It was widely expected that following the people’s uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the position of women in these countries would be greatly enhanced. Such expectation was derived from the heroic roles played by women in the insurrections that brought about the defeat and downfall of the previous dictatorial regimes. During the struggle the women were not only subjected to the vagaries of war, they were systematically targeted, abused and raped by the security forces in order to humiliate them. However, in spite of the brutal and overwhelming forces deployed against them, the women and men struggled on relentlessly until “victories” were secured.
In the case of the women, the taste of victory was short-lived. The men, with whom the women fought, shoulder to shoulder, appropriated and shared the spoils among themselves, leaving the women in a much worse situation than before. They have little or no role in the post-revolution political systems and other rights are gradually being eroded. Women are now expected to observe the formal Muslim dress code for which non-compliance will result in severe punishment. Violence against women is increasing, along with the forced marriages of young girls and rape. The following are extracts from articles written about post-revolution Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Egypt – according to the Middle East Voices, in the aftermath of the Morsi rule the struggle for equality between men and women require new ideas. He highlighted a quote from Gihan Abouzeid, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) consultant and managing editor of Ikhwan Papers magazine; “We are actually facing two types of challenges. The first is at the policy level because of the conservative religious government and how they understand Islam, and the second is on the cultural level.” He also mentioned the following quote from Tallawy; “in Egypt the political hurdles are intensified by a strong wave of anti-female sentiment where women’s actions are policed at all times, coupled with a decreased emphasis on education in favour of marriage and homemaking”.
Tunisia – a report from Octavia Nasr; The news stories indicate a deterioration of the Tunisian woman’s status, her role and her political, as well as social, involvement. Violence against women is augmenting; from the rape of a three-year-old in her own backyard to the rape of a pregnant woman in front of her husband, stories that break the heart and depress anyone who cares about the future of this nation that always valued women and gave them equal rights with their male counterparts even under a dictatorship that lasted decades. The public outcry against these crimes is louder than thunder in the face of a deafening silence from the current government that does not condemn or offer any solutions or timetable to redress the desperate situation.
Libya – According to the Associated Press – “On her way back from her job as a lecturer at a university near Tripoli, Libyan poet Aicha Almagrabi was stopped by a group of bearded militiamen. They kicked her car, beat up her driver and threatened to do the same to her. Her offence: being alone in a car with men without a male relative as a guardian” “You have violated the law of God,” the militiamen told her. The incident, which ended with the militiamen allowing Almagrabi to drive home, underlined the bitter irony for women in post-revolution Libya. Women played a major role in the 8-month civil war against the dictator Moammar Gadhafi, massing for protests against his regime, selling jewellery to fund rebels, smuggling weapons across enemy lines to rebels. Women fear worse may yet to come. The country is soon to begin work drafting a new constitution, which activists fear will enshrine the relegation of women to second-class status, given the influence of hardline Islamists.
The following is an extract of a report from Mounira Chaieb, a Tunisian journalist that gives added insight into the position of women post-Arab Spring;
At a recent International Forum in Morocco, on the rights of women post-Arab Spring, a speaker is reported to have said: “we wonder whether women have become the losers of the 2011 Arab revolts”. The views of the delegates from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, the United States and Canada is that instead of creating opportunities for women, the revolutions brought about an increase of religiously dominated parties to power, with more restrictions on women. For example, in Tunisia, the law does not recognise marital rape or emotional abuse and if a woman is raped by a stranger, proceedings against the man can be dropped, if he agrees to marry the woman who has been raped.
New issues facing women in countries of the Arab uprisings includes; lifting the ban on polygamy, legalising the marriage of under-age girls, introducing female circumcision in countries where the practice is totally foreign, and the exclusion of women from the labour market.
In Egypt, women won only 8 seats out of 498 in the elected Parliament, which is less than 2%, compared to 12% prior to the revolution. There was disappointment over the new constitution and the place of women in it. It was pointed out that the new constitution was rushed amid political and ideological polarisation and therefore was full of ‘loose’ terms that are subject to interpretation in relation to women and their rights as citizens.
In Morocco, while there were eight women in the previous cabinet, today there is only one in the Islamist-led government. Earlier this year, the Islamist-dominated parliament adopted a decree lowering the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16, considered by most a major setback. Moroccan feminists have protested vigorously but to no avail.
In Tunisia, the election in 2011 brought 49 women into the 217-seat Constituent Assembly. Forty-two of these women are members of the Islamist Ennahdha party.
Turkey remains a patriarchal society and women are encouraged to be educated just for the “well-being of the generations they raise.” She mentioned that in Turkey, as in Tunisia and Morocco, ruling Islamist parties agree on the concept of ‘complementarily’ instead of equality between men and women.
The effects of the Arab uprising on women were the starkest in Syria, where a brutal civil war has left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced, according to UN figures. Rights groups say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have targeted women with rape and torture, while hardline Islamists have stripped them of rights in the rebel-held territory. “The Syrian woman is a weapon of war, subjected to abductions and rape by the regime and other groups,” a Syrian women’s rights campaigner told Reuters.
In Libya, ranked 14th for women’s rights, experts voiced concern over the spread of armed militias and a rise in kidnapping, extortion, random arrests and physical abuse of women. They said the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi had failed to enshrine women’s rights in law.
In another article on Arab Uprising & Women’s Rights: Lessons from Iran, Haideh Moghissi wrote; For a variety of reasons, the establishment of full-fledged Islamist states, à la Iran, may not be in order. But the very experience of Iran warns us of the serious challenges ahead for democratic forces. The devastating example of the reversal of revolutionary aspirations and demands in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, following the establishment of an archaic, rights-negating, misogynist theocracy, bore enormous costs for women, who had supported the revolution in the millions and in different forms.
For women, in particular, a revolution whose mobilising demands were freedom, democracy and social justice turned into a huge prison under the self-appointed guardians of Shari’a. In fact the repeated defeats of progressive social and political movements in Iran throughout the 20th century have been profound for Iranian women: the most basic demands of activists of women’s “right to have rights,” to use Hannah Arendt’s profound concept, are still those first articulated in the early 1900s that have remained unfulfilled ever since.
On this 2014 International Women’s Day, the Kurdish & Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation implores women’s organisations from around the world to join forces in petitioning their respective governments to make the equal rights of women a political priority and to make available the resources to bring these about.
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation