Anum's Blog Rotating Header Image

Gendering Protests and Revolutions

June 24th, 2013 No comments

Countries are usually referred as feminine nouns; for example, Egypt is known as umm al-dunya or “Mother of the World,” making women the bearers of national honor.  Countries are discussed as if the country’s honor, like a woman shall always be protected and defended—by men.  The concept that defense of a country is symbolically related to the defense of a woman, because it is women who are weak, vulnerable and in need of saving, by men.  The discussion of women as the bearers of nations has been well articulated by scholars such as Rubina Saigol, Nira Yuval-Davis and Deniz Kandiyoti.   In Gender and Nation, Yuval-Davis (1997) states how “the pressures on women to have or not to have children relate to them not as individuals, workers and/or wives, but as members of specific national collectivities.”  Women are unable to participate and be viewed as full citizens of nations because they are still regarded as the bearers of citizen-making and framed in the context of family units.  Still in Egypt, there are entrenched gender hierarchies and policies that prevent women from fully participating in all levels of government and society because of gender.  For example, women are restricting from joining armies or the police force as combatants.  Even in the US, as early as 2016 women may be allowed to enter “front line” combat roles in the US military.  Women in Egypt are not allowed to be judges in criminal cases because since they menstruate, they are sensitive and emotional, even though, just as women, men also can become emotional (become angry and lose control over their temper), which can affect professional work life and decision-making.  However, like men, who are supposedly able to control their emotions for the sake of work environments, so can women.  They are powerful individuals with the ability to make important decisions without getting emotionally involved (i.e. Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Angela Merkel).  Society creates excuses, which prevent women from participating in government or the public space.

Using the example of the Western media-given name, “woman in the blue bra” who was dragged through the streets of Cairo during the protests in November 2011, illustrates prevalent sexist and misogynist attitudes toward female protestors.  She was stomped on and her ‘abaya was taken off, exposing her blue bra, which was a national calamity and hit international headlines.  The revolutionaries referred to the incident stating, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces “raped the honor of the country;” Egypt was shamed and people were rallied to return to the streets to protect the integrity of the woman, who was a symbol of Egypt.  Revolutionaries named this woman, “sit al banat,” or leader of women, whereas the Western media saw the woman as a victim, naming her with what was exposed.  The media replaced the “uncovered” woman with the nation’s flag to “return her honor.”  This woman was being linked to the country’s honor and used as a muse for all Egyptians to support the revolution.  Since she was wearing an ‘abaya, she received everyone’s attention because the ‘abaya is associated with piety and modesty and for this woman to be shamefully exposed and brutally beaten was extremely unacceptable in Arab society.  Though, the supposed symbolic modesty that women are expected to physically display (which is not required of men) is associated with the modesty and piety a nation wants to associate with itself and a means for a nation to achieve patriarchal control over women.

woman-original

In discussing this incident with the bawwab, or doorman and a taxi driver after it occurred, their responses represented the deep-rooted misogyny and patriarchy that is prevalent in Egypt and across the world.  They commented by asking what was she doing in Midan Tahrir, or excused her participation in the Square by saying that maybe because her husband could not go, she went on his behalf and only then, did it become acceptable.  A middle class female worker in Khan el-Khalili responded by asking why she was not wearing anything under her ‘abaya.  Why is her morality being questioned?  Does it become acceptable to physically, mentally and socially rape women who are not covered?  Why do women need a reason to participate in politics or protests?  Why do women need to have their “honor saved” when men always have it?  If she was not wearing an ‘abaya, would people protest on the streets in the same manner, and instead of fighting for her, fight alongside all the women who risk their lives just as men do—perhaps even more?

The attitudes toward female protesters relates to how a nation tries to create a public image—one of honor that is intertwined with a woman’s body, sexuality and morality.  A nation assumes it can create a moral public image if its female citizens publicly dress conservatively, which causes the implications of both men and women questioning women’s participate in government and politics—especially if she is without hijab.

