 saying, “A sane, adult and The Lebanese example sheds some light on the independent woman does not need a guardian.”1 future of women in the region. The fatwa reaffirms the right of women to defend During the Arab Spring, all women joined the themselves against violence, both at the work- demonstrations in the streets because they had place and at home, and states that Islam forbids one enemy and one goal: to topple the dictator. men from exercising any form of violence against Now that most of the dictators are out, women women. “Physical violence in which women are will start to realize that what divides them and beaten proves that these men are weak, for only hinders their success is bigger than what brought the weak are in need of unjust violence,” he said.2 them together. Fadlallah’s fatwa provoked much criticism These dividing lines will differ from one coun- from conservative clerics and religious figures try to another. within the Shi’a community in Lebanon and In Syria, the militarization of the revolution elsewhere, mainly Hezbollah, which considers has pushed many of the revolutionary women women to be under the custody or guardianship who were pioneers at the beginning to the of their husbands or fathers. background. Their original peaceful calls for Despite all, Hezbollah is still considered by freedom and citizenship had to suffer under the many in the region and the West to be strong unfortunate but necessary militarization of the on Islamic feminism. Hezbollah’s feminists did revolution. not make a single statement in defense of Kafa’s Armed struggle is certainly bad for women’s draft bill against domestic violence and marital rights and demands. We in Lebanon know this rape. Silence is sometimes a sign of compliance. very well. For the past 40 years, our rights were Hezbollah’s feminists only work and think within always postponed because there were always more Hezbollah’s parameters. pressing issues. When Hezbollah’s religious references state Another dividing line is religious institutions. that muta’a (temporary marriage) is acceptable, Now many women in the region will start to then sex for pleasure becomes a religious duty. So realize that working under religious institutions when they say that marital rape is acceptable, then or with their permission will not lead anywhere, forced sex also becomes a duty. while others will refuse to join certain women’s In any case, all Islamic religious institutions, rights campaigns because they honor religious Shi’i and Sunni, rejected the law against domestic institutions. violence and marital rape. Religious institu- This is also something we’ve learned in tions did not and will not allow this law to go Lebanon. through without amendment because if marital Hezbollah, for example, pretends to be for rape were criminalized, women would have full women’s empowerment, always boasting about rights and control over their bodies. If this hap- giving work space for women in all their insti- 22 pens, it means men would lose all control, and that would not be acceptable because the belief father, she started to stand up to him, and he also is that women’s bodies should always be available started to feel more threatened and became more for men and religious and political powers to use aggressive. and abuse. But eventually she won because she is power- Women cannot and will not be liberated as ful and he is weak, although he is protected and long as the state’s institutions and its laws are she is not. But here’s the trick: she became pow- linked to religious institutions. That’s why the erful because she was not protected. She had to Arab Spring cannot be completed anywhere fight on her own, and that is what will empower without a clear separation between the state and women in the region. They are fighting in their religion. own ways, and in their private spheres, parallel to According to religious rules, women are not their public fights against laws and institutions. guardians over themselves or their children. This will not change as long as shari’a is used as a Hidden Danger basis for family law. For example, on the issue But sometimes the danger is in the hidden mar- of guardianship, Lebanese law does not enable gins, disguised by titles such as “Islamic femi- women married to foreigners to pass their nation- nism.” This is a contradictory term. Islam and ality on to their husbands or children. This cre- feminism cannot work together. Polygamy and ates a lot of problems, as these relatives are con- feminism cannot co-exist. sidered foreigners and so are deprived of access to These feminists are now growing in the Arab public services such as schools and hospitals, not world, presenting themselves as the real agents to mention faced with complications in marriage of change—that is, the change that will happen procedures or obtaining working permits. from within. It is true, change is better when it Many women’s problems are linked to the happens from within, and that is what the Arab issue of guardianship. For example, in Lebanon I Spring is about. However, these Islamic feminists cannot open a bank account for my son because are part of the institutions, and, in many cases, I am not his guardian; his father is. And this is the ruling institutions. They cannot inspire real also applied in issues of custody, inheritance, etc. change. All religious courts seem to agree on one thing: When Islam becomes part of the political sys- women are not free citizens and, therefore, can- tem, rather than a matter of personal or spiritual not be given guardianship. choice, women’s rights always suffer. Without the power of religious institutions In my opinion, the Arab Spring made it over family laws, many bills and draft laws would obvious to the people that if any change needs have passed in Lebanon. The core of the problem to be made, it must be drastic. No more small for me seems to be these religious institutions, steps or negotiating with the powers, political or conspiring against women and their rights. religious. No more compromises and reconcilia- tion. The Arab Spring is about people changing Economic Empowerment and Financial things themselves without waiting for permission Independence or approval. Despite these unfair conditions, things are chang- That’s exactly what women should do: make ing. With women assuming more productive and big strides and take what is theirs with their own income-generating roles, many men feel their hands and bodies. In Egypt, Islamists are trying to supremacy to be threatened. Women are seeking amend the constitution against women and their financial independence and, whether intention- rights over their bodies. ally or not, find themselves more empowered. My In Syria, women and their bodies are used as mother would never have found the courage to political tools. For example, the Syrian regime has escape and leave my father if not for her financial been using rape as a main tool to contain rebels. independence. As soon as she started working Women in rebellious towns and villages have and became less financially dependent on my been raped in groups and in front of their families 23 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

in order to push their male relatives to the dan- solution. Islamic feminism is too slow for our gerous verge of revenge and violence, so that the times, and the only solution is a clear and strong regime could confirm its “civil war” theory. path toward separating the state from religion. Freedom in the cannot be com- Without strong action in this direction, the plete without the freedom of women, and wom- future will be really bleak for women in the en’s freedom would still be flawed without the region. right to one’s body. Islam is certainly not the

Endnotes 1 ID=0&orderdir=desc 2

Women after the Arab Awakening Omezzine Khélifa, Politician and Advisor, Tunisian Ministry of Tourism

