معاً من اجل نساء ينعمن بالحرية، الاستقلالية، والامان في العالم العربي… TOGETHER FOR FEARLESS, FREE & INDEPENDENT WOMEN IN THE ARAB WORLD
So reads the ‘about’ section on the facebook group page. The posts are in Arabic, English, and even French. Members post articles, photos and internet memes, as do the page officers. On the photo below by Fadi Arouri, depicting a Palestinian girl, an Arab male reader commented (in English): “Weapons of mass badassery.”
The Facebook page is known as “The Uprising of Women in the Arab World.” The posts get a lot of feedback, and it appears to be generally positive (the English comments are, anyways). I happened across the page when a Kuwaiti friend shared a link that had been shared on the site. “Uprising” is inspiring and it is wonderful to see Arab women standing up for their rights: although women in the West certainly have more freedom than most Middle Eastern women, there is still inequality here and yet it’s rare to find Western women railing against sexism. The concept of “you have to lack it all to gain it all” I feel applies to this situation: because these women often have no rights (or even social respect), they will do whatever it takes and start a revolution to gain it all.
But do all Arab women want an uprising? Time and again I was surprised in Egypt at comments the girls I met made and the disaffect regarding their own situation. Indeed, I believe many would say, “but what situation?” People who dissent, who criticize and revolt are first seen as abnormal, because they’re challenging the establishment and are considered ‘troublemakers,’ bringing up what people are either blind or unwilling to admit to. When I spoke of women’s rights, I felt that I was the crazy one.
“A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take away from you.”
In my internet searching I came across another very interesting website that confirms that Muslim women are, well, a bit conflicted over whether they want to advance their position in society or not. Muslim Women News is an excellent website-in English!-detailing what’s going on with women in Muslim countries. Although it definitely has a pro-women bent (see the quote above), some of the articles are less than hopeful. Men being sexist towards women and oppressing them is nothing new, but what is even more despicable than this is when women try to oppress themselves, trying to separate themselves from men and live in their own ‘world.’
Indeed, among positive articles detailing advances in women’s rights, such as the call for sexual harassment laws in Egypt, Saudi women being granted the right to conduct trains and join the military and Palestinian women joining the police force are the occasional article that raises eyebrows in a bad way. Take, for example, an article on “women-only” hotels and “women-only” hotel floors, a new trend in the travel sector that has become particularly popular throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Women themselves champion these floors, which cater directly to a “woman’s needs” and are preferred by women who feel safer staying in such establishments.
Gaining the right to women’s-only hotel floors and women-only cafes (which are also popular in particularly strict Arab countries) is not gaining a right. Yes, the women might feel more comfortable and safe and are certainly free from harassment, but it isn’t freedom when you have to be cordoned off from the other half of society. It isn’t freedom when you can’t stand in the presence of a man for fear that he is going to hurt you.
The fact that these, and many other websites and Facebook pages, exist prove, ultimately, that women are taking charge of their lives and futures. They prove that Arab women are not going to go down without a fight, that just like the people of Middle Eastern countries decided that they would no longer support greedy dictatorships, that women are not going to be submissive and silent anymore, either. The internet has become the weapon of the masses: forget slingshots and guns and rocks, the internet has been the single most important tool in the Arab Spring and will likewise probably be the most important in achieving women’s rights. Why? Because women can connect without arousing suspicion; because they can talk to women from all over the world; because they can share the written word, which is more powerful than any physical weapon.
Gaining women’s rights will be a lot harder-and a much slower process-than setting up a new government, because everybody must change. Every person must change their opinion of women in order for women to truly pull off this coup. Having one or two women who believe in equality and a handful of educated men who support them is not enough; even if laws get passed and rights granted, it is still not enough. The attitudes of the region are those that must be toppled; it is the attitudes ingrained in the culture that must be overthrown, and which will be the hardest to overcome.
If women were able to acheive better social standing in the West and did away with the idea of the housewife, than I know the brave and smart women who run these websites can do the same for Arab women. They just need to unify.