The use of sexual violence against women to keep them from participating in protests or national causes and revolutions is not uncommon in history—Jamila Boupacha from Algeria who was raped by the French during the anti-colonial struggle as well as rapes that have occurred in Tunisia, Kashmir and during India’s partition were instances of keeping women from being able to claim future political rights—opponents organize rapes against women to either keep them from protesting or to destroy the honor of a country or target the morale of society since women are the representatives of such honor.  If women do participate in the public space, their involvement is questioned and criticized (What was she doing there? Whom was she with? What was she wearing?)—and if a “proper woman” such as one who is veiled is present in the public space, is given or asked for a justification (that a man is never asked or given)—such as her husband could not be there and she went on his behalf.  Until women are allowed to “loiter in the public space,” without a reason for being there, or can “walk the streets without being compelled to demonstrate purpose or respectability,” that is when women will have their rights as equal citizens (Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan).

See video of woman being violently beaten by SCAF in Cairo

Post to Twitter

How Protesting Methods Have Roots in Ancient Times

July 23rd, 2012 No comments

With the tutelage of both the masses and media, the Occupy Movements have gained popularity, yet is not a novel method of protest.  Conventional ideas with a twist create ideas like flash mobbing and induce captive audiences on YouTube, but it is worthwhile to take a look at how some of these ideas existed decades ago.  We have seen the Arab Spring inspire movements and protests around the world, and while masses drive the protests, the means of getting there is just as important.  By way of innovative protest methods can garner activists and international allies to the cause.

Occupy Movements

While Occupy Wall Street sparked a series of Occupy Movements around the world, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) in Brazil is certainly a muse.  Naming their organization was essential to mobilizing the masses and making a powerful statement; they named their movement the “Landless Rural Workers” in lieu of “Landless People” to differentiate between members who occupy land to work on it, versus those who occupy to live on it.  In the 1950’s, the MST organized thousands of peasants to take over sugar mills and eventually land.  They made sure that the government would take them seriously by creating their own survey regarding the occupied land—to show the government that the people on the land could resolve the problems associated with their land.  Organization has served the MST well—just take a look at their nifty website.

Over time, this political group turned to a social group—offering social services, including literacy campaigns for peasants.  While they organized themselves into guerilla groups, the more radical elements vanquished when the 1964 military coup took place and the dictatorship repressed all movements.  However, they continue to remain a major force against neoliberalism, creating their own associations, awareness campaigns and strategies for cooperation between members.

Through practicing cooperation, educating peasants with vital skills and utilizing methods of protest such as marches, hunger strikes, occupation of public buildings and latifundium as well as camps in public spaces, MST has successfully pressured the government to respond to their demands.  (In 1985, MST was pro-active and created its own Congress, inviting the President and Minister for Agrarian Reform to participate, which led to the MST occupying 18 fazendas in one week.)  Since the movement’s inception, within 17 years, MST has been able to settle 350,000 peasants and another 100,000 in camps in Brazil, yet more work still needs to be done.

Artistic Expressions

Street art, poetry readings and flash mobs have caused people to physically stop, look—and think and invite the everyday audience to messages not seen or heard otherwise.  Social messages vis-à-vis street art are drawn out in subtle means, yet hold powerful connotations.  These creative art forms can directly change public opinions in a non-confrontational way—you can choose to walk away and not watch these random strangers dancing for a cause or not look at the walls painted with art.  Modern day graffiti, or street art has existed for decades—beginning in New York City, especially subways in the 1960’s to making political statements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen during the Arab Spring.  (Check out Themba Lewis’s photos of street art from Cairo since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25, 2011.)

