Reviewing the Arab Spring: The role of women – one step forwards, two steps backwards
*Note: This is the first entry in a series of short pieces aimed at analyzing the various political and socioeconomic developments and implications of the “Arab Spring” across the Middle East region.
Women were at the forefront of 2011 protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and elsewhere. The faces of these protests were initially young, progressive and diverse. However, things have not gone so well for these revolutionary women in the aftermath of these events.
In Egypt we started hearing depressingly frequent testimonies of assaults against women during these protests. The frequent and systematic nature of these attacks suggested that these weren’t the opportunist activities of a minority, but that these attacks were coordinated and served political aims.
By directing acts of violence against women and upping levels of violence more generally – apart from a few very brave individuals – women increasingly found themselves pushed to the margins of events in Syria, Egypt and Libya; which did not stop a disproportionately high number of casualties being women and children in these conflicts.
In every one of these countries, events were often triggered by those desiring a more liberal and tolerant society where women could play their full roles. However, every single one of these scenarios have been hijacked by more Islamist and militant elements which have set the cause of women back decades.
In Libya and Yemen, the new administrations can hardly protect themselves, which means that extremist groups and militias have been free to pursue their own agendas and enforce the marginalization of women, despite new and progressive-sounding constitutions which are scarcely worth the paper they are written on in countries where anarchy holds sway.