Special Commentary on Egypt from Karama CEO Hibaaq Osman
On March 8 — International Women’s Day — I joined hundreds of Egyptian women in Tahrir Square to honor the sacrifices of Sally Zahran, Mina Naggy, Mariam Nazier. These three martyrs of the January 25 revolution, whose blood stains still bless the square, gave their lives for the freedom of all Egyptians – and no one will ever take that away.
The agenda today was not to protest, but to celebrate the sacrifices women have made in the revolution. It was for Egyptian women to challenge the new government to live up to the ideals of democracy and human rights by honoring and respecting the universal rights of women, in their homes, streets, workplaces, and under equal protection of Egyptian law. In Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut and all around Egypt, women were there side by side with the men, and if women are left behind, we will not have a true revolution, but a reversal of rights for all.
As Egyptian and international media have reported, this peaceful demonstration was marred by the disgraceful and violent actions of organized thugs. These men ripped our signs, shouted vulgarity, menaced us and surrounded and beat some peaceful demonstrators. At the moment, it is unclear what group or groups organized these actions. What is clear, is that today’s women’s day must be a wakeup call for the women’s movement and female political leaders in Egypt and around the region.
While Egyptians have accomplished much in the last month, we know now that some powerful groups will do whatever they can to maintain the unacceptable status quo and enforce their agenda of eliminating women from the political, economic and social scene. These groups are waiting for the chance to put women in their place, which is no place.
We learned a lot from today. We learned that women’s movements need to be vigilant, mobilize even greater numbers, and finally, we learned that women’s groups need better security provisions when operating in public. Women need a safe space to voice their opinions, assemble and chart their political future.
It’s a new dawn in Egypt. Giving birth to a new democracy is complex and difficult for the society at large. Being the front, center, and backbone of the society, women are politically engaged to support the democratization process, to prepare the society at large, and make sure the constitution has laws that promote and protect women. Women’s rights are a test for universal rights, yet women’s rights are usually the first ones to be challenged and negotiated out. Loss of women’s rights would be loss of everyone’s rights and hurt chances for democracy.
It will be a non-stop marathon of persistence, insistence and pressuring by working closely with youth and political parties to build strong constituencies for freedom, social justice, and human rights in dignity, preparing society for the democratic process, training women, and raising awareness about the constitutional amendments.
Women’s rights are not a luxury to be bargained away, and they are not free. The martyrs of the revolution taught us this. And we must continue and complete their struggle.