While thought to be a modern creation, Alli Schell, pursuing an M.A. in Museum Studies at George Washington University says street art has roots in ancient times.  Street art was used to “express much of the same sympathies” we have today “such as politics and sex.”  In ancient Greece, writings discussed “topics of religion, politics, and romance.”  Ursala Neuwirth, alum from Dickinson College tells Elan Magazine that ancient art existed since the time of Paleolithic cave paintings, found in modern day Europe.  “These paintings of animals, negative hand prints, and symbols are no different than what famous and amateur street artists are doing today.”  Ursala describes how negative handprints in caves from 22,000 BCE are examples of the earliest form of stenciling, in which the artists brushed ink or dye around their hands pressed against the wall to create signatures, or “tagging.”  Now with advanced languages and societies, our forms of expressions have also progressed.

Using street art for self-expression and creating a catalyst for unconventional discussions is not all that new.  Diego Rivera, born on December 8, 1866 in Mexico often provoked controversy with his murals on religion (he was an atheist) and politics; they were usually ordered demolished or painted over.  Ursala says, “Rivera, just like our cavemen, sought to express a part of himself on a public space.”  Since centuries, street art in the public space has invited community members to participate in societal issues.

Hunger Strikes

Hunger strikes have a history in ancient Ireland, when one “who lacked power protested against the more powerful by fasting in order to call attention to an injustice or to claim a debt owed.” It became part of the legal system in which “If a man felt wronged by you and starved himself to death on your doorstep, you had to bear the burden of his debts.”  This form of protest became popular in India when Mahatma Gandhi became notorious for using such means as a political tool.

Hunger strikes have made a comeback—especially with Palestinian prisoners who made international headlines.  Mahmoud Sarsak—a player for the Palestinian football team was sentenced to prison in Israel for three years on claims of being a member of the terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad.  Sarsak ended his three-month long hunger strike Monday, June 18th in exchange for being released.  The Palestinian prisoner hunger strikes began with two men who started fasting on February 28th refusing food for 77 days.  From April 17th to May 14th, 2012, more than 2000 prisoners joined the mass hunger strike—claimed to be “one of the longest and largest hunger strikes” in history.  The Israeli government agreed to meet prisoner’s demands, which included ending solitary confinement for all prisoners and allowing 400 prisoners rights to receive visits from family and improving prison conditions.  This goes to show that non-violent forms of protest can mobilize large numbers of people to the cause to create positive change and more importantly, change the status quo.

While some of today’s protesting methods sound unique, they borrow from older models.  Mass movements can be successful when tactics are cultivated to suit a changing society—especially since people have a lot more to protest about.

Originally published for Elan Magazine
 http://elanthemag.com/how-protesting-met…

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

#EndSH (End Sexual Harassment) – What Men Say to Men Who Harass Women on the Streets (Video)

June 13th, 2012 No comments

Let’s forget about the statistics

Although, if you need them, they’re available

…because even one woman harassed is too high.

Where is the respect?

Where is the decency?

Where is our unity to fight against sexual harassment?

Enough with the victim-blaming

Enough with the victim-shaming

Where is that day when women used to live freely—

walking on the streets, alone or with friends

at any time of day or night

wearing what she pleased—without being harassed or attacked?

It is only recently that humanity turned their cheek the other way

Where only some who are brave enough,

speak out and fight against this subjugation of women.

It takes both men and women to stand together against harassment of women.

 

It starts with people like the men in the video, but it does not end there.

What Men Say to Men Who Harass Women on the Streets

كلام بيقولوا رجالة للي بيعاكسوا البنات في الشارع

 

Post to Twitter

Human Chain Protest against Sexual Harassment

May 16th, 2012 No comments

Activist holding up sign at anti-sexual harassment protest in Cairo. It reads, "Don't get yourself insulted because you harass a girl."

I volunteered with an independently organized initiative by Egyptians—holding up signs with statements against sexual harassment. There were roughly thirty volunteers, both women, (some in hijabs) alongside men standing on a street in Doqqi (Gameat al-Dowal), Cairo, forming a human chain. This street was chosen due to the large number of incidences that occur in the area. Some of our signs said, “I want to walk on the street without hearing words that hurt me,” and “I’d like to ride a bike without getting harassed.” Speaking to a fellow male protestor to the right of me, he said, “This is a new thing for us. We can see how actions like this can create change.”

