The Uprising of Arab Women

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While browsing Facebook lately, you might have come across a picture that one of your friends has shared of a man or a woman carrying a sign saying, “I support the uprising of women in the Arab world because…” I bet that the first time you saw one of those pictures, you didn’t make much of it, but when you kept seeing those types of pictures coming from different Arab countries stating various reasons why he or she supports the uprising of women in the Arab world it caught your interest. This is exactly what the creators of the now famous, with over 65,000 likes, Facebook page The Uprising of Women in the Arab World intended. Creators of the page, made-up of a team of four young Arab women: Yalda Younes and Diala Haidar from Lebanon, Farah Barqawi from Palestine and Sally Zohney from Egypt.

“The page was an urgent call for action due to the social and political developments in the region because we didn’t want the Arab Spring to be aborted. From Tunis to Egypt to Libya to Syria to Yemen to Bahrain, the Arab revolts were led in the name of dignity, justice and freedom, but it seemed that women’s rights were never a priority on the list, not more than it was during the old tyrannical regimes” The four women say. Although women had led the revolutions side by side with men, their role was marginalized after ousting the dictators. “The page aims at revealing all the discrimination and oppression women are subject to, and to highlight the greatly courageous work and leading role of the females figures of the revolutions such as Samira Ibrahim, Tawakol Karman, Fadwa Sleiman, Zeinab El Khawaja, Manal Al Sharif, and many others, to create an inter-solidarity network that would empower women in the region, and to take our destiny in our hands and conquer our rights” they add.

In an attempt to tackle a widespread ignorance of the violation of women’s basic human rights, the team decided to highlight the various kinds of discrimination against women in the Arab world that are carried under the name of religion or tradition, or endorsed by the law through this campaign of signs stating why a person supports the uprising of women. The campaign was launched on the first anniversary of the page, 1 October 2012 and went viral only within few days. People were asked to send the page, via email or Facebook, a picture of themselves mentioning the reason why they need this uprising of women.

Since the birth of the Facebook page, October 2011, the team pointed out to the many levels in which the page contributed, “It honours female figures of the Arab world that have contributed to the progress of our societies, whether in politics, art, science, or sport; they serve as a role model for inspiration for the rest of us” the team says. The page also serves as an awareness platform on laws and practices against women in various Arab countries, such as the law that acquits a rapist if he marries his victim, which exists in Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, and Syria. “On a practical level it is a safe haven were people across the globe can conversant and debate about issues “that confronts people, who physically wouldn’t have met, or wouldn’t have been able to converse because it would put one of them in physical danger” they add. Last but not least, the team is dedicated to spread information that empowers women in the Arab world, strengthens self-confidence, creates hope and encourages all initiatives leading towards more rights and more freedom to women.

Even though holding a sign with words in support of women uprising seem too simple of a way to impact a deeply rooted problem such as women oppression in Arab societies; however, the team has experienced an exponential growth of supporters with such a campaign that is now spreading awareness through women and men participating themselves by talking about their issues and concerns regarding the status of women in the Arab world using a simple banner and a simple photo.Within only two weeks of the campaign, the page gained 20,000 additional supporters, and the numbers of pictures shared were countless across the region” the team tells us.

Furthermore, the team believes that the virtual campaign has transcended cyberspace and landed on various levels offline, from children’s workshop in Palestine discussing the uprising of women to several bloggers adopting the cause and speaking publically out about it. “This campaign is not only about awareness and sharing experiences, but also about building a network of activists, writers and artists, who deeply believe in this uprising of women, and want to cooperate together in future online and offline activities” they highlight.

Negative feedback

Although the campaign and the page have been largely positive and highly interactive; however, not all criticism was necessarily good especially when it came to controversial subjects like Aliaa Elmahdy’s blog post from Egypt, who posed nude on her blog advocating women’s rights. The team’s reaction to the negative feedback and verbal insults has always been definite in defending freedom of speech, but also very firm with direct insults, sexual assaults, and other kinds of offences. “We’re not surprised by these comments, because if we weren’t aware of what we had to be confronted with, we wouldn’t have started up this page in the first place” they explain. The team also publish disclaimers to accompany some contentious posts. For example, with Aliaa Elmahdy’s blog post, the disclaimer read, “NOTE: All insulting commentators will be banned from the page.” A recent post advised followers of page to “Please remain respectful and be committed to respectful dialogue, without resorting to personal insult, expiation, or challenging the principles of national identity, Arab identity, and/or faith of discussants/members. This page is a ‘Secular Space’ and does not infringe on any religion or belief for any of the members. All members have the right and freedom to their beliefs as long as they are committed to the limits and do not try to impose his/her views on the others.” The team however, believes that keeping negative comments and not deleting them serve a purpose, “to remind everyone what kind of mentalities we are facing and that we have a long way to go, and also to debate and respond to those who are used to bashing women without anyone ever contradicting them.

Women in power, or lack there of?

Challenges to women’s liberation in the Arab world are many.  In Egypt there are serious worries that the previous gains made by Egyptian women over the past decades of struggle might be eradicated by SCAF and the Salafists, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. Women are systematically being pushed back. No women were included on the committee that drafted Egypt’s transitional constitutional declaration and the 64-parliamentary seats assigned to women as per the elections quota were taken away from women. SCAF had also detained many women protestors, sexually harassing them and subjecting them to humiliating “virginity tests”. All this was meant to scare women back into their houses behind their closed doors. There has been a backlash against women by Islamist and non-Islamist parties, by those in power and the civil society, by the pro-religious and the pro-seculars. This proves again, that deposing a dictator is much easier than disposing patriarchy. Women still have a long way to go.

What will it take for women to be free?

Overcoming the challenges women are facing will not be possible if women do not insist and struggle for effective equal participation in civil society, and political sphere & processes regardless of all the hurdles. Women have to remember that this is a daily struggle that they have to lead wherever they are present: Inside their homes with their families, in their schools and universities, in the workplace, in parliament, and when they take to the streets when needed. Once we overcome the fear barrier, nothing can stop us. We need more than one Samira Ibrahim! We believe that they are plenty and it’s their time more than ever to stand out. We just need to be armed with solidarity, hope, persistence and a deep confidence in our just cause.

What do women want?

“Like every other person in the world, we need to be free, independent and fearless.
More specifically, we demand: Absolute freedom of thought, of expression, of belief or disbelief, of movement, of body, of clothing, of lodging, of decision making, of marriage or non-marriage; The right to autonomy, to education, to work, to divorce, to inheritance, to vote, to eligibility, to administrate, to ownership and to full citizenship; Familial, social, political and economical absolute equality with men; The abolishment of all laws, practices and fatwas violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as excision, stoning, lashing, the laws acquitting rapists or tolerating crimes of “honour”; Protection against domestic violence, sexual harassment and all forms of physical and psychological abuse and discrimination facing women today in the Arab world and beyond. We want the Arab Spring to continue until it does to women what spring does to cherry trees” they wrap up.

Facebook Censors The Uprising of Women

On the morning of November 7, 2012, the 5 admins of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World log into Facebook, to find out that one’s account has been blocked for 30 days, another for 3 days, 2 others for 24 hours, and 1 other received a warning notification.According to Facebook, those persons had violated its policy by sharing a post asking for supporting Dana Bakdounis, whose picture was censored on October 25. This incident provoked an outrage among the defenders of freedom of speech who started sharing Dana’s picture all over Facebook and Twitter in an online protest held on November 8. The following day Facebook gave into the pressure and finally restored Dana’s picture, but still awaiting the ban to be lifted on one of the admins. The walls of silence are being broken. “The revolution continues” says the five freedom fighters. 

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