As many of you may know International Women’s Day is Thursday March 8th. We here at Boston GLOW are eager to celebrate the amazing work and successes of women across the globe with their incredible accomplishments and major steps forward towards empowerment and equality. This week, please follow our blog as we highlight the inspiring work of members of the Boston GLOW community throughout the world.
Our guest blogger today is Amira Elmallah. Elmallah is a 24-year half-Egyptian, half-American, born and raised in California but currently living in Cairo, Egypt. Today she shares her thoughts and we'd love to hear yours!
Spotlight: Egypt’s Revolutionary Women
More than overthrowing a dictator or a regime, more than ushering in a new era in Egyptian history, the Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011 united all Egyptians, regardless of social class, religious orientation, birthplace or gender. Though some lament that the power of this unity has faded with time, I continue to be inspired and amazed at how strong the revolutionary spirit remains in society more than a year after the people demanded and realized the downfall of the Mubarak regime.
A song released this fall captures the sense of unity generated in Tahrir: Ya El-Medan
More than anything, this is a period of redefinition, characterized by the freedom to define Egypt’s identity in a way that was previously prohibited, to rebuild Egypt according to the people’s vision of the future, founded upon the principles echoed in the revolutionary slogans which are still chanted in the protests to this day,
“The revolutionaries, liberated, will complete the struggle.” What are we struggling for? “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice.”
Egyptian women and men are struggling together to realize this vision, within which we find women’s roles and position in society. I can’t speak for all Egyptian women, ultimately a diverse group of individuals with a wide range of backgrounds and opinions, but I can share some of the conversations that are taking place in this period. Conversations initiated by empowered women defining what role they want to play in the Egypt of tomorrow. Let's break it down:
**Political Representation: Though a 30% quote of female participation was instituted in the 2010 elections, this quota was not reinstated in the most recent parliamentary elections. As may be expected from women’s low ranking on party lists, women’s representation in parliament reached an appallingly low 2% (the international average is 19%). While some call for a return to the quota system, others resent it as unnecessary or unfair, as the idea of the quota itself was tainted by the illegitimacy of the 2010 elections.
**Decision-Making: The Egyptian Women’s Union is sponsoring a march this International Women’s Day (2012) demanding women represent 50% of the seats in the council that will revise Egypt’s constitution. Though there is no consensus on the exact percentage, we know the council will have considerable symbolic and tangible influence in charting Egypt’s future, and thus is a crucial decision-making space that men and women must share.
**Women’s Rights Framework: What role should international human and women’s rights frameworks play in Egyptian society? Regarding international conventions such as CEDAW, some women question why Egypt would need to import a system for protecting women’s rights when Islam represents an indigenous system which advances full equality for women (the challenge is applying it correctly and who defines what is correct). Read More.
Underlying all of these themes is the freedom to chart a course that blends domestic and international perspectives on equality and women’s rights. Just as democracy is practiced and shaped to fit the society in which it grows, women’s rights and roles, gender relations in general, too must fit their context. Our perspectives may be different—some women believe that wearing a head cover is oppressive, while others in Egypt and around the world believe it liberates a woman from being viewed in terms of her physical appearance, bringing to the forefront her ideas and opinions and actions.
So what unifies us? Not that we all realize the same outcome, but that we can all agree on a woman’s right to define what equality means to her. Empowerment itself lies not in the outcome but in the act of struggle. This is the struggle we all champion this upcoming International Women’s Day.
About the Author: Amira Elmallah is a 24-year half-Egyptian, half-American, born and raised in California but currently living in Cairo, Egypt. She studied International Development at UCLA and Gender & Global Issues at UC Davis, and is currently studying Arabic and volunteering with local NGOs. For any questions or comments about this post, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.