To evaluate the role of women in Tunisia today, and global economic crisis, and launching the it is essential to ask the following questions: how process of transitional justice to hold accountable is their role evolving on the political scene, and those who were responsible for crimes committed how are women contributing to the transitional during the dictatorship. process? Deep changes are ongoing in Tunisian Tunisian political context during the society democratic transition Women have a weighty and decisive presence One year has passed since the first democratic elec- in all these fields, in all the arenas where the tions that gave birth to the National Constituent battle for more democracy is being waged: in Assembly (NCA). The assembly is entrusted with civil society, as journalists fighting for freedom writing a new constitution in accordance with the of the press; as human rights activists fighting for revolution’s demands and objectives: freedom, free speech; as judges, lawyers, and accountability justice, democracy, and dignity. A moral commit- experts fighting against corruption and for the ment was made that the writing of the constitu- independence of justice as well as imagining a tion should not exceed one year. At present, the new, independent electoral body; as artists fight- NCA commissions have ended their work, and ing for their right to create without restriction or the draft of the constitution has been passed on to censorship; and as teachers fighting for the right the Drafting Committee for final revision before to instruct without fear. submitting the document to the plenary session Tunisian institutions and society are undergo- for debate. ing profound change from within. The days of Ten months have passed since the first demo- irresponsibility are over. Tunisians of all walks cratically-elected government in Tunisian history of life are denouncing injustice and speaking out was formed. The cabinet, whose members come loud to make their voices heard. Thus, they are from a three-party coalition, is responsible for the genuine actors of change, slowly but surely preserving domestic peace and security during the moving mentalities and behaviors from post- period of constitution writing, creating jobs for dictatorship disorder and uncertainty toward 24 the unemployed youth in a period of uncertainty structured and united demands for stability and This issue is still unresolved and will be dis- democracy. cussed in the National Constituent Assembly plenary session. Women stand for human rights and In addition, Salma Mabrouk Saada, a member gender equality in the National of the Rights and Liberties Committee, the Social Constituent Assembly Affairs Committee, and the Special Committee to Investigate Martyrs’ Day events, initiated a Since the beginning of the constitution writing war against the concept of “complementarity” process, we have passed through many consti- when she realized Article 28’s possible interpre- tutional perils for women’s rights, such as the tations. Indeed, the opposition from within her proposal to have shari’a as the unique or main committee did not vote for full gender equality source of the law and the absence of any reference despite the fact that she explained how danger- to human rights and fundamental liberties in the ous “complementarity” could be for women: preamble. Perhaps the most serious and damaging restricting their role in the family; potentially threat to women’s rights is the so-called “comple- differentiating between the rights of single mentarity” between men and women, replacing women, single mothers and widows, and those of “equality” in the text of the constitution. married women; and offering judges the possibil- These battles are very recent, and we still ity to decide according to their own beliefs just cannot say that they are definitively won as the how complementary a man and a woman should constitution is still in draft. The most important be. The vote also happened in a session where point, in my opinion, is that women succeeded many progressive representatives were absent, and in quickly unmasking these issues and adequate- this is another factor that helped the article pass ly responding to them. Women representatives through. played a major role in declaring war against such Thanks to her social networking visibility, regressive concepts. Thus, I mention the initia- Salma succeeded in bringing national and inter- tive of Lobna Jeribi, the Vice President of the national media attention to the Rights and Preamble Committee and the Reporter of the Liberties Committee. The fight she was making Financial Committee. She proposed to inscribe in her committee was no longer just her fight, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a the fight of all who believe that our society cannot reference text in the preamble of the constitution, advance unless both men and women have the but such a clear reference to the text brought same rights and the same duties. Political parties controversy to the Preamble Committee, and and civil society activists protested en masse on the majority of representatives voted against it. August 13, 2012, the anniversary of the prom- After a post explaining the opposi- ulgation of the Personal Status Code, to show tion she faced in her committee, a radio station their support for gender equality. The Rights and invited her to expose the risks we would face Liberties Committee refused to reconsider their if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights vote on the article, and the draft moved along were not mentioned in the preamble. Following unchanged to be reviewed by the Constitution the broadcast, human rights and women’s rights Writing Committee. This committee cancelled associations issued a statement to denounce the the controversial article as it is in contradiction vote of the Preamble Committee, declaring that with one of the preamble’s principles: equality of this decision is “a dangerous regression in human all citizens before the law. rights in Tunisia.” Tunisia ratified this UN dec- According to public opinion, this is a huge laration, and people are asking representatives to relief. We are not changing our legacy of gender review their position, as they were elected by the equality. However, constitutional experts found to establish a genuine democ- a new possible way to introduce inequalities racy, breaking with the former dictatorial regime into the law, meaning the article version of the and preserving and advancing human rights. constitution does not prevent the law from being unfair to one gender or another. Indeed, we are 25 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

