MIDDLE EAST: Aspirations of Women

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Oman Daily Observer
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

Aside from ushering in hitherto unprecedented changes, the Arab Spring also brought to the fore an unsaid aspect — that the situation of women in Arab countries is more or less the same. In Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, or in some other countries that saw revolutions, the women do not differ from each other.
The Arab countries need to develop short-term and long-term plans to empower women politically, economically and socially, in addition to the constitutional provisions. There also needs to be a system of proper and meticulous follow-up of these plans, where the governments and civil societies engage in a meaningful partnership to ensure women's empowerment. If we look at the whole gamut carefully, we can very well see that women are the cornerstone to any democratic society, for it's they who nurture and educate children.
Observers are generally skeptical that the situation of women in the countries of the Arab revolutions has improved in any meaningful way. Two years after Egyptian revolution of January 25, women are surely no better off than before; in fact, more and more women have been forced to quit their professional lives because of fear. This despite the fact that a very large number of Egyptian women came onto the streets to join their male brethren standing besides them at the Tahrir Square, even straddling the front rows without fear of being mowed down in reprisal killings.
Women activists in Egypt still hold the view that any attempts or practices to marginalise them or exclude them from public life will not succeed.
However, some Egyptian activists and women rights activists stress that any such attempts by the regime to marginalise women is illegal as the new constitution gives them the right to equality. Also, any attempt to muzzle women's voice implies non-compliance with the international agreements signed and ratified by Egypt.
There are also reports that women have been subjected to abuses at the demonstrations, although that won't deter them from demanding reforms.
There is, however, a sliver lining in Egypt, where women have learnt to say ‘no' to those trying to suppress them.
The Tunisian women, after the Jasmine Revolution, had embarked on a similar journey demanding equality and rights. Tunisia, in fact, was one country where women were sufficiently empowered before the revolution. Their social rights were clearly defined and there was a strong support for women's rights in the state represented by the wife of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Leila Trabelsi). Sadly, after the revolution, there have been no concrete reforms in favour of women despite an overwhelmingly large number of Tunisian citizens demanding the same.
Observers are near unanimous that in the post- revolution Tunisia with the Renaissance Party coming to power, significant challenges now confront the Tunisian women, and there is an attempt to weaken their position both legally and socially. There was a time when Tunisia's liberal structure used to see women in decision-making positions. This, alas, is a thing of the past in the Tunisian society today!
Let's now focus our attention to the status of women in Syria after the revolution. All that the unfortunate Syrian women are doing in the current regime is working as nurses for the wounded, compelled to watch young men and women dying in the prime of their lives.
Women have been making great sacrifices in Syria. They have played their role in the revolution and they have been standing by the side of the men since the start of the movement. Women, like men, have participated in military action and formed battalions.
There are women journalists in Syria who have become the voice of the suffering of the people, through programs on social networking sites and contributing to the dissemination of information in these difficult times.
The Syrian women are even straddling paths hitherto unknown for them like transporting ammunition and the wounded from the battlefield. As a result, the society's perception of women has changed and they are being highly appreciated for their valor.
To sum up, the Arab revolutions and the Arab Spring had given some real hope that the status of women would improve in the region. That, however, is yet to materialise. Let's pin our hopes on the future.