by: Blaine Skrainka
Earlier this week, thousands of women took part in a march of historic proportions, taking to the streets of Cairo to demand women’s empowerment and decry the brutal attacks on female protesters.
The women of Egypt have become increasingly vocal about their demand for dignity during the Arab Awakening, but this march was a direct response to a completely shocking act of authoritarian violence. Days before, security forces stormed Tahrir Square and struck down occupants with batons. Women were not spared as veils and garments were stripped from the female bodies during the beatings. In the example that is garnering international outrage, one woman’s clothes are ripped apart revealing her blue bra before she is viciously stomped in the chest. You can witness the disturbing footage here. As a sign of how regressive and patriarchal the society can be, many have asserted that the woman would not have worn such nice lingerie if she didn’t want it to be exposed. She has not made any comments to the media in the aftermath out of fear of castigation.
These egregious acts are not the first violations of women’s rights by persons of authority in Egypt. According to the New York Times:
Egypt’s military rulers came under fire from international human rights groups soon after they took power in February for performing invasive, pseudo-medical “virginity tests” on several women detained after a protest in March. But in Egypt’s conservative culture, few of the women subjected to that humiliation have come forward to criticize the generals publicly.
A common tactic to supress dissent of any scale is for the authorities to discredit the participants that make up the movement. In the case of Egypt, the military leaders, like the Mubarak regime before them, have painted the revolutionaries as hooligans and vandals. Another important aspect of the women’s’ march is to show that Tahrir Square is not just full with idle young men, but includes strong and free thinking women.
Nasser Nasser/Associated Press
If Egypt and the rest of the Arab world want to pave a real path to democracy, the women in their communities must be respected and included in public life. Consider these sobering statistics cited by Lisa Beyer in this Bloomberg piece:
A 2008 poll by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women had been sexually harassed and that half faced harassment every day. According to a 2007 Qatar University study, 63 percent of female students had been victims of physical abuse. A 2009 Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Center survey of women in the Gaza Strip showed that 52 percent faced regular physical violence; for 14 percent, that included sexual violence.