currently in the same situation as under the 1959 found much support from individuals among the Constitution with the Personal Status Code. This elder generation, who probably were more aware law, its main objective being to regulate family of the stakes for our fledgling democracy. affairs, is unfair to women as far as marriage, The law mandating parity in party lists passed, divorce, and inheritance are concerned. These and, thanks to its provisions, Tunisia saw about questions are not debated and are not planned for 5,000 women candidates running in the National in the agenda. In conclusion, we did not regress Constituent Assembly elections out of 10,000 in terms of gender equality, but we have not made total candidates. Not only did parties and inde- progress yet either. pendents succeed in finding female candidates all I would like to believe it is still possible to over the country, but some women led the lists. achieve gender equality in the constitution after Their lack of political experience was not used the discussion of the draft in the plenary session. as an argument against women’s inclusion, since men were also lacking experience in that domain. Parity in the electoral law allowed Competence should be a primary criterion for women to participate in establishing the choosing a candidate, but, in a democracy, repre- basis of democracy sentation by gender, age, regions, and minorities is also sought, and women are more than half In October 2011, the first democratic elections in of the Tunisian population. Sometimes, mecha- Tunisia were regulated by a progressive electoral nisms such as parity succeed to guarantee better law that promoted women’s participation in the representation of a group when mentalities are political process. Indeed, it stipulated that all par- not ready to accept it naturally. ties should equally represent men and women in However, parity in the lists did not guarantee their candidate lists. In addition to parity, a zip- parity in representation: only 27 percent of our pered list was mandatory, which means that every NCA members are women. We consider this other candidate on the list is a woman. If a politi- representation as an important fulfillment of our cal party or an independent list did not match first step toward building democratic institu- this vertical parity and zippered order, then the tions and behavior. We are conscious and proud list was rejected. that Tunisian women are highly represented This progressive law provoked an intense compared to many other parliaments across the debate within Tunisian society. I can quote my world, including the United States Congress, personal experience initiating a petition for par- where women represent only 17 percent of the ity and equality for the elections of the National members. Vertical parity with a zipper list system Constituent Assembly, which I submitted to the should be maintained by legislators as a basis for group of young people with whom I organized our future electoral law. It could, however, be our protest movements in January 2011. improved to horizontal parity, which would help Although we were united during the protests increase women’s presence and participation in against the dictatorship, parity later divided us. our future parliaments. Some women were even more virulent than men. This principle is essential, as it allowed ordi- Many arguments were used against parity, such as nary women, new to politics but raised in the there are not enough women in political parties to spirit of gender equality, to fight for the long- balance male candidates; parity will stop parties from presenting any candidate list; there are no established tradition of equality in Tunisia. women with enough experience in politics; com- petence, not gender, should be the only criteria We have moved from state feminism to for women as well as for men; using parity means political feminism led by women that women are assisted and cannot reach the top Women are playing a crucial role in the ongoing, without this assistance; parity weakens women’s overall democratic transition, but their political positions and so on. As a result of this division, fight aims also at promoting the cause of women. 26 I submitted the petition without my group and Indeed, they are displaying vigilance at all times to block attempts at curtailing women’s rights and are on the front lines where those rights come under threat. In sum, we have moved from state feminism to a form of political feminism led and organized by women, which in itself is an essen- tial step in promoting and enhancing Tunisia’s emergent democracy.

No Spring without Flowers, No Arab Spring without Women: The Essential Role of Women in Egypt’s Democratization Dalia Ziada, Executive Director, Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies

Introduction continuation of Egyptian women’s pre-revolu- tionary sufferings. The continued discrimination It is not a secret that Egypt’s democratic transi- against women and their underrepresentation tion in general is hardly moving forward, slowed in politics could be attributed to the patriarchal down and thrown off course by a seemingly nature of Egyptian society. Against the backdrop endless series of challenges ranging from the mili- of cultural norms that support gender inequal- tary’s failure in running the transitional phase, ity, women are being systematically blocked the purposeful undermining of civil society, to from participation in political decision making. the misbehavior of political Islamists, who seem During the transitional period, as much as during determined to curb individual freedoms and Mubarak’s era, women are exploited by different women’s rights. The highlight of this decline political trends. The only difference is that the in Egypt’s endeavors for democratization is the rise of political Islam has provided fertile soil for disappointing verdict against former President the patriarchal social mentality against women to Hosni Mubarak,1 preceded by the unsatisfactory flourish. Furthermore, the fact that most of the results of the first-ever uncontested presidential legal reforms in favor of women during the past elections.2 decade were endorsed by the former First Lady, Amidst the rapid changes and challenges, Suzanne Mubarak, made them very vulnerable women are struggling to secure their space and to attacks by those who do not believe in gender prove the importance of their role not only in equality. participating in but also leading the process of building up the institutional infrastructure that is needed for democracy to flourish. Rationally, the Egyptian Women’s Dilemma transitional government cannot brush aside more than 50 percent of the population and still claim While Egyptian women today have better access to be establishing democracy.3 Women’s access to to education and employment than before, and active involvement in the political, economic, women remain marginalized. A common issue legal, social, and religious spheres of the Egyptian behind women’s unwillingness to engage in pro- state is essential for the success and acceleration of ductive social activities is that women are not democratic transition and stability. viewed as equal to men. The political administration of post-revolu- There are several factors explaining the rea- tion Egypt cannot solely be blamed for women’s sons for lasting conservatism, the first of which marginalization. This unfair state of affairs is a are social norms and patriarchal stereotypes that 27 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

