That women were every bit as able to be full partners in the history-making
demonstrations that are still continuing in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as in
many other countries throughout the region, has been proven. That there is
an enormous reservoir of skills among the women of MENA is perhaps less
known but no less true.
But integrating these women as equal partners in the post-demonstration
phase of democracy-building is going to be tough on Arab men. To achieve
that partnership, most Arab males are going to have to take on a really hard
job: Changing their attitudes toward women.
Arab men are often heard saying that Sharia law treats women equally (it
doesn't). But if they really believe that, they're going to have to shed some
of the stereotypes that have plagued Arab women for centuries.
Not an easy task. But the incentive is huge. Because this is a time, arguably
more than any other in recent history, when embryonic democracies need all
the smart, motivated players they can recruit, regardless of gender.
And speaking of motivation, some of the most thoughtful, poetic, heart-
wrenching descriptions of what the pro-democracy movement means, have
come from women.
One that strikes me as particularly poignant comes from Egyptian-born
columnist and speaker Mona Eltahawy. Writing in The Guardian, she said:
"To understand the importance of what's going in Egypt, take the barricades
of 1968 (for a good youthful zing), throw them into a mixer with 1989 and
blend to produce the potent brew that the popular uprising in Egypt is
preparing to offer the entire region. It's the most exciting time of my life.
Watching the uprising from New York City exhilarates me and makes me so
proud to be an Egyptian. I cry when I see video footage of Tahrir Square in
downtown Cairo, filled with thousands upon thousands chanting: 'The
people want to topple the president.'
"Tahrir means liberation in Arabic, and it gives me goosebumps as I watch
my country people demand liberty," she said.
For Mona, and women throughout the region, democracy is not something
the women want the men to achieve for them. It is something they want to
achieve with them. Together.
And if the guys in the Middle East are as smart as they're going to have to
be, they'll figure out how to make that happen.
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