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Hopefully, all the bugs on this new server are fixed, so that we can continue this important series about Women and Power.

 

The Arab Woman You Don’t See – Part 1
By Queen Noor of Jordan

Throughout the extraordinary events of the last few months, across the Middle East and North Africa, long-silenced voices demanding change are being heard worldwide — and stalwart among them are the voices of women. From the bereaved mother of the first tragic Tunisian protester, to Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old whose YouTube video brought Egyptians into the streets, to Sally Zahran, a passionate 23-year-old Egyptian woman who was bludgeoned to death on January 28, to Tawakul Abdel-Salam Karman, the activist whose arrest sparked demonstrations in Yemen and countless others, women have joined with men in peaceful protest, braving beatings, rubber bullets, and worse.

In Egypt, considered the birthplace of Arab feminism in the 1920s, an estimated quarter of the million protesters at the height of the demonstration were female. In all the pictures from the protest, none was as powerful as that of the woman standing face to face with an Egyptian soldier in a pose of utmost defiance. One young female protester stated, “There are no differences between men and women here. We are all one hand.” In more conservative cultures such as Bahrain and Yemen, fewer women have demonstrated, but for that very reason their presence is perhaps even more significant.

This should come as no surprise. Women are consummate peacemakers, and civil protest has always been one of their most powerful tools of expression.

I have been privileged to work with numerous networks of courageous women who have suffered the worst consequences of war, conflict and discrimination; in Jordan and Palestine, in Israel, in Colombia, in Central Asia, in Africa and the Balkans, raising their voices and joining forces for change.

Many countries that are struggling to recover from harrowing civil war, including Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Chile, Bosnia, and Liberia, have turned to women leaders for stability, security and peace. After the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi women joined together to support each other and the war’s victims and to lead the search for truth and reconciliation as official members of government.

In Liberia, I have witnessed the inspiring force of the market women who, throughout 16 years of civil war, sustained their families, saved lives and kept food supplies flowing while they marched and successfully negotiated for peace and, then ensured the election of Africa’s first woman president.

And, in the former Yugoslavia, the site of the worst carnage in Europe since World War II, I have sat and wept with Bosnian, Serb and Croatian women as they struggled to come to terms with the deaths of their husbands, sons and fathers — killed, in some cases, by the husbands or sons of women sitting across the table.

Why such compassion to the widows of their enemies? As one woman put it simply, “We are all mothers.” They came to our meetings to search for threads of human connection amidst the chaos of conflict.

Today, women raising their voices in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen are not all mothers, but they are also daughters, wives, sisters. They are fighting for their families, but they are also fighting for themselves; and in Palestine, the women of the occupied territories are fighting for the freedom to be included in the greater Palestinian struggle.

Heartening though this may be, as revolution gives way to realpolitik, women’s rights are all too often the first things to be compromised on and bartered away. For example, although these protests present an unprecedented opportunity for women, some of the results are less than encouraging. In Egypt, while the protests themselves were marked by a sense of unity, it did not take long for sexual harassment to reassert itself. And women returned to protest when the Supreme Council for the Armed forces, designating a committee to amend the country’s constitution, neglected to appoint a single woman.

Tomorrow: The Arab Woman You Don’t See – Part 2

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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