Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day 2011: Women and Democracy

Last year on international women's day, I wrote a blog post on what the 8th of March is and what it isn't. I felt that was needed; a surprising amount of people want to congratulate women or bring them gifts or congratulate them for being women. Why this is completely wrong you can read there.

This year I want to focus on something recent, something beautiful, but something still troubling. I wrote a while back on women in Egypt's revolution and how they had been made invisible. Lately, the media has started picking up on the importance of women in the front lines of the revolution, demonstrating side by side with the men, women from different religions, backgrounds, with different stories, but the same goal. Even Naomi Wolf wrote a piece on it for Al Jazeera and it involved no rape apologia (!) even though it was far from original.

As the revolution has spread to Libya and other countries, women are still out there, they are still shouting and they are still fighting for freedom and democracy. These women are very much a part of bringing about a freer and fairer society with the hope of being a part of that as well. I did express my worry in the above blog post on women not being properly included in a reconstruction of an Egyptian society, and I stressed the importance of making sure that they were included in order to guarantee a fully free and equal society. But as it seems, sadly, the women were welcome as long as they were needed to further men's goals and needs, and are today being pushed back to their traditional roles - a pattern that is all too obvious in conflict and upheaval where women are expected to participate or support but later return to their assigned duties when it is all over.

Today, these women are once again braving the streets, in a country where it is estimated that 80% of the women have been sexually harassed and much of it takes place in public places, to demand their rights and recognition for the role that they played in overthrowing the Mubarak regime. As this post is being written, there are reports of harassment and violence targeted against the international women's day protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (I will update with a proper news article when I find one.) What is said to have happened is that men have entered the square, harassing women and using violence to stop them from demanding their rights. In essence, it is an anti-feminist, anti-women's rights counter protest. The women have served their purpose - they helped overthrow the regime - now when the men have reached equality and freedom, we can go back to the status quo and continue harassing and oppressing women.

Women for Women are organising an event today called on the bridge standing in solidarity with all the women around the world whose voices are not heard, calling for peace and an end to violence against women. They are standing with the women from Afghanistan who continue being excluded from reconstruction processes; with women from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is used systematically as a tactic of war and terror; and with all other women trying to make a difference, like the women in Egypt today, and the women in the Ivory Coast, where women have been killed today in a protest.

Today it is international women's day. It is a day when we are supposed to celebrate what we have accomplished in the past in terms of women's civil and political advancement. It is a day to celebrate the present and all the brilliant women and men who work so hard to include women and make their voices heard. And it is a day to try to change the future, to shout to be seen and heard and included. The violence and harassment against women who are simply trying to demand what should be theirs already - respect, autonomy and being heard - is sad.

These events, the violence against women and the violation of their rights of assembly and walking down the streets without being sexually harassed, shows the importance of this day. This day is important, because today, and only today, the spotlight is on the women. Media all over the world are reporting on events, protests and have in depth analysis of women's movements, women's rights and all things women. For years, women in Egypt have not been able to walk the streets safely, as they are not today, but today the world is watching and crying out in sheer horror. These women and their bravery have always been beautiful, but today it is visible too. Today, these kinds of events are allowed to be seen and heard and discussed.

It has been 100 years since international women's day was established. We have done a lot of fantastic things but, as today's events show, where women are not even allowed to protest for their rights, we still have a long way to go. Don't quit just yet.

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