There were mixed reactions from passing vehicles—mostly positive. There were some “thumbs up” and positive nods from passing drivers, including taxi and bus drivers, even though some may stereotype against them. There were drivers who asked which political party we supported, even though this issue has nothing to do with politics. Another driver yelled to a male protester, “Go home and study.” Another male driver claimed that harassment happens because of the way women dress. Aside from the negative comments, it was encouraging to see men on motorbikes saying, “alkalam sah.” (What you said is right.)

The aim of this event was to address sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo, and have people discussing this. There were a few confrontations including one I had with a man, who said, “This is Egypt!” I told him, I’m from New York and this also happens there, so it is not a matter of where you are and therefore, one can excuse it.  Another comment made was how you can never end it.  BUT, you can lessen the number of cases that occur.  Sexual harassment is not an inherent trait to people (they are not born with this trait)–people learn it and see how socially acceptable it is–through media, by people not speaking out against it and a lack of education (i.e. some people don’t think saying/whispering things to girls is harassment).  Sexual harassment is a problem on multiple levels—there’s no single way of tackling this, but initiatives like these are important to have people realizing that our voices will not be silenced.

Post to Twitter

Response to: “Why do they hate us?”

April 25th, 2012 1 comment

A response to Mona’s article: “Why do they hate us?”

 

It’s not a matter of “Arab men hate Arab women,” but analyzing the socio-political-historical factors that have led to oppressive regimes against women.  It is not an inherent problem to the Middle East, because you have such cases all over the world, where women are denied from participating in government, or having full access to the public sphere.  The “us vs. them” is all too familiar in Nawal el Saadawi’s approach in talking about gender issues, where once again, international audiences can re-confirm their assumptions that “Arab men are oppressing Arab women.”

 

Mona Eltahawy’s article describes instances of where women are oppressed in the Middle East, and need to fight back against Arab men, but what about the power dynamics of the state vs. the people?  It is not just a matter of women being second-class citizens within their own countries, but anyone that does not have “wasta” (connections to the politically elite), who are from the lower classes, migrant workers, etc. are oppressed.  Secondly, not all Arab countries are the same.  Each country has it’s own history; where women in Morocco are treated differently than women in Tunisia, who are treated differently than in Egypt and Lebanon, etc.  Mona seems to categorize this issue as all Arab women are dealing with the same issues, and need to progress in the same way.  We are left with the solution that “Arab women need to fight against Arab men,” but leaves out how the state, in various contexts has treated women throughout history.  Mona’s article presents this issue as it has always existed throughout time and is a one-dimensional problem (Arab men hate Arab women).  How can one generalize an entire gender?  In Egypt, women’s dress was less conservative in the 1930’s and 1970’s compared to now.  Women’s status/treatment changes overtime, and not in a linear structure.

 

So Mona should have asked how are societies able to oppress women in various contexts?  It’s not that Arab men hate Arab women, but how the state is able to oppress various groups of people.  It’s not inherent to a certain culture or religion, but has more to do with politics than anything else.

 

 

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Reverse Sexism at the Cairo Opera House

April 10th, 2012 5 comments
He's still wearing the required "jacket and tie"

An alternative to the Cairo Opera House dress code

Two nights ago, my male Egyptian friend was denied entry to the Cairo Opera House on account of he was wearing a tee shirt with trousers and shoes.  We asked the man working by the entrance where the dress code policy was stated and later discovered that it is written in Arabic only.  Observing the attire worn by both men and women that evening, the dress code was far more strict on men than women. Men are required to wear “jackets and ties,” while nothing further is stated for women’s attire.  Some men who had worn suits, who forgot to wear ties were told to pick up a spare tie, provided by the Opera House itself.  Meanwhile, women were allowed to enter wearing whatever they pleased, but no one said anything to these women. I saw women in jeans, sneakers, tank-tops and tee shirts enter the Opera House.  Perhaps there should be a clearer stated policy that does not single out men, and “requests” all their guests to adhere to a genderless dress code policy.  Otherwise, we can have plenty of men who can show up in “jackets and ties,” but with shorts and flip-flops and women in less formal clothing.

