Panel Discussion Recap
Dr. Fida Adely began her presentation by noting that, historically, women in the Arab World have been involved politically, including taking on leadership roles. She suggested that women in the region are often more prominent in their societies than is conveyed by the popular culture in the West. For example, Dr. Adely recounted, despite women appearing in U.S. media footage showing the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt this year, commentators would often ask, “where are the women?” From her vantage point, being a witness to the rapid political developments in the Arab World from Amman, Jordan, she found her experience to negate much of the stereotypical rhetoric about the downtrodden Arab woman. In Jordan, she pointed out, there are many ways in which women are participating and advancing in civil society. Of note, is women’s involvement in labor and teachers’ unions. Also, she reported that more and more Jordanian men and women are achieving higher levels of education. And as much as Jordan has not itself been swept into the wave of the Arab Spring, Dr. Adely suggested that the expectations of a better life through achieving higher education coupled with the frustrations of not reaching it could create the kind of tension that would lead to eventual unrest.
Ms. Dina Guirguis focused her remarks on women in the Arab Spring in Egypt. She first asserted that the “Egyptian revolution shattered stereotypes, especially those on the role of women.” Indeed, Egyptian women play an active and vocal role in Egyptian society. Yet in contextualizing the position of women in Egypt she argued that the women’s quota in Parliament that had been maintained under former President Mubarak and the government agency on motherhood & childhood directed by his wife, Suzanne Mubarak, exemplified measures that only served as “rhetorical lip service” for the issue of women’s rights. The presence of female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual harassment on the streets, and the disparity of the quality and accessibility of education between boys and girls tell a different story. Ms. Guirguis stressed that in the revolution however, women had great latitude in taking part. It was during the 18 days in January 2011 of popular protests across the country, which ended in the fall of Egypt’s president, that a visual image was painted of women being physical agents of change. Ms. Guirguis highlighted the involvement of notable women in the revolution, such as Israa Abdel-Fatah and Asma Mahfouz, who both helped to galvanize the masses to action. It was through their use of social media that women were able to reach society directly and have their voices widely heard. But the struggle for recognition and increased rights for Egyptian women continues. Under the current ruling system, what Ms. Guirguis terms as a military dictatorship, attempts have been made to compromise women’s involvement. Ms. Guirguis gave the example of the women protestors, who were rounded up and forced to undergo “virginity tests” as a means of silencing and humiliating them. Ms. Guirguis argued that such methods backfired, however, when women, far from being silenced in shame, exposed the tactics of the military by vocalizing their ordeal in detail.