LONDON (TrustLaw) – Have the Arab Spring uprisings created a window of opportunity or been a disaster for women’s rights?
Women’s rights activists who took part in the uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain compared the changes they’ve seen and their hopes and fears for the future, in a lively debate at the Trust Women conference in London.
Here are some quotes from the debate:
EGYPT – DINA WAHBA, women’s rights activist:
The situation in Egypt is really alarming. What we have now is a president (who) issued a constitutional declaration giving himself all the powers … we have a referendum on Dec. 15 on a (draft) constitution that doesn’t meet the least bit of expectation of the revolutionaries – women and men. It endangers women’s rights, child rights, minority rights, social justice.
Bride slavery is very big in Egypt – we don’t have that in the constitution. We don’t have something that protects people from human trafficking, which is a very big problem in Egypt.
I’m not very optimistic but … we will keep fighting.
Why is everyone so surprised that we (women) were on the streets? I mean, there would be a revolution and I would be where? At home?
LIBYA – ALAA MURABIT, activist and founder of The Voice of Libyan Women:
I am a very optimistic person, particularly about Libya … I have never before the revolution seen a girl tell me she wanted to be the prime minister or the president.
Women are taking an initiative which was not happening before … women are now getting involved.
If we can place (women) in positions where they have (political and economic) power … then we have an opportunity to change the way they behave within their own families, within their own communities.
It will be a change that will take generations, a change in the way people think. And once we can get there, we can start saying whether or not (the revolution’s) been a success. But that will take 20 or 30 years.
The reasons that people don’t want … women’s empowerment are not necessarily religious, they’re very much about when you’re sitting on the seat of power you want to keep it.
I think for change to be rooted in Libyan society, for it to stay, there has to be an element of Islam, because ... we’re a very proud Islamic country and sharia law will play a large part in our upcoming constitution, and I for one am very proud of that because I think when sharia law is interpreted properly then it can only mean success.
YEMEN – ATIAF ALWAZIR, activist and blogger:
We’ve had revolutions in the past… we’ve had women participate in one way or another … What makes this revolution different is the number of women (who) went to the street, but also their background … women from villages, outside the political elite.
(During the demonstrations) we had daily seminars on the constitution, women’s rights, … literacy classes… child marriage issues … and that in itself, that awareness-raising ... is key for any change in mentality.
But another key thing that women gave is the breakdown of psychological barriers … fear from the military dictatorship, fear from shame of doing something that’s culturally taboo … We had a lot of single women, a lot of married women too … camped (in tents during the demonstrations) … And that’s something that’s traditionally taboo.
I think women (who) have gone beyond the usual sphere will not go back.
BAHRAIN – ALA’A SHEHABI, lecturer, writer and activist:
Good-willed NGOs, the U.N. and so on, would encourage dictatorial regimes to introduce women’s rights that were top down but they were led by … state representatives who were not popularly elected and therefore they never gave political legitimacy and were in fact destructive to women’s movements.
Bahrain has the most sustained popular uprising in the whole Arab world. Protesting has become part of our daily life. Women have been a constant in that.
Nothing is going to be as bad as a … tyrannical regime that’s existed for the last … 200 years. You can’t imagine it being any worse, even with possible dangers of legal issues … that might be adverse to women’s rights.