Fire in the Arab world — what it means for women

Since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia this past December, the Arab world has been ablaze. The latest events in Egypt have brought to the fore many questions and much analysis regarding individual actions in Arabic countries and how these affect the community.

When watching the news or reading the papers, where so many men are mingling in the streets in Egypt or, recently, Algeria, still only a few women are visible. Yet their presence is important, their actions and their rights can’t get lost in the shuffle.

Two articles appearing in two different papers, both in the op ed pages, have brought to light this reflection. One article is from The New York Times, February 2, 2011–Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square by Nicholas D. Kristof. What he remarks on of special significance is how two women stand up to some of the pro-Mubarak thugs sent in to stomp down the protesters. Kristof was impressed by how these women, two sisters, stood their ground, determined to continue their journey to Tahrir Square, where they could also lift their voice. The journalist’s question, arising from his encounter with the women and his witnessing of the clashes between protesters and government supporters, is if these women, “armed only with their principles, can stand up to Mr. Mubarak’s thuggery, can’t we all do the same?” Indeed. The two sisters are sisters not only to each other, but to women and men around the world with the courage and determination to stand up for their own rights and needs and those of their fellow citizens. They are family to all those who believe in the freedom to choose how to live in our countries, not to be cowed down by force.

Another article, in the English-language version of El PaĆ­s, and from the same date (2/2/2011), is written by one of Spain’s most significant contemporary writers and thinkers, Juan Goytisolo, who has lived the past twenty years in the Maghreb, in Morocco. Titled Believe It or Not, the article discusses how a retrograde form of Islam has been expanding throughout the Arab world, through the dismantling of secular educational systems and the revival of “anachronistic customs and dogmas.” This has in part been responsible for forming a youth that is not prepared for work in the contemporary world: “The contrast between the astronomic military budgets (where there is oil) of the region’s regimes and the mediocre educational levels of the younger generations is striking. The young perform poorly in the hard sciences, and are utterly ignorant in the (proscribed) humanities.” This has of course created a culture that is easily manipulated, and thoroughly impoverished in every way. Lighting a fire again in these communities, and from within, seems to be a necessary choice by members of the society who recognize that their people must be enlightened again and must be given choice in their lives and greater possibilities through education and work, pushing back against repressive systems. He writes: “Events since the Twin Towers attack point to a new time of turbulence. The wave of suicide attacks against Christian communities living in Iraq and Egypt since before the time of Islam reveal to what point the regression in civic and educational values in these countries constitutes an obstacle to their acceptance of universal standards of human rights, particularly those of women.” Goytisolo’s point is that the communities must recognize this repression and revolt against it, take responsibility for their right to be a part of the modern world–starting with the basic rights of dignity and work. And that the whole of the community, from all of its youth, to its women, must benefit.

Women key to growth & change

While researching women’s and girl’s empowerment groups around the world, we came across an article about the crucial role of women to effect change in their community, specifically in Nigeria. Below are the first two paragraphs from this article, posted in AfricaFiles:

Women empowerment – pivot for national growth

Analysts believe that Nigeria, with around 140 million citizens, and a huge population of women, has the potential to transmute from a poverty-stricken nation to a vibrant economy; through adequate empowerment of women. Various organisations support this viewpoint. Abimbola Akosile met the Executive Director of Awesome Treasures Foundation (ATF), Mrs. Olajumoke Adenowo, who is actively involved in the empowerment process; and writes on a remarkable input to a vital national process

Saving a country

Women in Nigeria are crucial, beyond certain customary duties and procreation efforts. They have the potential to turn an ailing economy around, at the family, local, state or national levels, through their in-bred economic strength, organisational skills, and single-minded focus to surmount obstacles posed by their environment, culture, and ‘stronger’ partners, the men. There is no gainsaying the fact that not all women are adequately positioned to ensure optimal output from their environment, but there is no denying the fact that most women who successfully attain positions of power in the society, put in more effort than men to ensure a better life for the good of all. Be it a bicycle-riding matriarch in the rural reaches of Edo State, or a melon-shelling mother in the remote corners of the South West, the over-riding focus is on how to contribute their quota to a needy development process.

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