OPINION: Gender Equality During Revolutions Must Live On

Collegiate Times
Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 20:00
Northern Africa
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
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Online Dialogues & Blogs

While representing a month of liberation for many in the Middle East, March was revolutionary for the area in more than one way. At the culmination of Women's History Month, I would like to take note of some very famous women as of late: the female revolutionaries of the Middle East.

We've seen photos of them front and center during protests, as well as squirming in seas of people demanding to be heard. They volunteered to take security positions at all hours of the day and broke stereotypes by standing shoulder to shoulder with men in order to work towards their common goal: freedom.

They are to thank for the spread of the revolutions to the scale that was witnessed, as they were largely responsible for spreading the word to protest in Tahrir Square via the Internet. One might even go as far as to say that without their participation in the protests, the outcome would not have been possible in places like Egypt and Tunisia.

In celebrating their newfound voices, the single largest shame would be for these developments to simply be temporary.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently gone as far as to attribute women's participation to the success of establishing and sustaining peace. In speaking of the female revolutionaries in the Middle East, she further noted that, “The ability of Egyptian and Tunisian women to participate in the decisions that will shape their nations' futures will go a long way toward determining whether democracy actually takes root in North Africa.” I find these bold statements not only true but also awe-inspiring in that the potential of women is being recognized. Not only is it being recognized, but recognized in an area of the world most view as backwards and neglecting of women.

The fact of the matter is, now that Egypt and Tunisia are building their new governments, women need to be included — although as of yet, they largely have not been.

In reflecting on this, it is useful to consider the fact that in order to bring women's rights to where they are today in the United States, American history has not been without tumult of its own. There are similarities between the situation of women revolutionaries in the Middle East and the history of American women's rights, as women in the U.S. became politically involved when society needed them.

Take, for example, the World War II era, which gave rise to symbolic figures such as Rosie the Riveter while women worked in factories in order to support the nation's interests. Gender barriers and stereotypes were put aside and the very human and equal nature of women in relation to men was appreciated for arguably the first time. Being American at this point began to overshadow any other social issues to the extent that gender was not considered an issue because matters of the state were more important.

This feels very reminiscent of what we have seen in the Middle East during the month of March, and this period of time serves as a critical point during which their participation in society and politics can be solidified for the future. Stereotypes are being broken in these countries and ours regarding these women should be as well. In doing so, we must remember the gradual progress that women in America endured to reach where they are today and consequently ban together in celebration of the women of the Middle East.

Women's History Month was set forth with the intention of celebrating the contributions of women to contemporary society as well as events in history. I believe the female revolutionaries in the Middle East pertain to both of these categories, as they rose up during March 2011 to make history and are not done yet.

They have begun to be heard and be taken seriously. They are poised to have their positions in society elevated in respect and equality. The continuation of these developments will be crucial to the progression of the Middle East and it's important that we put any outdated views we may have on women aside as they become even more relevant.