Authoritarianism, Women’s movements, and the Arab Spring: Room for optimism on International Women’s Day

A long history

In 1923 Huda Shaarawi became the first president of the Egyptian feminist Union. Although women’s movements and groups have flourished in the region since the Shaarawi’s time, there has been very little change in the actual conditions and status of women. As this 2011 Amnesty International Report highlights nearly a century later women in the Middle East and North Africa are still facing “discriminatory laws and deeply entrenched gender inequality.” Indeed, the report goes on to say that “Across the region, women generally have lower levels of education and higher levels of poverty, and are grossly under-represented in the corridors of power.”

Women’s movements under authoritarianism

Rather than religious interpretations or cultural norms, the most important reason for the lack of progress with women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa is that until the momentous events of early 2011, all the states in the region were characterised by authoritarianism (and most remain so). Totalitarian leaders dominated their societies so completely that women’s movements have been denied the autonomy and independence needed to push for a meaningful change in the lives of women.

Due to the nature of authoritarian politics women’s groups were not able to develop as mass movements with power bases and popular support but rather had to focus on advocating leaders, or even first ladies, to introduce reforms. In most cases, this enabled them to gain only small changes that were often little more than fig leaves for the problems faced by Middle Eastern and North African women.

Women’s rights under a dictator: The case of Egypt

Any changes that were made tended to benefit presidents and monarchs more than women. For example, in early 2010 Hosni Mubarak introduced a quota of 64 seats for women MPs (out of 508 – about 12%) in the Egyptian parliament. Though a positive step in itself, every single quota seat went to members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party which not only limited the effect of the reform but delegitimised the very notion of a quota for female MPs in the eyes of the Egyptian public.

Not only are such reforms limited but any gains they did achieve were inherently vulnerable as they are dependent on the goodwill of the leader and can be easily reversed if circumstances change. For example, in the 1970s lobbying of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s wife Jihan led to some minor reforms of the Egyptian personal code. However, when Sadat was replaced by Hosni Mubarak, ‘Jihan’s laws’ left with him. Thirty years later when Egyptian revolutionaries, many of whom were women, overthrew Mubarak, the reforms associated with his wife Suzanne are now under threat, tainted with being tied to the former regime and without a dictator to uphold them.

This dynamic was not only present in Egypt but in almost every state in the region. For example, in Libya Qaddafi’s domination (along with his daughter Aisha) of the women’s movement was so absolute that it has been referred to as ‘state feminism’ under which some progressive changes are introduced but entirely at the whim of the leader and his inner circle and often only for show. Similarly, Ben Ali sought to actively exploit Tunisia’s relatively good women’s rights record in order to provide international cover for broader human rights violations.

Trying to resist authoritarianism: The case of Morocco

This is not to say that women’s movements in the MENA region have not tried to overcome this problem. In 2000 a coalition of women’s groups in Morocco launched a million-signature-campaign to introduce a new family law (moudawana) in the kingdom. In order to avoid reinforcing the authoritarian nature of Moroccan politics, they presented their petition and proposals to Morocco’s elected parliament. However, the plans were blocked as parliament lacked the ability to carry forward the reforms in the face of conservative opposition. The lesson learnt was that there was no point in the women’s movement seeking to mass mobilize and introduce reforms through democratic channels.

Four years later, the same coalition decided to bypass parliament and presented the reforms directly to the king, Mohammad VI. Within two months a slightly diluted version of the proposals became law “in the name of the king”. The reforms, and the women’s movement as a whole, were now dependant on and indebted to Mohammad VI. A victory had been won but at the cost of a powerful women’s movement that could continue to push for and maintain women’s rights autonomously – including the constant application of the new law.

Half a revolution?

With the changes that have taken place in the region over the past year, there has been much disappointment with regards to women’s rights. In fact, there are far less female MPs in Egypt now than there were under Mubarak, women have been largely excluded from the Transitional National Council in Libya, and women have made little gains in Tunisia.

This is largely due to the fact that the respective women’s movements lack the power to take advantage of the political vacuum created by the fall of regimes during the Arab Spring. It should come as no surprise that women’s groups have been slow to effectively organise in the aftermath of the revolutions as under former regimes organising was either not permitted or redundant.