assume women’s role in society is limited to social media such as Facebook and other popular motherhood and domestic activities, i.e., child forums to meet new people and get involved in rearing and household chores are her primary various social activities. Although the virtual soci- duties. Activities outside the household, such as ety of the Internet does assist women by giving employment, education, and other social activi- them a space to practice social freedom, it may ties, are viewed as incompatible with this conven- indirectly encourage complacency in calling for tional image of women. The majority of women their rights in public. leave their jobs after marriage because they are unable to balance family and employment. Egyptian Women and Democratization Unfortunately, some sections of the Egyptian The infrastructure for democracy is forged legal code support this stereotype (e.g., Article 11 through three main channels: the legislature, the of the Constitution). constitution, and the presidential system. Secondly, patriarchal norms, echoed in By drawing a simple comparison between the extremists’ misinterpretations of shari’a, con- status of women in the parliamentary elections of sider men the family breadwinners. Accordingly, 2005 and 2010 (under Mubarak) and 2011 (after women are not usually encouraged to seek work Mubarak’s fall), one can hardly identify any posi- or education if they can financially afford not tive change in the political access and empower- to. In lower social classes, the lack of economic ment of women. The 2005 parliamentary elec- resources usually pushes more women to seek tions marked the lowest presence by female voters work. But the kinds of jobs available for illiter- and candidates in decades.5 On the ballots, there ate, poor women often violate their basic human were only 131 women running out of 5,165 total rights. Most poor women prefer deprivation to candidates, of which only four were subsequently humiliation and remain at home. elected. As a result, Mubarak, in his capacity as Thirdly, the perception of women as sexual a president, mandated the appointment of five objects has been perpetuated by the influence of more female representatives to Parliament, rais- Salafism. Women, Salafis claim, should stay at ing the total number of women to nine, or two home out of respect for the “sexual fragility” of percent of total representation. men. In Salafi thought, God punishes women In June 2009, Parliament approved a contro- who tempt men by wearing perfume, wearing versial bill introduced by Mubarak’s National revealing clothing, or simply talking to them. Democratic Party (NDP) proposing to allocate Therefore, when women plan to leave their 64 seats for women in the Lower House of homes, they should cover themselves with the Parliament, known as the “People’s Assembly” 4 niqab to avoid spreading sin in society. Some in the 2010 elections.6 As historic a law as it families in rural areas withdraw their daughters may seem, the real motive behind it was not to from school and deprive them of education using support women’s representation in parliament. similar justifications. Instead, the law enhanced the NDP’s major- Lastly, individual or collective incidents of ity representation by filling more seats with the sexual harassment in public places, and the lack party’s women to prevent the Muslim Brothers’ of support for legal and social protection for growing parliamentary representation, thereby women, prevent activists from being more effec- exploiting women. tive in calling for their rights. Security and safety Large opposition forces like the Muslim are essential to pursuing such activities. Brotherhood did not do any better by their Advances in communication technology have women. Regardless of the fact that the Muslim offered women new tools with which to call for Brotherhood declared in 2007 that they may never their rights. Many Egyptians find computers and allow Egyptian “women or Coptic Christians” in Internet access fees relatively affordable. Internet decision-making positions, they did not hesitate access has allowed Egyptian women to step out to exploit women to help themselves appear more of their homes without physically moving. In the moderate than other Islamist groups and appeal 28 middle and upper classes, many women are using more to the political scene. In the 2005 parlia- language, religion or creed.”10 In the past decade, mentary elections, they put three women among legal reforms in favor of women have attempted the 133 candidates on their election campaign to reframe this constitutional decree. Activists platform. These women were the wives of promi- have been aided by the state’s renewed interest nent members in the group. They were politically in women’s rights, thanks to the tireless advocacy weak and generally unpopular. One of them was of Egypt’s then First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Makarem Eldiary, who included many items in However, reforms have been superficial and inef- her political agenda that were clearly discrimina- fective because they remain opposed by patriar- tory toward women.7 Her equivalent in the post- chal attitudes and religious extremists and are not revolution parliament is Azza Al-Garf, who has supported by proper enforcement mechanisms. been lobbying against the 2003 legislation that The participation of women in judiciary pro- criminalizes the savage practice of female genital ceedings can be used as a measure of the accep- cutting.8 A few weeks after her statements, the tance of women’s issues and voices in public ’s Freedom and Justice Party matters in Egypt. In 2008, the Supreme Judicial launched a medical convoy that roamed Upper Council gave women the right to hold judgeships Egyptian cities to circumcise girls.9 for the first time, but women judges were only In the 2011 parliamentary elections, women hired in family courts and were denied seats on insisted on being represented, but their parties— criminal and administrative courts. Moreover, rather than empowering them to play this role— in 2010, the Council of State, a judicial body merely exploited them to enhance their own that handles cases involving government, barred images. Even in the most liberal parties, women women from serving on its board. Not only does were mistreated as badly as their peers in Islamist this indicate the preservation of prejudices against parties. Islamist parties put women at the very women’s legal authority, denying highly qualified bottom of their lists, and some of them refused to women from serving as judges in state courts, but mention even the names or ages of their female it also shows a systematic elimination of women’s candidates. Similarly, liberal parties never allowed voices from interpreting and enacting law.11 their women to run at the top of the list, claiming Unfortunately, it is the male judges, tasked that Egypt’s patriarchal society would not tolerate with ensuring equality before the law, who have such a bold challenge to traditional gender hier- voted against women’s right to seek judgeship. archies. I ran for parliament and my own party When women’s rights activists protested this forced me to relinquish my place at the top of the obvious injustice, the Council of State accused list for a much less qualified man, reducing my them of disrespecting the judicial authority and rank to the second professional on the list. The refused to overturn the decision. Extremists have placement of women on party lists was largely supported this discriminatory decision, claiming symbolic, as their low ranking made it virtually that Islam defines women as “lacking intellect impossible for female candidates to secure seats and religion.” The Special Assembly, a govern- that were allocated on a top-down basis. As a ing body of the Council of State, overturned this result, women ended up winning less than two prohibition on female judges on March 22, 2010. percent of the seats in parliament. However, officials claim that there are no vacan- On another level, the constitution does not cies for judge positions and continue to exclude properly guarantee Egyptian women’s rights, women from courts.12 although it is full of articles that seem to be Even after the revolution, women are still pro-women’s rights. Other legislations related to deprived from participating in high profile deci- women’s rights are merely ink on paper and do sion-making committees. While forming the not have any real effect outside the small circle of Constituent Assembly, the “revolution” parlia- the upper middle class. Article 40 of the Egyptian ment—heavily dominated by Salafis and the Constitution states, “All citizens are equal before Muslim Brotherhood—failed to form a com- the law. They have equal public rights and duties mittee that accurately reflected the true social without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, representation of Egypt’s diverse interest groups, 29 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

