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Rana F. Sweis

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Women After the Arab Spring

Posted: 03/16/2012 7:30 pm

The Arab Spring continues to blow winds of change in the Middle East. There is no doubt the direction these countries are heading in will affect Arab societies and personal rights. But recently, the focus has been on women in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Women have been visible on the streets in countries like Jordan, where the government scrapped an article in the Public Assembly Law requiring consent to hold rallies. Women have taken to the streets to call for more personal rights -- like the rights of Jordanian women to pass on their citizenship to their non-Jordanian spouses and children.

Women were also involved in protests in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. But their efforts and momentum, like the liberal protestors who spent days in Tahrir Square bringing down a regime, have yet to be transferred into leadership roles that are directing the future of countries. Although an internal barrier of fear was partly lifted during the revolutions, political roles have not kept pace. Female representation in parliaments after the Arab Spring has been either absent or obsolete. In Kuwait, the latest Parliamentary elections resulted in a male-dominated chamber. In Egypt, women only make up 2 percent of the newly formed parliament.

An appointed National Dialogue Committee to overhaul the electoral system in Jordan included only a few women and many assailed a broken promise by the committee to include the word "gender" in Article 6, concerning equality of all Jordanians.

Many women I interviewed across the region spoke to me with some excitement about people finally having a voice. But many women continue to say they fear their individual rights will slowly vanish and economic disintegration will increase crime and chaos.

Last month at The Doha Debates, an initiative by the Qatar Foundation and moderated by Tim Sebastian, the topic revolved around women after the revolutions. Iman Bibars, an Egyptian, working with nonprofit organizations, argued with the motion that women are worse off after the revolutions: "There have been millions of households in low-income urban areas [in Egypt]. They're being harassed. This is where I work. I work with 100,000 of these women, and they're being asked to stay at home..."

Although the overwhelming majority of the audience voted against the motion, there was perhaps a misunderstanding among audience members that the lives of women were 'good' in the Mideast before the revolutions. The truth is dictatorship can't be good- - neither for women or men. Lack of press freedom and debate, education based on rote learning and memorization and the lack of citizenship cannot build nations.

As Arabs attempt to find their voice and in some cases their political identity, social conservatism seems to be on the rise. Mothers, daughters, and sisters in more rural areas are being punished for the way they dress and for their livelihoods. But in countries with authoritarian leaders -- Libya, Tunisia, Egypt -- who ruled and punished their people for decades, unlocking patriarchy and oppression may take years of debate and social democracy -- not only political democracy.

The question remains if women -- who make up half of society -- will transfer their voices from the streets to political positions and concrete actions or be left behind? The answer is blowing in the wind.

 

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