‘How can a country be liberated when half its population is not?’ asks an online women’s campaign group. A special report from Noreen Sadik to mark International Women’s Day.
In October 2011 Yalda Younes, inspired by the use of the internet in the revolutions of the Arab Spring, launched a Facebook group called The Uprising of Women in the Arab World.
The group’s creation, its Facebook page explains, ‘was an urgent reaction to the social and political developments in the region because we didn’t want the Arab Spring to be aborted… The Arab revolts are led in the name of dignity, justice and freedom, but we cannot reach for those values if women are being ignored or absented from the main scenery.’
The group is against patriarchal values, including gender inequality, discrimination against and oppression of women, all forms of violence and abuse of women, and the belief that women are second-class citizens.
Their demands centre around basic human rights issues – freedom of expression; familial, social, political and economic equality; and the enforcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many of which are violated in the form of stoning, lashing, ‘honour’ crimes, and laws which protect rapists rather than victims.
Since its launch, the group – which has four administrators – has been active around a variety of women’s rights issues, including the case of Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim. She and other female protesters had been detained by soldiers during a sit-in in Cairo in late 2011 and subjected to virginity tests. When she sued the military, a civilian judge ruled virginity testing to be illegal. However, a military court exonerated Dr Adel el-Mogy from the charges connected with the tests.
The page serves as a forum where women and men can express themselves, post their concerns, and ask questions. The administrators’ fearlessness in discussing subjects that are considered taboo has resulted in even more support. Five months after its launch, the page had 3,000 members; a year later, its members numbered 20,000. Today, the page has over 100,000 followers from around the world.
Yet it has become more than just a web page: it has become an intifada (popularly known as 'uprising’), in its own right.
One of the group administrators, Farah Barqawi, describes an intifada as ‘an expression of being fed up with what is happening, and speaking up, even with just one word’. And this is what Uprising is encouraging women to do through various campaigns – express the fact that they are fed up, and to not be afraid to raise their voices.
When a photo campaign was started, male and female supporters posted photographs of themselves holding a piece of paper stating why they support the Uprising. One teenager posted his indignation at the fact that he is his widowed mother’s guardian. Another posted his shame at having more rights than his sister. Many women declared that they are the owners of their bodies.
‘The campaign gave people the sense that they are the page,’ explains Barqawi. ‘They felt the power of sharing, and they realized that they can go forward in their daily struggle, which can lead to a change in society.’
‘How can a country be liberated when half of its population is not?’ she asks.
The success of the photograph campaign gave rise to another. ‘Tell Your Story’ was a two-week campaign launched last November on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Stories about humiliating experiences that women had suffered at the hands of male family members or strangers were posted on the page.
The third successful campaign took place on 12 February: a Global Protest Against Sexual Terrorism Practised on Egyptian Female Protesters. Sexual harassment has become accepted practise in Egypt over the past decade and is now used as a political means of oppression.
Solidarity protests took place in countries all over the world.
The struggle for women’s rights is nothing new to Abeer Khshiboon, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Through her blog, she has created her own personal uprising. Her page allows her to express herself and her hopes for women.
Khshiboon is also very active on the Uprising page. She feels that there she ‘has found a home’, a place where brave women with opinions that differ from the norm are allowed to express their concerns. She believes that the uprising against patriarchy is necessary. ‘A woman’s body is hers only, and the belief in this is the start of the uprising,’ she says. ‘The uprising is not only on Facebook but is already in many women.’
Her followers come from countries all over the Arab world. Women are starting to rebel against patriarchy with the support of those whose silence is finally being broken.
‘Not everyone accepts my beliefs. I get supportive comments, but also comments against my writings. My articles are directed towards men and women,’ Khshiboon explains. ‘How can they [men] enjoy life when we feel bad?’
The slogan on the Uprising page states: ‘Together for fearless, free, independent women in the Arab world.’ Thousands now have the courage, the hope and the desire to stand against oppression in order to create a society based on equality.
Visit The Uprising of Women in the Arab World’s Facebook page here.