including women, who were given a paltry six played in the revolution, most Egyptians still seats on the 100-member Assembly. In a recent believe that women are made for the kitchen, not statement, the National Council for Women for the office.13 condemned the underrepresentation of women in the Constituent Assembly in particular and in Conclusion political life overall as “very humiliating.” The Egyptian women’s rights are almost grinding Egyptian Women’s Union, a new group aimed between two large stones. The first is the patri- at defending and uniting Egyptian women, has archal mindset that traps women in stereotypical joined other women’s organizations to demand female roles and stigmatizes any woman who tries that women be given at least 30 percent of the to break out of this mold. The second is the rise assembly seats. However, their proposal has been of political Islamists who perpetuate this patriar- completely ignored—even as the Brotherhood’s chal mentality and are misinterpreting religion Freedom and Justice Party has caved to pressure to justify the social and political marginalization to replace several Islamist members with liberals. of women in the name of Islam.14 However, The severe underrepresentation of women in the Egyptian women are heroically struggling to Constituent Assembly constitutes a threat not push against the two stones and claim the space only to women’s rights but also to all Egyptians, to which they are entitled as an essential force because the marginalization of any interest group behind Egypt’s spring. from the constitutional process will jeopardize the Nevertheless, we should remain optimistic success and integrity of the democratic transition about the unlimited powers of the Egyptian as a whole. woman. Women’s sufferings during democra- Women were also forced out of the first-ever tization are not unique to the Egyptian case uncontested, multi-candidate, presidential elec- and culture. In recent democratic transitions in tions in Egypt’s history. There was only one brave Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and candidate——who heroically ran Africa, women suffered marginalization, and it as Egypt’s first female presidential contender. She took a long time and much effort to win full told me she insists on continuing her fight until equality with men. We have our own story of the very end although she knows very well that Hoda Sha’arawi, the first woman activist to lead her chances for victory are extremely low. “We a protest in 1919 to encourage more women to are breaking the taboo and paving the way for get involved in politics and the first to take off generations of women to come,” she told me. her niqab in 1923 to encourage other women to Unfortunately, she could not collect more than be more involved in social activities. 300 authorizations out of the required 3,000 to Today’s Egypt is full of countless numbers run for office. of Hoda’s granddaughters. They have led the One month after the revolution, we had a 2011 revolution and are currently leading their referendum on the constitutional amendments. A country through democratic transition. It is only massive number of Egyptians motivated by their a matter of time before Egyptians realize that the hunger for democracy participated in the poll. As Arab Spring cannot come about without flowers, a women’s rights activist, I seized the opportunity and, thus, democracy cannot be achieved without to test people’s willingness to include women in women. their vision of democracy. I ran a survey asking if “it is good for Egypt to have a woman presi- dent” outside of poll stations in three areas: Nasr City, Shubra, and Downtown. I surveyed 1,453 people, including 634 women. The answer to my survey question was 100 percent “no.” Ironically, most of the words that followed this “no” were loaded with hatred and discrimination toward 30 women. Despite the impressive role women Endnotes 1 On June 2nd, 2012, the court sentenced Mubarak and his Minister of Interior to death while acquitting them of charges related to corruption. 2 Egypt’s first ever uncontested, multi-candidate presidential elections that took place on May 23-24, 2012 qualified , Mubarak’s Prime Minister and loyal friend, and , a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the runoff. 3 According to the 2008 (latest statistics) by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, women represent 48% of Egypt’s population. 4 Dr. Mohamed Abdullah Al-Habdan; The Vices Caused by Women When They Leave Their Homes; Nour El-Islam Network; Accessed June 2, 2012 ( 5 Report: Relapse or Deterioration in Phase1 of the Parliamentary Election; Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights; November 23rd, 2005. 6 report (December 2010): Elections in Egypt: State of Permanent Emergency Incompatible with Free and Fair Vote: 7 Khaled Abu Baker; Exclusive interview with Muslim Brotherhood woman candidate to parliamentary elections; Islam Online; October 20th, 2005. 8 FGM A Crime in the name of Islam; Moheet Network; accessed June 2nd, 2012 ( 9 Freedom and Justice convoy circumcise girls in Mineya; Youm7 Newspaper; May 13th, 2012 ( This paragraph first appeared on in an article written by Ziada: 10 11 Protest Over Anti-Women Vote (Aljazeera, February 20, 2010). 12 Mohamed Basal; Official Decree: Women are banned from judge positions for practical reasons neither constitutional nor religious; Shorouk Newspaper; March 23rd, 2010. 13 Those three areas represent different social classes and religious backgrounds: Nasr City’s population is mostly upper middle and middle class and most are conservative Muslims. Shubra’s inhabitants are either middle class or poor families and mostly Coptic Christians. Downtown is where people from the countryside stay on weekdays. This paragraph first appeared on in an article written by Ziada: 14

Yemeni Women after the Arab Awakening: Are women marginalized after the Arab Awakening? Fahmia Al-Fotih, Communication analyst and youth focal point analyst, Population Fund

Unlike in other “Arab Spring” countries, women on the front line and shield male protesters during protesting side by side with their male peers in demonstrations. the public sphere is a unique scene in an other- Since the very beginning of the protests, talk- wise conservative society like Yemen. Evidently, ing about women’s rights was largely suppressed the uprising has shaken the country’s stagnant in favor of the general discussion on leadership cultural and social norms and has unveiled new change and reforms. That has been true for all female revolutionary faces and strong voices from other actors who worked in harmony for months all walks of life in Yemeni society. while protesting on the ground and who now Indeed, Yemeni women played an unprece- disagree and fight with each other. All actors usu- dented strong and public role in the 2011 popular ally must compromise to stand and appear unified uprising; they were providing food and medical against the dictator. assistance, calling for and organizing protests, It was apparent that Yemeni political parties and delivering speeches. Women have also taken had mobilized their women supporters into the advantage of the protections that they receive streets merely to increase the number of protest- under cultural and customary law in order to be ers, not to grant women more rights. The tremen- 31 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