Post to Twitter

Revolution-anniversary Eve

January 24th, 2012 No comments

It’s been a year since the Egyptian revolution commenced last year on January 25th 2011.  I was Facebook chatting with a close Egyptian friend–until several hours later, Al Jazeera reported about protests in Egypt, with goals of overthrowing Mubarak.  A few days later as the protests gained momentum, the government shut down the internet to prevent people from organizing.  My friends from Egypt on Facebook–disappeared.  How could this have happened?  I was glued to Ayman Mohyeldin and other Al Jazeera reporter’s live reporting from Cairo.  I was constantly checking Facebook for any updates of what was going on in Tahrir, but still nothing.  My study abroad friends from Cairo and I kept each other up to date vis-a-vis Al Jazeera when we didn’t have access to the internet (i.e. when some of my friends were in class).  Our hearts were in Tahrir and we prayed for the best.

February 11- (18 days later) Mubarak was forced to step down–victory!  Revolution completed? Not at all.  There is still a long way to go.—-

I am fortunate to be back in Egypt to see the country through these political changes.  It is amazing to see how Egyptians have changed history and inspired the world.  Since I returned to Cairo in August, I have spoken to Egyptians and heard all sides of political debates about the revolution.  Regardless of who believes what, I hope the next steps forward are positive and that the new Parliament in session keeps the sacrifices made since last year in mind and heart as they work for a better Egypt.  Too many people have sacrificed their lives in the hopes of creating positive change–no one sacrifices their safety and lives for nothing.

——–

AUC’s Public Safety Notice sent out today, January 24th, 2012-

Dear Members of the AUC Community,

 

Large gatherings are anticipated tomorrow, Wednesday January 25th, 2012, in Tahrir Square. The current  security assessments indicate that the gatherings will be peaceful and that we will have normal operation on Thursday January 26th, 2012, but there is always a risk of localized unrest.

 

Large gatherings might take place in other major squares in Cairo and other cities such as and not limited to Alexandria and Suez.

 

Several parties, groups and activists are organizing marches from various areas to Tahrir Square at 12:00 pm as follows:

·         El Horaya Sq. in Maadi

·         Nahia in Giza

·         Imbaba in Giza and this will pass by Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandeseen.

·         El Istiqamah Mosque in Giza Sq

·         Shoubra

 

The following advice can help keep you safe and secure:

 

1.      Exercise caution when passing by government buildings, police stations and military barracks.

2.      Treat members of the security forces you encounter with patience and respect, and follow all instructions promptly.

3.      Carry photographic identification and a mobile phone.

4.      Remain alert to the possibility of road blockage in different areas.

5.      Get familiar with escape routes in case of emergency situation.

6.      As a reminder, please ensure that you have an adequate supply of food, water and cash in your home in the event that services are interrupted.

7.      Keep updated on the situation by following media reports.

8.      If you have not registered with the AUC Emergency Communication system yet, please do by visiting: http://myinfo.aucegypt.edu/

9.   Please note that you may access the list of the police patrol emergency numbers by visiting:www.aucegypt.edu/Pages/EmergencyComm.aspx

10.      If you are occasionally trapped in the crowd you are reminded to:

·        Not panic, keep calm.

·        Make yourself aware of your surroundings and mentally notice alternate exits.

·       If you find yourself in the middle of a moving crowd, do not fight against the pressure, and try to take advantage of any space that may open up to move sideways to the crowd movement where the flow is weaker.

·     If you fall and cannot get up, try to keep moving by crawling in the same direction. If it’s not possible, cover your head with your arms and curl up into the fetal position.

·    The worst scenario is to be pushed by the crowd against an immovable object, try to stay away from walls, fences or barricades, as the crowd pressure can build up rapidly.

