Being Seen and Heard: The Uprising of Women in the Arab World

Tuesday of this week marked the first physical demonstration organised by the phenomenon that has becoming The Uprising of Women in the Arab World. Women in countries across the globe protested outside Egyptian embassies and consulates in response to the sexual violence against women which has occurred in Egypt since the Arab Spring.

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World began in late 2011 as a social media movement spearheaded by four Arab women – two from Lebanon, one from Egypt and one from Palestine. The Uprising of Women in the Arab World calls for women across the Arab world “To say no to violence against women, no to their allegiance to men, no to repression and abuse, no to their treatment as second class citizens. We demand the full application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Arab women, just as for men.”

The women mounted what has become a hugely effective campaign, reaching across the Arab world and garnering international attention, creating a near-100, 000-strong community of women (and men) large enough to sustain real and noticeable change. In October they launched a photo campaign, asking supporters to post photos of themselves holding a sign explaining why they support the uprising of Arab women. Thousands of people responded, with one Syrian woman in particular gaining the movement international attention by posting a picture of herself unveiled.

“We’re doing the exact opposite of what the traditional Egyptian society and other Arab societies tend to do, which is shaming and silencing,” said Yalda Younes, one of the Lebanese founders of the movement. “You can’t put pressure on these women anymore, because we are more numerous. They may seem to control the square, but we are the ones who stand strong together.”

The actions of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World are ground-breaking, and intersect powerfully with a point Elizabeth Gilbert made when she spoke at the Sydney Opera House last month. Approaching the movement with what Gilbert says in mind, these women can be seen as intrepid social and political cartographers

 “We as women in the 21st century need to constantly maintain a very realistic perspective on how far we have come…It’s so new what we are. Women of this generation – any woman born in the last 70 years in the industrialised West – almost are a new species of human being. We don’t have centuries of role models and mythologies to look back to for ‘how to do it’, because no one was given what we were given. We don’t have literate, articulate, financially autonomous, biologically autonomous women to look back at through history because they didn’t exist. It’s just starting.”

For more thoughts about the Arab Spring, check out our upcoming event We Need To Talk About Islam.