As a result of the nature of authoritarian politics women’s groups were pushed into strategies of concentrating on advocating authoritarian leaders as this was the only realistic means for achieving reforms. As such there was little incentive, let alone opportunity, for mass-mobilization or building-power bases.

Optimism for the future?

Nevertheless, following the Arab Spring revolutions, there is hope that this pattern can be broken and in the long term real changes can be made in the transitional states. In Egypt, for example, women have shown that they can be mobilized en masse, with vast numbers of women coming out to vote in Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections.

With authoritarian regimes removed, women’s groups can now mobilize popular support behind their causes and, once democratically elected governments become dependent upon their support for re-election, there is finally the possibility that real and meaningful changes will be introduced.

For this to happen it is essential that civil society organisations, and in particular the women’s movements and women human rights defenders, are given the space to campaign freely, effectively, and independently for women’s human rights. This is why it is so important to ensure that the new regimes respect freedom of association and the rights of activists.

AIUK event

Want to show your solidarity with women’s human rights defenders in the Middle East? Come to Amnesty International UK’s panel event on 20th March at 7pm to hear activists from Egypt, Libya, and Iran speak.

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Making a Joke of Misogyny: The twin dangers of trivialising and glamourising violence against women

Misogyny in the West
When I was working for UN Women in Cairo I regularly encountered, both from opponents and advocates of gender equality, the view that women’s rights are a fundamentally western project, an aspiration to impose Western standards and values onto Egypt. However, the view that the West is a utopia or dystopia (depending on your point of view) with regards to women’s rights can be misleading.

Whilst it is undeniable that, in many ways, Western countries have vastly better records of respecting women’s rights than Egypt – the conclusion that in the West women themselves are ‘respected’ is far more problematic.

Sadly, misogyny is still very much present in the West. Not only this but, unlike other forms of prejudice and hatred, it’s often viewed as acceptable, trivial, and at times even glamorous.

Can rape be funny?
The extent of misogyny in our society can be seen from the way violence against women is regularly treated as a humorous topic. This issue was brought up this week in an article by  Naomi McAuliffe ridiculing the website unilad.com. The site was devoted to ‘banter’ which largely constituted jokes about rape some of which were printed on T-shirts and sold online. One article on the website, entitled ‘Sexual Mathematics’, concludes by saying that if you take a girl for a drink and she “won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported”, going on to say that “we like those odds”. Personally, I think that if a punch line involves urging men to commit rape the joke should not be told.

Unfortunately, the case of unilad.com is not an isolated incident but part of a wider notion that violence against women is a legitimate source of humour. Indeed, the site has nearly 80,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook – an indication of its popularity. Furthermore, there have been a plethora of other cases in which comedians have been sexual violence as legitimate material for a comedy routine. To name just one example, Russell Brand hilariously called a rape crisis hotline live on stage as part of his act during a live gig in Northampton.

Aside from the obvious offence that would be caused to a survivor of rape in Brand’s audience, there is a real danger of trivialising rape and violence against women that has potentially dreadful results.

Musical Misogyny
Further evidence of the trivialisation and even glamourisation of violence against women can be found in the music industry. You don’t have to look very far among the most popular artists to find shocking and explicit references to domestic and sexual violence.

Perhaps the most high-profile example is that of Rihanna, famously a victim of domestic violence, in her duet with Eminem. The rapper concludes the his final verse with the lines:

“If she ever tries to fuckin’ leave again,
I’ma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire”

This line is immediately followed by Rihanna singing about how much she ‘loves the way it burns’. Unfortunately, this song is far from a one-off and by no means the worst offender.

For that we can turn to Kanye West’s single Monster. The most dramatic instance of misogyny can be found when West boasts that ‘now she claiming that I bruised her oesophagus’ whilst lauding himself as ‘a motherfuckin’ monster’.

The video to accompany Monster is even more shocking. In fact, the video is so full of scenes of sexual violence that it is difficult to know where to start.  There are scenes of dead naked women hanging by their necks from chains:

Several in which the rapper asexually assaults the unconscious bodies of two women:

Another in which West casually holds the severed head of a woman:

And even one point when a man holding a chain saw closes the door to a room in which a women lies unconscious – presumably about to be mutilated.

West tries to pre-empt criticism of his patently offensive depictions of violence against women by opening the video with the following disclaimer:

His best efforts aside, just as prefixing a sentence with ‘I’m not racist but…’ doesn’t excuse the speaker of racism a three-line disclaimer doesn’t absolve West of responsibility.