AUC will continue to provide you with regular reliable information through e-mail, SMS and on the university Website at www.aucegypt.edu.

Kind regards,

EMT

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Women in Power: What’s Wrong with the “Add Women and Stir” Approach

January 9th, 2012 No comments

Are women in leadership positions environmentally friendly, anti-corruption, anti-war and pro-all things that are “good?”  If female candidates are considered, they are usually judged more harshly compared to their male counterparts.  Take U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor who was scrutinized for her statement about being able to make certain gender and racial rulings (read: is she “white-man” enough to make certain verdicts).  And when women are in leadership positions, it is assumed that all women will fight for women’s issues, be inherently opposed to corruption or harming the environment or more dangerously, have the power to “change society.”  Yet, setting quotes for women to be part of committees or within government so women can have seats on the table does not translate into influential power or voting for “the good things.”  Questions such as what are her qualifications, what are her positions on key issues, and what power does she currently have should be asked of all candidates.  Female candidates need to be valued for their qualifications and merit, while still recognizing the challenges some women face with underdeveloped support networks.

Women in decision-making committees

The question of what it means for women to be empowered needs to be asked.  Will giving women seats within decision-making committees change gender dynamics and affect change?  It is assumed that women will “bring overlooked matters of societal importance into policy making” and will “change the quality of public life.”  Take the example of 66thU.S. Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice who supported the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (definitely does not fit the model of women being “anti-war”).

In rural South Africa, women in water sanitation committees expressed how decision-making abilities are “severely impacted by gender relations…even with a tertiary education, women view themselves as inferior to men” and men make the final decision.  Alternatively, if men are migrant workers, women make decisions “based on what their men would have wanted—instead of themselves.”  This does fit the model of women supporting women’s issues.

Implementing quotas for women’s participation in institutions overlooks challenges that prevent women from having real voices. Structural constraints that some women face include where “their resource endowments for public life—their education, spare time, employment, income and connections—[being] lower than those of men.” Women just do not have the same powerful support networks that men established long ago with their “boy’s clubs.”

In the new Egyptian law, it states that each proportional list must have one woman.  Some of these female candidates have been listed on lower ranks or completely omitted when they rightfully deserved to be named on the top of these lists, given their expertise and long-time standing with politics.  Despite defeat in the parliamentary elections in Egypt, Gameela Ismail addressed the challenges faced running as a female candidate, stating in her blog that female candidates are subjected to “social prejudice, a lack of party support and funding.”  Gameela says women, alongside men were at the forefront during the protests in Tahrir.  Women, like men also sacrificed their lives to pave the road for a better Egypt.  With this law of female representation, it either forces women to be part of the elections or marginalizes them in a systematic approach of “one woman” per list.  Female participation in government needs to be natural, with no structural barriers that prevent them from participating in all manners and need not be judge vis-à-vis gender markers.

Tunisia has put up more female candidates than Egypt, but can we analyze that society is less sexist?  We have to look at these two countries based on their socio-historical contexts and not assume that because there are more female candidates and members in government, there is more gender equality. Quota Project, maps out how many women around the world participate in government and whether there is reserved seating, voluntary quotas, etc.  It goes beyond how many females are participating in government, but asking questions like how much power do they hold to create effective change for women and are they working for “women’s issues” (whatever those may be)?  In a discussion with Martina Rieker, Director of the Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies at the American University in Cairo, she discussed how everyone has certain agendas (most of the women in European governments belong to the far right).  People forget to analyze what relationships they have with their constituents and disregard asking questions such as who are these female candidates, how do they create their own political power networks, what community debates are they involved in and what changes have they made in society.  Martina stated, “If you look at the number of women in politics, we need to ask what differences have they made, has it changed anything?”  Gender markers do not determine what differences women make.  To put it simply, there should be less emphasis on “women candidates,” but qualified candidates who happen to be women.

