INTERNATIONAL: Women in the Arab Spring: The other side of the story

Friday, June 17, 2011
The Washington Post
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Much has been written about the women who have protested, organized, blogged and conducted hunger strikes throughout the Arab Spring. An opposition newspaper in Libya recently headlined a story about the role women have played in the uprisings this way: “She is the Muslim, the mother, the soldier, the protester, the journalist, the volunteer, the citizen.” But the other piece of the story is the anguish countless women have had to endure, in the form of rape, detention, or simply a lack of appreciation of their role in the protests.

In Syria, for example, rapes and other assaults on women have increased during the past few months, indicating an escalation of violence by the governments and its allies, the Post's Gul Tuysuz quotes Syrian residents as saying.

Families in Syria have been known to kill raped female members, and if the women live, they are not eligible to marry.

A group of men have decided to challenge that norm by pledging to marry women who have been victims of rape, including four sisters from Sumeriya, a town near the Turkish border, who were allegedly raped by pro-government Shabiha militiamen.

“It made us so mad. Such an injustice. We have decided, we will marry them,” said Ibrahim Kayyis, a 32-year-old baker from Jisr al-Shugour, a town that was stormed by troops.

In Libya, a similar story of rape as a weapon of war has played out. An investigation by the International Criminal Court in early June found evidence that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi ordered mass rapes.

The findings came three months after a Libyan woman named Iman Al-Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel to tell journalists she had been raped at the hands of the Gaddafi's militia.

In Egypt, CBS reporter Lara Logan was surrounded by more than 200 people in Cairo's Tahrir Square, separated from her colleagues, and sexually assaulted.

During the police repression of the Tunisian protests, women were beaten by security thugs, and in rural areas around the west-central town of Kasserine, some were raped by police after demonstrations, the Guardian reported.

Countless women across the region have also been detained or disappeared, including at least nine female doctors and four female nurses who were seized by authorities in Bahrain. In Yemen, activist Tawakul Karman was seized in the middle of the night by policemen and detained for 48 hours.

Many women who have protested alongside men despite the dangers also feel that their efforts have gone unappreciated. One Egyptian protester told EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a visit to Tahrir Square:

“The men were keen for me to be here when we were demanding that Mubarak should go. ... But now he has gone, they want me to go home.”