The glamorisation of sexual and domestic violence against women is not confined to rappers and hip-hop. This can be seen from America’s latest darling of pop Lana Del Ray. The video to her track Born to Die features shocking scenes of violence: at one point Del Ray is lying in bed whilst her boyfriend casually chokes her and in another he aggressively pulls her face towards him. All of this takes place whilst Del Ray sings about trying “to have fun in the meantime” and taking “a walk on the wild side”.

The video climaxes with Del Ray’s boyfriend carrying her unconscious mutilated and blood -soaked body whilst he bears a single defence wound above his left eye. It is not hard to infer what has happened.

Ignoring Misogyny
The explicit violence in Monster could be put down to one very disturbed and misogynistic young man. However, the fact that such music can be bought by millions of people and receive critical acclaim shows that it is part of wider phenomenon of violence against women constituting acceptable entertainment.

This can be seen from the critical reaction to obviously misogynistic entertainment in the media. A handful of feminist blogs aside, its misogynistic elements were largely ignored. For example, in his review in the Daily Telegraph Neil McCormick lauds West’s album, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy (that counts Monster as one of its singles) as a masterpiece and goes so far as to call it “the Sgt. Pepper of hip hop”. Indeed, in his gender-blind review, McCormick fails to even mention the disgusting misogyny prevalent in the record. Though he does say that “when you really are this great, you can be forgiven almost anything.” I beg to differ.

Another example is the media reaction to 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Media attention focused on Kanye West’s abuse of Taylor Swift that rightly received harsh criticism with even Barak Obama weighing in to chastise West. However, as this article by Ximena Ramirez points out, a joke about date-raping Megan Fox made by host Russell Brand went almost entirely without criticism.

The Dangers of Acceptable Misogyny
The portrayal in such music videos of domestic violence as a normal part of a relationship, and even a signifier of an intense romanticised love, is particularly troubling. As is West’s portrayal of sexual violence as a legitimate part of a ‘dark fantasy’. This is particularly the case as children in their early teens make up a significant part of the fan base of such artists.

With popular culture so infused with references and portrayals of violence against women it is perhaps unsurprising that such ideas seep into wider societal discourse. Just this week I’ve heard the word ‘raped’ used to refer to both getting drunk and losing a football match.

This trivialisation means that violence against women is consistently treated in a way that is very different from say, paedophilia. As Naomi McAuliffe points out, it’s hard to imagine a web site selling t-shirts making jokes out of child abuse doing well. Similarly, the defence of ‘it’s only a joke’ wouldn’t be enough to justify a racist remark. The difference is that rape, misogyny in general, is deemed to be acceptable and even fashionable.

The trivialisation of violence against women has a variety of potential dangerous repercussions. Indeed, the idea that violence against women is acceptable is one of the largest obstacles we face in eliminating it – in terms of it not being committed in the first place, getting abuses reported, getting the authorities to take it seriously, or securing funding for victim services (for example the relatively little public attention given to the recent funding cuts to refuges for women). Faced with such a problems we all have a duty to challenge and rebuke everything that glamorises or trivialises violence against women be it jokes about rape or music videos glamorising domestic violence.Furthermore, I agree with Luke Turner that men have a particularly important role in rebuking such ideas given the dismissive and abusive attitude projected towards many female advocates of women’s rights.

I challenge everyone to pledge to always question trivial references to violence against women and boycott entertainment that glamorises it.

Five Reasons Why Awarding Tawakkul Karman the Nobel Peace Prize was the Right Choice

On Friday the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded three women’s rights activists: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia and Tawakkul Karman from Yemen. All three are thoroughly deserving of the prize but it was the committee’s choice of Karman that was particularly inspired. Here I put forward five reasons why the choosing Tawakkul Karman was the right decision.