Quotas that do open doors for women

Farah Pandith, United States Department of State Special Representative to Muslim communities around the world stated, “Quota systems can open doors for women in politics that would otherwise be closed, and we see that very specifically in countries such as Rwanda, where changes have taken place as a result of a quota system.”  Nonetheless, Farah elaborated how it is up to each country to decide how to integrate women into government and decision-making opportunities.  Farah attributed her professional successes to both men and women providing her with opportunities, and stated how progress for women’s participation in leadership positions “cannot be a fight that women undertake alone; this is a community fight that we work together to make our society stronger.”

Francine Rosado-Cruz, Diversity & Inclusion professional with 18 years of experience working in the corporate world, analyzed data from Scandinavian countries, which shows how quotas that have been in practice longer “have indeed increased the representation of females.”  Francine further elaborated how “the focus should be on creating a more inclusive workplace culture where everyone can succeed.  Shifting corporate culture is no easy task, and requires time.”

Muna AbuSulayman, Board Member of Glowork, which promotes jobs for women in Saudi Arabia, believes that quotas are “extremely effective especially in countries where female public decision participation is not very common.”  However, Muna stipulated how such a practice should not be implemented indefinitely.  When quota systems are in practice for a certain time period, it gives “time for society to learn what it means to have women in those positions, and also for women to develop the right programs and networks to help themselves get elected.”

Challenges- Seeing Women as a Unified Group

Women are positioned as one homogeneous group with common problems and goals.  This negatively impacts any progress for women’s equality, because not only do women have to fight for their representation and accessibility, but they have to work harder proving that all women’s problems are not all women’s problems.  A “one-size fits all” approach leaves the socio-historical  context out of what various women need.  Using quota systems as a “magic bullet” to include women in governments, corporations or organization allows these entities to check off the box that they have included women’s perspectives into their agendas.  Even though I state women as a collective here,  I must clarify that any approaches to achieving gender equality must be analyzed in isolation, even if a quota-system works in some limited manner, it must not be implemented in a “add women and stir” manner.

 

Article originally published for Elan Magazine- http://elanthemag.com/women-in-power-whats-wrong-with-the-add-women-and-stir-approach/ 

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Change

December 19th, 2011 No comments

When I first arrived to Cairo, people asked me if I could see any changes, post-revolution.  All I could answer was “no, I don’t see any visible changes, except a lot of revolution street art and people being more open about talking politics.”  But, even these things existed before the revolution in a lesser capacity.  However, yesterday I realized there are no real changes vis-a-vis this revolution except that Mubarak is gone (though his people and supporters are still here) and the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to run for seats under their official name.

 

The protestors did not just one day decide they will go to Tahrir because they want to end corruption, create jobs, establish freedoms and justice, etc.  They have always felt this way.  These demands were not born on January  25th; protestors took the opportunity to put an end to Mubarak’s regime beginning that day.  The success of the revolution depends on the majority of people believing in justice and freedom and changing their institutions–without violence.

 

Last night, I went to a local market with my friends and asked a young, female Egyptian seller what she thought about the Egyptian woman who was stripped and beaten in Tahrir just two days ago by the military police.  She told us that she deserved it because she had no business going there.  Wow, she just slapped me in my face.  How can she believe that it was “her fault” because she is a “bad girl?”  This is similar to blaming a rape victim, instead of the rapist.  Why is it that we must find how who and what type of person he or she is before saying is such treatment is justified?  If she is a prostitute or a “bad girl,” then it is okay for a woman to be beaten until unconscious?  Or if she is not a virgin, it is okay to sexually assault or rape her.   The virginity tests last March showed how some people justified sexually violating women if they are not virgins.

