The Arab Spring was a rude awakening for the world. It brought to light how simmering discontent among the masses can erupt into a volcano on the pretext of a seemingly insignificant event. Countries that were ruled by autocratic governments for decades, realized that they had had enough of oppression and that the time had come for them to change their lives.
While these countries have generally been considered conservative with regards to women's rights, it should be noted here that Islam is actually a religion of moderation and the values that are associated with Islam by the fundamentalists in these countries is far from reality. In fact women have a very significant role to play in society and are expected to be treated with a lot of respect. While veils have been seen by the west as a means of oppression, it is actually meant to value a woman more than what she looks like. It implies valuing a woman despite her beauty, for her brains and for the work that she has done. That kept in perspective; it is not surprising to see that women in the Arab world have taken up leading roles in initiating revolts and in making sure that the fulfilled their obligations to their countrymen and to their cause.
Many women have played an important part in each of the Arab Spring revolutions and this paper will focus on one or two women in each country and try to highlight the roles that they have played in the revolt being materialized.
The thing about revolts is that people assign their hope to it, hope for a better future, hope for a better life. But it also signifies a point where people just want to get rid of the most apparent symptom of the problem without thinking of how they will cope in the aftermath of the revolt. The participation of women has been in a similar vein, where women put in all their efforts to help the country get rid of the apparent symptom, the head of the state who with his autocratic rule had managed to oppress the people for years on end. But at the end of the turmoil for the nation, more particularly the male half of the nation was the beginning of turmoil, the search for women's rights. This is because under autocratic rule the population had to think nothing but follow the laws that were imposed, and this in fact turned to be better for women living in fundamentalist majority states who, if left to their own devices, would not have granted even these basic rights to them. This was evident in the Algerian revolt, where women fought alongside men to achieve freedom from the French and once independence was achieved with the help of women, these same women were barred from political activities and were turned back to the kitchen, where they were perceived to be the best suited.
However with the change in world dynamics, and the changes in the need for a better communication and relationship skills, women it seems might have much to contribute to the society that is if men let them do their needful duties.
As is the case in Egypt and in Libya, women were part of the revolt, in fact in Egypt a blogger made a viral video that encouraged all to protest, and yet when the transitional alliance was made, there were no women on board to draft the constitutional declaration of the transitional alliance.
These double standards go to indicate that women are being deprived of their rightful place in society and that it is to the society's detriment, in the words of Barrack Obama that "No country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs."
This paper seeks to discuss the role of women in the Arab spring where one female contributor from each of the four countries -- Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya will be considered and their role will be discussed in greater detail.
History of Women in the Arab World
Before going on to discuss the role of women in the Arab spring it is important to consider how women have been treated historically in the Arab world in general. Women prior to the advent of Islam in the region, and even in its initial days until at least the first hundred or so years, women were treated with respect and had their rights of conducting business. Even the Prophet's wife used to be a business woman taking care of her father's work.
But eventually after fundamentalist thinkers and practitioners started misinterpreting Islam, the sayings of the Prophet and the Ho Quran, the world of women started deteriorating. So much so that in the Arab world everything became segregated and Islam became a compulsion rather than a matter of belief, in which it teaches tolerance for all and insists that there, is no compulsion in religion. Such teachings were ignored and the fundamentalists started discriminating against women, effectively eliminating them out of any activity of communal benefit. In the Arab world women were barred from driving, from going out without blood male relatives accompanying them, compulsion to wear veils, where Islam insists on intention and belief. In her book, 'The Hidden Face of Eve', its author, Nawal El Saadawi depicts the way things were in the Arab world with women. Sex was perceived as a taboo, and was prohibited as a social subject to be talked and discussed about. While women were made to oblige, men on the other hand were at a liberty to conduct themselves in any fashion they please with women, and more of than not, in the absence of accountability they did tend to exploit women. The author gives examples from her personal life of being assaulted by her male uncle, and such examples were and still are rife.
In fact in considering the minimal role that women played in politics and in public protests was due to sexual harassment talking place in the streets due to which women tended to stay at home. Given this pretext the role that these women have played in bringing gender disparate laws to the limelight, in the Arab world and beyond, is commendable to say the least.
Considering the four Arab spring countries and the contribution of an exemplary woman in each country is discussed as follows:
Tunisian Example and Women's Role in the Revolt
Lina Ben Mhenni is the example that has been chosen for her work in the Tunisian revolt. She is a blogger and was the first one to alert the world at large of the revolts taking place in Tunisia, averting world attention to the region. She has been suffering through various hostile attacks on her person as well as on her work, but even then she persisted. She was able to rally all sorts of women together for the revolt.
However, it should be noted here that the culture of Tunisia, especially with regards to women is more liberal than in other nations in the region. And the women here are more empowered and there is less discrimination as compared to other Arab countries. Having said this, it has also to be said that after the revolt and in the recent elections, as women were able to participate as standing equal chances of winning and they ended up winning a quarter of the nations' seats. This goes to indicate that the role of women is expected to get stronger in the country due to the absence of oppressively barbaric practices that exists in the rest of the Arab World. In fact, Tunisia was the pioneer when it abolished the laws of polygamy which allows for men to marry more than one woman at the same time, simultaneously allowing all four to exist. Moreover it also granted the women the right to work and to work alongside males as well without have any stringent policies pinned on their head. Moreover, it allowed family planning laws. That was the reason why women actively participated in the revolt and in the ensuing political upheaval so that today they have nearly 25% of the seats in the government. Moreover, other parties which won a significant success in the elections were also pro-women, and will be supporting gender equality in their policies and in their legislations as indicated by the human rights pre-elections survey.
The most significant impact that Tunisian women in particular have had on the Arab Spring relates to the fact that Tunisian women were able to set the stage for the revolutions that were next in line for the…