dous presence of women in the streets gave more In the second weekend of November 2011, weight to rallies and protests. Women, as always, three women in Taiz were killed in an indiscrimi- have been cards in the hands of politicians and nate attack on protestors in Freedom Square. political parties. The way they were killed was documented by Realizing the growing power of women in all media and aired on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya the street, their impact, and their achievement of channels. international recognition, Yemeni men attempted The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initia- to silence women and intimidate them. Due to tive signed in November 2011 pushed Yemen their activism, Yemeni women have been sub- out of violence and removed former President jected to violence as well as exploitation by both Ali Abdullah Saleh from power. It allowed for an members of the ex-regime and the revolutionary election in February 2012 that brought President guards. Hence, women were subjected to harass- Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi to office to lead the two- ment, attacks, kidnapping, and detention as well year transitional period until elections in 2014. as slander and incitement. Since then, the interim government has been was the first woman to be preparing for the National Dialogue Conference, kidnapped and detained in the beginning of the to be held in November 2012, which will gather uprising, which sparked and marked the begin- all political parties and write a new constitution ning of attacks on women, attacks that have for Yemen. Yemeni women have realized the criti- since continued. In one of the protests, a group cal and historical moment that Yemen has been of women activists were beaten down, and their going through; they have been working to ensure cameras and mobile phones were confiscated. that they are represented in the new Yemen and Media reports revealed the names of these nine that their rights are enshrined in the new consti- women, and it is believed that they were sub- tution. Yet the voices of Yemeni women dispersed jected to violence because they wanted to march in a number of initiatives. and mingle with their peer male protesters. Most For example, Yemeni women were planning of those women were not wearing the traditional to hold a national conference on the occasion Yemeni dress code, which is the black abaya. of International Women’s Day 2012 to gather In another incident in Sana’a, four female Yemeni women from all walks of life to discuss doctors who were accompanied by protesters were their issues, to be included in the National also abducted. Moreover, in one of the protests Dialogue Conference. So the Yemeni Women’s in the city of Taiz, a group of women activists Union (YWU) held a conference and came up were beaten and threatened with rape. One of with a number of demands from women in differ- the women in that protest who was raped had an ent fields including education, health, economics, abortion. and law. In the same vein, the Women’s National A report was produced by Sisters’ Arab Forum Committee (WNC) held a big conference at the for Human Rights (SAF) and the United Nations end of March for the same purpose, with the Population Fund (UNFPA) to monitor and support of international NGOs and donors in record the gender-based violence (GBV) cases Yemen. The second conference also came up with that resulted from the civil unrest in four gover- a list of demands that were more or less similar to norates: Sana’a, , Taiz, and Hodeida. It has those of the previous conference. The two confer- divulged information about a number of GBV ences stressed the importance of the 30 percent cases in those governorates that took place during quota for women’s representation in all levels of the civil unrest. The report highlighted a number government. At the end of the day, the two orga- of rape cases that have not been reported due to nizations’ (YWU and WNC) leaders came to an cultural reasons. There are some rape cases where agreement to unify their efforts in a rare step that the victim and her family have preferred silence, has never been seen in 20 years. The two NGOs fearing social stigma or scandal, so cases have held another, distinct workshop to set up criteria gone unreported. for selecting women to take part in the National 32 Dialogue Conference. However, there have been complaints that last year. Many women have been subjected to not all Yemeni women’s voices have been repre- harassment, threats, slandering, and incitement. sented in all these initiatives toward the National This paper highlights a few examples. Dialogue Conference. For instance, southern Bushra Al-Maktari, a liberal activist and women complain that they are marginalized from youth revolutionary figure, was beaten in Change all these activities, which usually take place in the Square in Taiz by women who belong to Islah, capital, Sana’a. the Islamist party, after she published a piece Therefore, the Community Coalition (CC) of writing questioning the existence of God. for active women’s participation in the National Al-Maktari receives daily death threats—she was Dialogue Conference and transitional period has accused of “apostasy” by religious authorities who been created, consisting of five local NGOs and issued a fatwa that stated that killing Al-Maktari active, influential, and professional personalities “is a ticket for heaven.” (both men and women), facilitated by UNFPA Amal Basha is a liberal activist and head of and UN Women. The CC’s main goal is to SAF. When Basha was selected to be part of the expand dialogue with all groups and classes in Preparatory Committee of the National Dialogue Yemeni society—urban or rural—to grapple with Conference, religious scholars in Yemen issued issues in social development and women’s issues. a fatwa in which they condemned those who It aims to ensure equal and fair representation of chose Basha and other women for this high-pro- women in all phases of the National Dialogue file committee. Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hazmi, Conference and its conversations and debates, as a conservative religious scholar, criticized the well as to ensure women’s equal representation in presidential decree and attacked Basha in person, all the requirements and functions of the transi- saying bluntly, “Is Yemen empty of men to the tional period. extent that we select Basha as a member of the The new interim government appointed two Technical Committee of the National Dialogue? women to the cabinet, in the Ministry of Human Amal does not represent Yemeni women.” Rights and the Ministry of Social Affairs. The Houria Mashhour, Minister of Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights had been set aside for was accused of calling for freedom of sexual- women by the ex-regime and the new Minister for ity, banning polygamy, and cancelling Quranic Social Affairs had been already appointed by the legislation. Such an accusation in a conservative ex-regime in the same position. Nonetheless, the Muslim country is enough to single Mashhour efforts of the new government continue to include out and put her life at risk. The ex-regime-owned women and maintain their representation. When electronic media further incited the Yemeni com- President Hadi formed a Contact Committee, munity against Minister Mashhour because of only one woman, Nadia Al-Saqqaf, was among the Ministry’s efforts in following up with the the seven members. Again in July 2012, when Human Rights Council’s recommendations that the Technical/Preparatory Committee for the condemn granting immunity to those who killed National Dialogue Conference was formed, six protesters in 2011. women out of 30 were selected. However, this Arwa Othman, a writer, photographer, and representation has not met the expectations of activist who participated in the uprising from the Yemeni women who are pushing for a minimum beginning and documented all stages of revolu- 30 percent quota in the new government. tion by her camera, was among the group of Despite these efforts to empower women, liberal women who were beaten by revolutionary Yemeni women have not seen or felt any posi- forces, who confiscated her camera along with tive change or fruits of the Arab Spring. On the her daughter’s. She has been calling for a civic contrary, four out of five women believe that state, continually criticizing Islamists harshly and their “lives have worsened in the previous 12 exposing their exploitation of the Arab Spring. months,” according to a recent survey conducted Islamists attacked her in response and eventu- by Oxfam across Yemen.1 This year, the situa- ally gathered hundreds of reports in an effort to tion of women has not been better than it was 33 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