 

I do not care if she is a “good” or “bad” girl; no one deserves such inhumane treatment.  Why must there be a reason to act humanely or inhumanely? The bewab (doorman) of my building said that she should not have beaten like that because since “maybe her husband needed to work and she went to replace the man at Tahrir.”  When did protesting against injustice and freedom become a “man’s thing?”  And why do we need to profile women to justify what treatment they should get?  (It sounds odd to say, but thank God she was wearing a hijab, otherwise, it would have been “justified” to beat her.)  And if we want to use the “modesty argument,” are not women here supposed to be “protected” especially if they are wearing hijab?  So what is the reason for why she was stripped and beaten until unconscious?  Was she threatening the military’s “power?”  An Egyptian male argued how we do not know why the military beat her and gave the excuse that maybe she was burning and destroying buildings.  He claimed, if men and women deserve equal rights, then she was beaten how men have been beaten.  If she was a so-called “criminal,” you can arrest her and put her on trial.  This is all part of justice.  But no, the military police do not care about justice or treating women with the respect and rights they deserve, especially when they and their supporters are the very people who use religion to argue women must cover to protect their “modesty.”  That was some protection.  It is ironic that the State and supporters of this violence against women believe that the State will protect “women” when clearly, that is not happening.

 

Back to change.  Nothing will change in this country if the majority of people continue to blame the victim.  Nothing will change if people profile women as “bad or good girls” to justify what treatment they deserve.  This is not justice.  An Egyptian male talked about how there are “foreign elements” that are ruining any progress this country is making.  There are no “foreign elements” except the military police that are acting like the real thugs.  The military police justifies their abuse of power by arguing they are securing the country and protecting the people from thugs (who are burning and destroying buildings).  I agree that violence is not the solution to any problem.  SCAF is practicing brutal violence against innocent people and it must be ended.  And people need to stop making excuses so that responsibility falls on “outside elements,” but acknowledge that maybe there is something very wrong with the country’s military police that needs to be addressed.

 

Change will not happen now or in a few years.  Change will not happen through institutions or political systems.  Change will happen when there is a change in people’s mind-sets.

 

Link to video of woman in Tahrir being beaten by military police on December 17, 2011. http://youtu.be/4iboFV-yeTE

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

My Return to Cairo

August 15th, 2011 No comments

I’m off to Cairo in a week and will be returning after 15 months since I ended my study abroad program at the American University in Cairo in May 2010. Since my return to the U.S., I’ve embarked on an internship with an NGO in Washington D.C. for summer of 2010, returned to Dickinson College to finish my B.A. in Middle East Studies and began working with Pearson Inc. (the parent-company of the Financial Times, Pearson Education and Penguin Publishing) as a Diversity Communications Specialist for Diversity and Inclusion. My last day of work will be on Friday and will be flying out Monday. Working for Pearson has allowed me to think about diversity and inclusion in a more structured more way, especially since we should be thinking about diversity and inclusion in our day-to-day lives and not just at work. But sometimes, to have people thinking about topic of diversity and inclusion, it needs to begin somewhere. I hope to take the knowledge I’ve gained while working for Diversity and Inclusion with me to Cairo, as I begin my Master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies in hopes to always work for diversity and inclusion.

Gender equality is a topic that I hope to gain perspective through the people of Egypt. I’ve come to learn how people think about gender issues in the U.S. (from the student perspective and NGO perspective to the corporate perspective). It is important to frame a discourse through the perspective of who is discussing it. The “people” of anywhere is quite diverse and we cannot generalize the “people” of any group. It doesn’t work in schools, it doesn’t work in religions and it doesn’t work in corporations.

I will also be beginning my research as a Fulbright student on the topic of sexual harassment in Cairo. It’s important to say that I must remain an activist through research only. I want to learn about how women’s rights organizations are fighting against sexual harassment and building coalitions with community members. I am excited to see the changes that have taken place since the Egyptian Revolution. I’ve read blogposts about how the spirit of those who participated in Tahrir was left there. I certainly hope that is not the case. What has taken place in Egypt has inspired those around the world. But any change must be dealt with diligence so that it is sustainable. It is also not just about protesting in the streets, but undertaking responsibilities required for a sustainable change.

Post to Twitter

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,