OPINION: What's Next for Arab Women

Sunday, April 3, 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

Disturbing dispatches out of Yemen yesterday report that thousands of women, chanting “peaceful, peaceful,” as they protested against their country's president were beaten by police wielding sticks and rocks. This came just before news broke that America is (finally) supporting an exit strategy for Yemen's leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

It's heartening to see that, months after the start of the Middle East uprisings, women are still leaders in the push for government reforms in the region. Yet these women will continue to have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Despite playing a major role in the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, women there have been wrestling with their place in post-revolution Egypt. For some, the label “political activist” seems too technical to describe how they're learning to balance being Muslim wives and mothers along with their desire to shape Egypt's future. Dialika Krahe wrote an in-depth piece exploring “The Muslim Sisterhood” in this new Egypt. She wrote:

The revolution gave Arwa, Jihan and Zahraa both a voice and an idea of what democracy can mean. But it did not change their priorities in life. Indeed, being a good mother, a good wife and a good Muslim remain their top goals in life…They are women fighting for rights, but they are not interested in fighting for them against men.

I think it is a justifiable concern that many have about female participation in these revolutions: women will be allowed to risk just as much and protest with men, but once their initial goals of ousting a leader or gaining reforms are achieved, women will no longer have an equal say in their country's future. Which is why it's important that the global community voice their support in this regard. The United States Senate drafted a resolution to support the rights of women in the Middle East/North Africa region. I particularly like what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement following the legislation:

“Women must be included in every aspect of political and institutional reform, because we know that no government can succeed if half its population is excluded from the process.”

As those thousands of Yemeni women recover from their injuries and as Egyptian women figure out their place in their new country, I hope they know that the spotlight is on them. I, for one, am eagerly watching what happens next.