1.     It highlights the Role of, and Consequences for, Women in the Arab Spring
Many commentators have expressed their disappointment that the Nobel Peace Prize had got gone to the activists behind the Arab Spring. For example, Brookings Institute Director of Research Shadi Hamid tweeted:

“Women’s rights is an ongoing struggle, so seems odd #Nobel cmte would pick this yr, when Arab spring one of biggest events in decades”

It’s true that the realisation of women’s rights is an ongoing struggle but, precisely because of the Arab Spring, this is a crucial moment for women in the Middle East. The consequences of the Arab Spring for women have been widely varied. In Tunisia, the revolution has secured and built upon the culture of respecting women’s rights there with each political party now required to have 50% of its lists as female candidates. In contrast, the consequences have been very different for women in Egypt. As I said in last week’s blog, despite the role of women in the revolution and the abundant hopes that characterised the time shortly after the ousting of Mubarak, activists are now fighting just to hold on to what they had before.

As such, this is a pivotal moment for women in the Middle East. Women will either be carried with or left behind by the revolutionary momentum that has built up in the region. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to an female revolutionary leader from the Arab world, a women who is called the ‘mother of the revolution’, is a step toward ensuring it’s the former and not the latter. It helps to keep the world’s attention of women’s rights in the Middle East serves as a reminder that there is more to the Arab spring than overthrowing dictators.

2.     The Impact on Yemen
As well as promoting women’s rights in the Arab world, the awarding of the prize to Tawakkul Karman also draws attention to Yemen for the rights reasons; for once Yemen is in the news for its revolution and activists and not al-Qaeda or political instability.

This put new pressure on the regime and provides a huge boost to those fighting for a revolution in Yemen. It is no surprise that a day after the announcement President Saleh ‘promised’ he would resign within days. Even if this promise is mere rhetoric, Salah had to react to the increase international pressure that awarding the Nobel Prize to Karman provided.

3.     It reinforces the notion of Islamism being compatible with Women’s RIghts
Over the last 10 years it has become increasing clear that the realisation of women’s rights in the Middle East can only be done in a manner consistent with Islamist discourse and with the consent or the main Islamist groups. This was most clearly seen in Morocco where a new family law was effectively vetoed in 2000 by the main Islamist groups only to be passed four years later once it had been reformulated according to Islamist language (with only small changes to the actual substance of the laws). With Islamist parties likely to be the largest in the new parliaments of revolutionary states and the largest opposition parties in other regional states, this pattern looks set to continue.

Despite the common conception that Islamism and women’s rights are incompatible, history shows that not to be the case and political reality means that it will be necessary for women’s rights activists to work with Islamist parties in order to get legislation passed.

Karman’s close relationship with the al-Islah party makes an interesting case in point. Her position as a both a women’s rights campaigner and an Islamist sympathiser in many ways gives her more scope to press for reforms beneficial to women. Though she has faced difficulties with some wings of al-Islah, most notably after she was critical after it blocked a law making it illegal for girls under 17 to marry, she sees it as the most effective way to pursue women’s rights in Yemen. This path will need to be well trodden over the coming years if the situation of women in the Middle East is to improve. It is for this reason that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakkul Karman and raising awareness of an Islamist campaigner for women’s rights is so important.

4.     Karman as a Role Model
Awarding such a prestigious prize to Middle Eastern women in itself encourages others to follow in Karman’s footsteps and demand their rights. Even before the prize was given to her, Karman was a role model for many women in her native Yemen. As she said to the Guardian:

“If you go to the protests now, you will see something you never saw before: hundreds of women. They shout and sing, they even sleep there in tents. This is not just a political revolution, it’s a social revolution.”

The Nobel prize projects Karman onto the global stage, inspiring thousands of Arab women. Karman described the prize as “a victory for Arab women” and there is real hope that it will turn out to be so.

5.     Promoting Women’s rights promotes democracy
Returning to the initial criticism of the choice of Sirleaf, Gbowee, and Karman – that the Arab Spring was more important than women’s rights – provides the fifth reason: that promoting women’s rights itself promotes democracy; women’s rights are a fundamental part of the Arab Spring.

This was explicitly noted by the Nobel committee:

“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society”

Rather than choosing women’s rights over democracy, the decision recognises that democracy cannot be achieved without empowering women.

They were a vital part of the revolution – but have things since got worse for Egyptian women?

History Repeating Itself
Iranian women were instrumental in bringing down Shah in 1979. However, the regime that revolution brought about is very different from the one most Iranian women were hoping for when they took to the streets. Indeed, speaking to the BBC on the 30th anniversary of the revolution Shirin Ebadi claimed that:

“Only five months had passed since the revolution when the Revolutionary Council took away all the rights that women had won over the previous years even though the new constitution had yet to be passed and the new president had not been elected.”