block her Facebook page; she had to open a new It is too early to say that the Arab Awakening account and yet she still she does not give up. has been or can be a “spring” for Yemeni women, In May 2012, Yemeni women activists went as it has not thus far. With prevailing political into a rage as Hamid Al-Ahmar, a member of the instability and insecurity, as well as the looming Islah Party, defamed them in an interview with power of Islamists whose agenda toward women the New York Times. “There was bad behavior, is unfriendly, the future for Yemeni women is which turned the square into a discotheque! still unclear. There are many persistent challenges Those women wanted to go hand in hand with ahead for women in this country, where a major- their boyfriends as lovers in the demonstrations. ity of women are illiterate and live in rural areas. This is not right and is against our religion.”2 This makes them economically vulnerable, segre- Al-Ahmar denied making that accusation, but the gates them from the public domain, leaves them New York Times has backed it. Yemeni women unaware of their rights, and makes them easy took the case to court to sue Al-Ahmar, but the and submissive prey—even supporters of Islamist court did nothing. agendas and ideologies. Moreover, there have been attempts to under- Yemeni women, whether northern, southern, mine the role of women and deprive them from Houthi, liberal, or conservative, have to stand entering the political arena and being in decision- up firmly as one voice if they really want women making positions. For instance, the Arab Spring to advance. Otherwise, women always will be Party, one of the emerging political parties, is exploited and underrepresented. the first in Yemeni history to be established and The future of is still headed by a woman. However, she has been unknown because the Islamists and conservatives receiving death threats and faces many difficulties who took part in writing the constitution 20 years due to being the head of a party. ago are still threatening that they are the ones The situation in Yemen, a country classi- who will write the future constitution of Yemen. fied as a “fragile state,” is not promising. Amid Increasing the fear of this possibility is the lack of such uncertainty, women’s issues are being lost female legislators in the country. and sidelined by political actors who are busy The uprisings of the Arab Spring may have trying to grab their share of the new cake that been a “blossoming” for some but definitely not is Yemen. The UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Bin for Yemeni women so far. Omar, rightly said, “Political parties in Yemen keep disagreeing on everything, but they agree on marginalizing women.”3

Endnotes 1 Oxfam report (March 2012): Still Waiting for Change: Making the political transition work for women in Yemen: 2 Yemen’s Many Factions Wait Impatiently for a Resolution 3 Awsan Al-Kamaly, Bin Omar: Political Powers in Yemen agreed to marginalize the woman, Althawrah Newspaper, Thursday, 12 July 2012

34 Egyptian Women: Two Years after the January 25 Revolution Yassmine ElSayed Hani, Wilson Center Visiting Journalist and Independent Journalist, Foreign Desk, Al Akhbar daily newspaper

Nearly two years after the Egyptian revolution, the political game without basing such participa- it is difficult to conclude whether or not the tion on a “gender-equality argument.” In other transformative uprisings that took place in Egypt words, the momentum that their participation have improved the status of women. The picture released put some wind in their sails, as they tried in Egypt is not yet complete, and developments afterward to ground their existence on the map are happening too quickly for people to properly as both political and social actors in Egyptian perceive, digest, and react to them. It is useful, society. then, to provide an honest account of these two years and pinpoint constructive opportunities for In Politics: Women against Women women’s rights activists to pursue for a better and The tracks for women’s political participation in just society. Egypt were crafted by women within an acute competitive climate whereby “political polariza- A New Paradigm for Women’s Political tion” was the result. This polarization operates Engagement within a “space of freedom” provided by the It is now almost a cliché that the Arab Spring revolution for all sides and parties, a space which revolutions provided new models for women’s nobody seems willing to give up. Each side has its political engagement. Since day one of Egypt’s own agenda, projects, and vision for Egypt and January 25 Revolution, female protesters were each is using all the tools at its disposal to gain not fighting for women’s rights and gender more supporters: economic (money), cultural equality, but, instead, for freedom, just like their (rhetoric), the media, and so on. male counterparts. In April 2012 in Cairo, I In a climate that brought the so-called “Islamist interviewed Mona Ezzat—a prominent Egyptian parties” to power, politics and culture became feminist affiliated with “The New Woman” orga- two sides of the same coin. Politicians in Egypt nization, in operation since 1986—and she told use a cultural discourse, especially since around me that women’s participation in the protests 80 percent of the population define themselves as was not for demands about gender issues; the conservative. Mona Ezzat also said in the inter- revolutionary protests were free of any class, sect, view that those in power are using the women or groups’ demands. Instead, the protests were a within their ranks to fight against women’s rights. unified call that Egyptians made to rid the coun- The ruling conservative forces do not want to try of despotism. get directly involved in a confrontation with Women’s appetite for politics increased after women activists, so they use their “female wings” the success of the revolution because of the collec- to compete with the women activists within that tive self-confidence they gained. Their sacrifices space of freedom that the revolution provided for were recognized and appreciated by Egyptian everyone. This explains why some women in the society. Moreover, their work and vital role dur- current parliament, affiliated with conservative ing the protests planted the seeds for a good cli- parties, were the ones to suggest unreasonable mate in which women’s issues could operate, but bills to lower the age of marriage for girls to 9, lift women still envision much more. Ezzat asserted the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), and that the intensive participation of women has abolish the sexual harassment law. encouraged them—particularly the youth among Recently, when Omaima Kamel, one of the them—to approach politics and to take part in two female advisors to President Mohamed 35 MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES winter 2012

