By Michelle Abou-Raad
Throughout the Arab Spring, women have been indispensable actors in fighting for political freedom and economic opportunities across the Middle East. Nonetheless the social, political, and economic standing of women in Arab countries has remained relatively stagnant, and women continue to experience abuses and inequality. For instance, 83% of Egyptian women have experienced some sort of sexual harassment and only about 16% of Palestinian women participate in the labor force. The plight of Middle Eastern women has not been lessened by their dedication to the uprisings in their respective countries, and many women still face the same sexism that has and continues to plague their society. Palestinian women, especially, are all too familiar with the hardships of living as women in the Middle East. Not only are Palestinian women bound by the strict limitations set by the patriarchal culture they have been brought up in, but they are also subjected to the struggles of the ongoing conflict. As a result, the circumstances that Palestinian women have endured induce various psychosomatic and psychological problems and hinder them from achieving their full potential academically, socially, and economically.
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, also known as the Women’s Intifada, is a campaign which aims to highlight discrimination against women, create common ground for feminist activism, and reopen the debate for women’s rights. The Uprising strives to smash patriarchy and empower Arab women with the motto, “Together for fearless, free, independent women in the Arab world!” It unites men and women from different regions and religions and operates through social media and the website
http://uprisingofwomeninthearabworld.org/en/ in both Arabic and English. The Facebook page garners 113,000 “likes” and posts daily updates and news on issues related to women’s rights, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
The website hosts a blog with topics relating to the deterrence of women’s rights and it has begun a photo campaign in which women and men send in pictures of themselves with the reasons they have joined the Women’s Intifada. Most importantly, the website compiles personal accounts from women in Middle Eastern countries about the different ways their rights have been infringed upon. The “Tell Your Story” section relates heart-wrenching accounts about sexual harassment, rape, arranged marriages, determents to freedom and receiving an education, and sectarian divisions. For example, Abeer from Jordan talks about how she was molested at age 9 by her neighbor. At the end of her story, she writes, “I am with the uprising of the Middle East because I don’t want to be scared from this day on and because […] I still hear every single day something said against me as a woman.” Stories such as Abeer’s highlight atrocities and difficulties that many women in the Middle East encounter due to the sexism and prejudice that are inherent in their societies.
The Women’s Uprising provides an outlet for Arab women who refuse to maintain their roles as silent victims. It is a platform which gives women a voice and the opportunity to share their experiences, relate to one another, and unite in the fight against inequality. It is a revolution that will continue “until the Arab Spring does with women what spring does with the cherry trees.”