For anyone familiar with the fate of women in Egypt since the revolution, this makes for chilling reading. As with Iran, despite the initial hopes the situation of women has in many ways worsened since the revolution. As Dina Abou el Soud, founder of the Women’s Revolutionary Coalition puts it, “after the revolution, everything started to go backwards.”

Whereas in Tunisia, the revolution was used as an opportunity to consolidate and improve women’s rights, in Egypt the limitless optimism and euphoria of January has been replaced by a desperate fight to hold on to what they had before.

Virginity Tests
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that now rules Egypt was rightly denounced when it subjected detained female protesters to virginity tests –  tests that were described by Amnesty International as tantamount to torture. A general anonymously told CNN:

“we didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.”

The perverse logic of this comment aside, it’s emblematic of the misogyny that exists at the very top of the military government. However, along with such disturbing and high profile infringements of women’s rights, there lies a deeper and perhaps even more troubling current among Egyptian politics that involves an eroding of the political representation and legal status of women. Rather than the great opportunity to push forward with gender equality that many had expected the revolution to herald, women’s rights activists are now fighting just to hold on to what they had in before the revolution.

The Exclusion of Women from the Political Process
The new government that was formed in the wake of Mubarak signified the reduced role that women play in the new Egypt. The new cabinet contained only a solitary woman, compared to four in the pre-revolution one. On the 19th March amendments to the constitution were passed. However, the committee appointed by the SCAF that determined these amendments didn’t include a single woman. Predictably, the committee then proceeded to enact measures that further limited the political representation of women in Egypt.

The most important of these was the removal, on 20th July, of the already small quota (64 of 454 seats – 12%) of female MPs that existed in the Mubarak era. Though the new law requires each party to have at least one woman on their party list, they are likely to be at the bottom. It seems inevitable that when a new parliament is formed it is will hold less female MPs than previous one.

Another heavily criticised move was the amendment to article 26 of the constitution that seems to prohibit a woman from becoming president. It stipulates that the president ألا يكون متزوجاً من غير مصري (cannot be married to a non-Egyptian). The repeated use of the masculine pronoun implies that the President must be a man. However, rather than a deliberate ploy to prevent a woman from becoming president, it is more likely that it simply never occurred to the committee such is the political irrelevance of women in contemporary Egypt.

It is not only in parliament that women are un(der)represented. The main groups that were active in the revolution have very few female leaders. There are, for example, no women in the Muslim Brotherhood’s highest body, the majlis shura (consultative council). My interviews with April 6th members revealed that the youth movement has far more male than female members and doesn’t have a women’s officer or any project specifically designed to pursue the interests of women in Egypt. Though they maintain that the issues of women are pursued within a broader democratic project.

The Fight to Keep Suzanne’s Laws
Along with the political representation, another threat to the position of women in Egypt is an increasing pressure to reform family laws. The ‘Suzanne Mubarak Laws’, passed between 2000-2010 and named after the former presidents wife who was instrumental in getting them passed, are some of the most progressive in the Egyptian legal system. They include the جلع (khula’) law that allows women to be granted a divorce even if their husband refuses so long as they pay back the dowry and an amendment to the custody law that enables mothers to keep their children until they are 15 (increased from 9).

Whilst acknowledging that these are some of the most progressive laws in Egypt, the relativity of this statement must be kept in mind. In many ways the laws are already problematic. For example, the khula’ divorces routinely take a long time to pass through the courts with women often forced to remain with abusive partners. Furthermore, there are problems with women’s access to lawyers and the requirement of paying back the dowry and legal fees restricts the process to relatively well off women. Secondly, whilst, as the name implies, the passing of the laws was largely due to Suzanne Mubarak, the laws were the product of years of work by women’s NGOs that Mrs. Mubarak provided the rubber stamp to.

The problem they now face is that a conservative discourse is gaining strength that decries the laws as undermining the traditional Egyptian family, increasing the divorce rate and damaging the social fabric. Combined with a drive on to purge Egypt of everything associated with Mubarak, there is a significant threat that these laws will be repealed.