Morsi, mentioned the virtues of FGM, diverse the security challenges that come with oper- segments of Egyptian society harshly criticized ating outside the capital in other big cities. her. Those who favor this practice are in fact Nevertheless, in recent years, those activists revisiting traditions that Islamic scholars assert sometimes succeeded in their outreach in have nothing to do with Islam. The Egyptian rural areas. Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa even stated that this cus- • Negative linkages: Although Egypt has tom has been scientifically proven to be harmful long-established, distinguished women’s to girls and women. organizations, they were publicly portrayed Ezzat addressed the ongoing fight of women as linked to the elite. Members were criti- activists to preserve the legislative and political cized for seeking women’s rights in a coun- gains that they achieved prior to the revolution— try where the poverty rate is gradually both in terms of legislation that influenced gov- mounting to include half the population. ernment policies and raised awareness for their This is due, in part, to the interest the for- causes. Among the laws they contributed to were mer First Lady Suzanne Mubarak expressed al-khola, which allowed women the right to self- in women’s issues, thereby creating a nega- divorce, and a citizenship law allowing Egyptian tive association between the former regime women to pass their nationality on to their chil- and women’s issues. dren when the father is not Egyptian. Ezzat also cited the efforts led by her organization to form a • Culture: There is a general inclination union with 23 other organizations for the cause of among Egyptian society not to appreciate fighting sexual violence against women. women’s issues and efforts for women’s Women risk the reversal of these past gains, rights, as they are perceived as extraneous according to Ezzat, if the new constitution does compared to the country’s other issues. In not justly address women’s rights. It is shocking addition, violations of women’s rights take that only seven out of 100 members selected for place in the name of long-inherited “tradi- the Constituent Assembly were women. Only tions.” This is common in developing soci- two women were appointed out of 35 ministers eties, in which the traditions get to be more in Morsi’s first cabinet. powerful than the laws. For some, all of the above complicate the • A confidence problem: There is a general prospects for women’s rights in Egypt. Yet for lack of confidence among women. While others who believe in the slogan “the revolution they can proceed with their activism for continues,” there is still hope. women’s rights, they choose not to vote for other women when given the oppor- Women Activists: Challenges and tunity. This is a deep-rooted problem in Opportunities Egyptian culture that implies women are not qualified to participate in politics. Only These developments bring into question the nine out of hundreds of female candidates current role of women’s organizations and gen- won in the post-revolution parliamentary der issues in Egypt. Women activists face many elections—constituting around two percent challenges and must make use of each and every of the legislative body. Combatting an chance to promote women’s rights and issues. illiteracy rate of nearly 50 percent among This includes working in parallel tracks—legisla- women is a prime way to improve their tive, cultural, and political—to ensure that the self- confidence. future is not going to be against Egyptian women. It is unrealistic to say that Egyptian women Challenges that might be ahead are the “ultimate losers” of the January 25 Revolution. There are many optimistic indicators • Self-challenges: Among the inherent chal- to the contrary. lenges, Ezzat explained, was that women’s 36 organizations always had certain institu- tional and financial constraints, as well as Potential opportunities Conclusion • “Spaces of freedom”: As noted earlier, the The ongoing struggle in Egypt is not merely revolution provided spaces of freedom that between women’s rights activists and those who allowed women activists to operate freely, want to deprive them of previous gains. Rather, it despite all the challenges they were facing. is going to be between those who struggle for real Perhaps the initial negative developments democracy, which appreciates all the components will favor women’s activists in the long of society, and those who wish to play politics term. As the danger facing women’s rights with old, exclusion-based rules. increased, female activists and organiza- The space of freedom provided by the revo- tions, as well as prominent supporters, were lution enabled women to act freely—though it forced to come together and act collectively, made them vulnerable to criticism, if not attacks, abandoning a previous era of fragmented as well—because this freedom was given to efforts. all parties: moderates and extremists, the right • The “win-win game” of competitive poli- and the left, conservatives and liberals, and so tics: The political polarization that is cur- on. During this transitional phase, the rules of rently taking place creates an acute form of engagement in Egyptian society are still being competitive politics that makes it hard to crafted, and it is the most critical time for shaping have a “loser” in the game. Women’s issues Egypt’s future. will still be raised in the political debate The domination of certain political ideolo- from time to time. In fact, the struggle for gies does not determine the “final word” when it women’s rights is part of the struggle for comes to the status of women in Egypt. Rather, democracy, which is not only tangible—as it is a natural part of the competitive political seen by ballots, votes, and elections—but is climate that is rapidly changing. The reasons for also about the existence of a healthy, com- optimism outweigh those for pessimism—at least petitive climate. for youth if not for politicians. This optimism is increasingly becoming the air many are breathing, • Increasing appetite for public exposure: myself included. It is certain, however, that the Though a climate of uncertainty shad- position of women is embedded in the position ows every ongoing development, women’s of the whole society, whether oppressed or free, intense participation during the revolution developed or underdeveloped, democratic or suf- planted the seeds of their public expo- fering under a dictatorship. It is still too early to sure. Seeing how society recognized and judge any of this. appreciated their sacrifices alerted them to their potential capacities for change. It also boosted their desire for entering the game of politics, and, though not fruitful so far, it still inspires hope. Many women activists turned into social figures, real opinion- makers. Their activism encouraged others to join the same path. Some prominent activists include (a figure among youth), Esraa Abd ElFattah (an activist and blogger who co-founded a popular youth movement), Rasha Azab (a journalist who exposed military torture cases), and many others. This growing activism, particularly among women, is very important for women’s organizations to harness for their future efforts. 37 ONE WOODROW WILSON PLAZA, 1300 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, NW, WASHINGTON, DC 20004-3027



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