Depending on time and space, saying “feminism” and “Arab world” in the same sentence will get you only reactions of laughter, unless you mean they are incompatible – in which cases you’ll get zealous nods.
But prejudices hardly dictate the unexpected thread of history running before our eyes, and neither will they guide us to foretell it.
Feminism, which was at its peak in the 20th, has been at best stagnating, at worse declining in the western world in general and it got a lot of feminists to constantly recess old fights or even lost track of what the main fights were: like american women who have to battle with a political fringe who advocates and support women’s rights as much as they love their Latino immigrants, or even better, French feminists who instead of battling to end the 17% wage gap between men and women, prefer to lobby the government to get it to suppress the “mademoiselle” option on administrative papers claiming it’s the epitome of sexism.
Yes, it is very likely that most of the heiress of the flourishing western feminism have today been held in a complicated road or even worse sometimes lost their way.Indeed, we lost our way when we let down the main battles that the feminist pioneers would have held high on their goals to achieve, like equal earnings, only to battle administrative labels like “mademoiselle” or grammar that leans toward favoring male constructions, to cite the french example only.
And against all odds, I believe the feminists that will show us the way are appearing slowly but surely out the fog the Arab spring set on women’s rights.
While so many of us are being told that unlike the rest of the world, we are so advanced, developed, so superior in every possible way, many of us have become numb or unaware of the still sensitive and crucial stakes of feminism – here and there- and have turned to look down on other people, as if progress could only come out of us.
Let it not be said that Arab women’s struggle is going to be easy. They are facing huge challenges, in many ways much more than European women.There is no denying a European woman that has the right to vote unlike her Saudi counterpart is not on the same scale in terms of right struggle than her, but if the former is unaware of the struggles she still has to face and thus do not act toward dealing with it, then her rights as a woman are dying due to that ignorance.
As goes the saying “no one is more helplessly enslaved that those who think they are free” and unfortunately, taking our rights for granted seems to be the way a lot among us took.
Looking back at this outrageous picture of an Egyptian female protester who was stripped naked and beaten by the police while protesting for her rights and all Egyptians’ rights, I recall the famous picture of Ada Wright, beaten by police forces while protesting in the early 20th century for her right to vote in Britain with other feminists. They too were beaten, sexually harassed, assaulted and humiliated while struggling for their rights.
They too were brave women, who stood up to themselves and to their compatriots despite the difficulties they knew they would face as women.
These women were the greatest feminists, because they were aware in every possible way of all the struggles they would have to face: they didn’t ignore any of it, nor left out the less crucial ones, they had their eyes wide open and this is what lead them to success.
For a long time, many of us have been taking our rights for granted. These courageous arab women are not, and not just because they may not have some of the rights we do have, but because they are fully aware of every single struggle they have to battle, and every inch of it and they are not ready to give up any of it.
The struggle of women in the Arab spring as well as initiatives like “the uprising of women in the arab world” and the support they received are the beginning of the growing new arab feminism in this century, that goes beyond the polarizations that caught feminism in one position: by defending the right of the veiled as much as the right of the unveiled for example and thus simply defending freedom and choice, the essence of feminism.
This somehow leads me to believe, just like history showed, that sometimes the biggest progress does not necessarily come out of a step by step taken road, but by getting on climbing the biggest mountain.
So today, against all odds, I am looking up to the Arab world, full of hope. And actually, all feminists should.
YaLa Young Leaders