Is Islamism the threat?
The conservative nature of the opposition to these laws has lead many to equate it with Islamism. The recent decision of grand mufti Gomaa to ‘review’ these laws adds weight to such claims. Isabel Coleman writes in Chatham House’s World Today that in Egypt there is a danger of backsliding as

“women can no longer count on authoritarian rulers to hold the line on women’s rights in the face of Islamist pressures”.

However, the assumption that Islamism and women’s rights are essentially at odds is problematic. Coleman herself writes in the same article that women’s rights are a contentious issue within the Muslim Brotherhood – seemingly evidence of the compatibility with women’s rights with at least some Islamists. Indeed, in June there was a mass conference of female members of the Muslim Brotherhood (the sisters) to which there were 1000s of attendees. Whereas before the revolution their activism was limited on security grounds, there is now increasing pressure from the women to be more openly involved in the organization and many of the female MPs in the next parliament are likely to come from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The potential compatibility between Islamism and women’s rights can be seen from the experience of other North African States. In Tunisia the Nahda party has consistency stated its support of the most progressive family code in the Arab world. Similarly, the 2004 reform of the family law in Morocco was supported by the two main Islamist groups. Nadia Yassine, head of the women’s section of Islamist group al-Adl wa-Ihsan (Justice and Charity) described the new law to me as ‘a beautiful thing, 100% Islamic’ and even the more conservative Party of Justice and Development (PJD) voted for it in parliament. Rather than Islamism per se, the problem in Egypt is one of patriarchy. Many Islamists may be against women’s rights but that is not simply because they are Islamists.

Indeed, all the Suzanne laws take their inspiration from Islamic law and cannot be consider Western imports into the Egyptian legal system. Indeed, Claudia Ruta, a governance specialist at the UN women office in Cairo argues that opposition to the laws are based less on religious grounds that and more on financial factors. For example, one of the main determinants of opposition to the custody law amendment is that once custody of the child is given to women the father must pay significant costs including a flat for the mother and child to live in. Reducing the age of custody reduces the cost that separated fathers must pay. The opposition is rarely a Fathers for Justice-esque.

A Problem of Perceptions
The patriarchal nature of Egyptian society leads to perceptions of women and even their own self-perceptions that limit the ability of women to enjoy political, legal, or social equality in the country. Dina Abou El Soud angrily recalls that in the period after the revolution she was told by many male activists that they were thankful for the help of women during the revolution but that now they should return to their homes.

Such views are even repeated by educated women. Hana, an activist and senior member of the April 6th movement confessed to me that she didn’t think there was enough competent female MPs to fill a quota and was thus in favour of its abolition (this is despite the mess that men have made in ruling Egypt over the past 50 years!). This lack of faith in the ability of women to participate and perception that they should be kept away from the public sphere runs through society and is one of the most serious problems facing women’s rights campaigners.

Many of the activists I have spoken to stress the need to work extensively with the young generation, both at high school and university levels to change the discourse surrounding women in Egypt. However, it is less clear where the resources and staff needed to implement such a scheme on the scale needed will come from.

Divided We Fall
In order to create widespread changes in the status of women in Egypt cooperation between the disparate women’s groups is needed. However, as Dina Abou El Soud reveals, the relationship between groups is defined more by competition than cooperation. With funding limited, groups are left to fight among themselves and protect organisational interests rather than work together for a common goal.

An Optimistic Note
To counter this division several coalitions have been formed including Dina’s own Coalition for Revolutionary Women. This coalition will seek to work with 13-18 year olds to create a basis for pushing for greater representation of women in the elections after the next ones. Alongside this, next month the Arab Alliance for Women will launch a Federation of women’s groups that will be the biggest in the Arab world that will seek to facilitate the effective cooperation of women’s groups. The Alliance has already produced a charter with clear aims at improving the situation of women in Egypt and includes detailed aims in a variety of fields. Such plans provide tentative optimism into post-revoltuionary Egypt.

Another positive aspect of the revolution is that it has enabled women’s rights activists to work freely – now holding meetings in the open and advertising them on facebook. The revolution also inspired a new generation of activists, many of whom support gender equality. Dina describes the revolution as having “woken women up” saying that “I went out on to the streets in January and I never came back.”

Shirin Ebadi says that while the Iranian revolution:

“caused women to go back a few steps under the law … this only made women work harder to regain their rights and to prove themselves”.

Once again, the parallels with Egypt are clear.