Women stand up against the hijacking of the Arab Spring

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Half of Arab society is screaming at the other half: “I am just as good as you are!” The 'Uprising of women in the Arab world’ has launched a Facebook campaign. It’s urging Arab women to rise up against what they call ‘male dictatorship’ in order to complete the Arab spring.

By: Janet Nammur
Students, teenagers and mothers quickly began posting their pictures on the Facebook page. Each photo features a participant, carrying a poster explaining why she supports the uprising. Or he, because large numbers of young Arab men are also backing the campaign.
Dictators in their houses
The campaign ‘I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world’ started in early October.  In a press release, the four women who launched the campaign stated they wanted “to remind everyone that the revolutions were aimed at dignity, social justice and freedom, and that these three goals can never be realised if women are absent from the public sphere”. They added, "we have to continue the revolution to oust male chauvinism that turns every man into a dictator over his wife, daughter, sister, and even mother”.
Many activists and bloggers have welcomed the campaign. In less than three weeks, the number of 'likes' that the page has attracted has increased to over forty thousand. 
Women from East to West
The Facebook page full of pictures reflects the problems that women face in various Arab societies, ranging from sexual harassment to women’s inability to pass their nationality on to their children.
“I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world,” writes a Syrian mother, “because I have been a Syrian all my life, but my children are Russian because that’s my husband’s nationality”.
Protesting against the obligation to cover her face, a Saudi girl held up a paper in front of her face: “I’m in favour of the campaign because I cannot take a picture of my own face”.
My body is mine
“Please look at our brains, not our bodies”, say several participants. “I’ll back the uprising of women in the Arab world until men stop looking at my body and start understanding my thoughts”, writes one woman. Another says, “women are still prisoners of their virginity”.
A Syrian girl, for her part, writes: “My body is mine. It doesn’t belong to the liberals whose only aim is to undress it, nor to the radicals whose only aim is to cover it”.
Rape in the name of marriage
Voices are also being raised, opposing the use of religious laws against women. “Islam is my dignity”, says a girl from Sudan. “I won't accept to be insulted or raped in its name.”
One of the main complaints on the page is Islamic legislation allowing marriage of under-age girls. “Yemeni law allows me to be raped if I am fully physically developed, even though I am still a kid”, says one Yemeni woman. “They call that marriage.” A male compatriot says he is “tired of fatwas and a male-dominated society that condones the marriage of children”.
Work twice as much
Another hot topic is equal rights in society and the workplace. “I don't want to work twice as hard as my brother and earn half as much”, says a girl from Sudan.
People are also expressing their concerns about developments in Tunisia: “the Personal Status Code is in danger”, writes one young man, “but it is the best legal framework for women in the Arab world.”
Look beyond appearances
The pictures of the women on the 'Uprising of women in the Arab world' page have also been criticised. Some zealous visitors have launched personal attacks and written obscenities.
The moderators of the page have responded forcefully: “When we put up a picture of a veiled woman, no one objects to her appearance. But when we post the picture of a woman who doesn’t cover herself, it is immediately plastered with comments claiming that her appearance is weakening the cause!”
They are particularly sorry to see that some of these comments come from women themselves. “This just goes to prove that women can do other women an injustice without even being aware of it.”
People are continuing to post new pictures in support of the uprising. According to Lebanese artist and activist Joumana Hada, “that’s because women deserve more and they are capable of more”.