For several weeks I had been looking forward to and planning for the millions march in central Cairo in celebration of International Women’s Day. After work that day, my sister and I quickly got ready and headed to Tahrir Square to join the group. However, what we found was something quite different than the expected millions. It took us a good ten to fifteen minutes wandering around before we found any demonstrators. It was clearly no millioneya (the Arabic word for a million person march). What we found were about 20 women and a few men who had joined them spread out on the sidewalk of one side of the square with a couple hundred bystanders and ‘anti-women’ protestors surrounding them from all directions. We pushed through the throng to stand with our group. Immediately we began hearing and seeing the reaction of the ‘anti-women’ protestors to the small groups of women protestors.
Bear with me as I give you the details of what I saw and heard. There were men who raised their shoes at us, screamed at us, chanted at us, pushed us, insulted us, called us bitches, Israelis, and Jews. Some of the women were harassed physically. They were separated from their friends and pushed to the ground and groped and touched. Some of these ‘anti-women’ protestors were even women! And to top it all off, there was a Muslim sheikh on the shoulders of some men leading a crowd hurling insults at the women.
What a shock it was to my sister and I, and to all of the women there that day. We had such high expectations for this march and the whole country was still reveling in our newfound freedom of speech, yet as women, we could not express the simplest of our desires or dreams.
Now on the positive side of things, there were a few men who just wanted to talk, and that was exactly what we did with them. We talked about their objections to our demands and challenged their views. One man said that a woman could never be president because she was too emotional and unable to control it. When I pointed out to him that it was the men around us that were screaming and that the “emotional” women were just standing quietly, the young man said that it was women’s “inner emotions” that were the problem and walked off. Another gentleman said that the “Quran…”- that’s where I stopped him. I showed him my cross and said that the Quran had no jurisdiction over me. He had no response and looked confused. Another man just said he didn’t think a woman should be over men in regards to having a woman president, yet he was ok with a woman over him at work. “A country is much different than a company,” he said but gave me no explanation why. One last example was a woman who first of all claimed she had never been sexually harassed in public and, when challenged on that point, thought it was crazy to call ‘catcalls’ in the street harassment. She claimed this was a form of communication.
As the night moved on we just had to leave. There was a constant mob of men surrounding three of us, and when we tried to move or join the other women they followed us and squeezed in from every direction. All we could do was leave.
Below are my thoughts on these events and the reactions that followed:
1) Some people are claiming that many of these anti-woman protestors were baltageya (paid thugs by the government). Whether that is true or not, we saw a very sad reality yesterday in Egypt. These men’s presence against us alone showed that there is no equality and respect for women. Now, Egypt is far ahead of some of our neighboring countries in regards to women’s rights. We can work, drive, and even participate in some politics. However: we are freely and openly beaten without any protection from police, we are sexually harassed everywhere we go, and no matter how we are dressed or behave we are blamed for it all. Now that is reality. Even if what happened yesterday was done by just some baltageya, the fact of the matter is that in this country ignorance prevails to a degree that is incomprehensible. Some Egyptian’s arguments regarding women are so behind the times that they are the same arguments people used in Western countries in the 1800′s.
2) Generally speaking, it is human nature to abuse, and people will abuse when they can: women against children, rich against poor, and of course men against women. Once a man that I respect told me that if there is no authority, (whether by government, religion, or morality), controlling a man he will abuse woman. Even the very definition of abuse is skewed by both men and women in Egypt. Some ask how we can demand that a man not hit his wife for cooking a bad meal. That, for example, is one common and acceptable practice among many.
3) Some people are saying that this is not the time for us to speak out for the rights of women minorities and the disadvantaged- First security, then equality. But wait a minute, we had “security” for years, now we want to go back to that so-called security and then get our rights. If now is not the time for rights, then when is it? Once we have established a new government based off of the old beliefs and policies that have excluded women, handicaps, and minorities? No. Without these minority groups, call it what you will, but that is no democracy.
4) The point: Without full rights for women and minority groups, there will be no democracy, no freedom, and our martyrs will have died for nothing. So WAKE UP EGYPT! Do we have to join the list of failed revolutions throughout the world? The real problem lies in our minds, in the prevalent and suffocating ignorance that has infiltrated our beings.
In conclusion, I must ask one simple question, do we want a ‘man-ocracy’ or do we want a democracy?