Well, it seems the Daily Show stole my idea of discussing the role of women in the recent Middle East democracy protests. Although I probably can’t out-funny Kristen Schaal, I’ll at least give you guys my take on what’s been happening with these female activists and why exactly their voices are not being heard.
First, the basics: as Human Rights Watch has reported, women in Tunisia and Egypt played a huge role in the protests movements that brought down their dictatorships. Unfortunately, now that the “dust has settled”, it seems that the feminist hope bubble has been popped; women are being completed excluded for the transition government in Egypt, only two females were appointed to the Tunisian transition government, and as the Daily Show reported, many are now basically being told they should go home and mop the floors rather than get involved in the “sausage fest” (as Kristen would say) that is political governance.
Honestly, this really shouldn’t surprise even the most optimistic of American feminists; women’s rights have always been bargaining chips in the political battles between social liberals and conservatives. For those of you in the older feminist crowd, you might still remember my angry rant about the Hyde amendment and it’s addition to the 2010 health care bill; I would venture that a “Hyde-like” phenomenon is exactly what’s happening now in Egypt and Tunisia. Now that the revolutions are over, the political and social divisions of these Middle Eastern societies are showing and, consequently, the transition governments are o.k. with making the ‘petty’ sacrifice of women’s rights in order to appease the social conservative/Islamist political camp. After all, they’ve got bigger issues to fry than worrying about such minor things like a 50 year personal code that prohibits polygamy and protects women’s divorce rights, right?
Well, once again I don’t have the solutions, but at the least I would say we women need to be more aggressive about our goals. It is sad to realize how time and time again, feminists around the world have risen up against political oppression, war, corruption, only to subsequently be ignored or abused. Did Iranian women rise up against the Shah only to be denigrated to second class citizens under male guardianship? Did Egyptian women suffer virginity tests only to be completely excluded from the new government, sexually harassed, and then belittled by misogynist men? Perhaps it’s time women broke the pattern of merely participating in protest movements and instead took solid leadership roles. After all, if more females were actually political representatives and leaders, chances are those sexist, anti-women bills would have a lot more difficulty passing Parliaments/Congress/whatever legislative system said country maintains. We feminists should not merely be some faces in a crowd; we should be the names that grace Time Magazine articles and earn the praise of Google search engines. Only by making ourselves part of the leadership can we truly create the feminist, egalitarian society that we so desire. And on that final note of sweeping rhetoric, here’s a website dedicated to getting more women working in U.S. Congress, on the off-chance that this little rant has made you want to get involved with the cause (at least in the U.S.; I sadly don’t know of any aid groups dedicated to helping Tunisian and Egyptian female leaders).