“What is the deal with girls talking politics these days? What do they have to do with political discussion in the first place? Each one of them speaks as if Morsi gave her a bad divorce.”
That was the first tweet I returned to after I spent a few days with some of the world’s greatest women. Female activists, ministers, policy makers and practitioners, military advisers, foreign offices officials, and UN figures gathered to discuss politics, war, conflict, and peace.
The conference, entitled “Women in Peacebuilding”, was organised by the UK based Wilton Park, which is an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and convenes around 50 higher-level international policy conferences a year. This time around, the discussion centered around women’s roles in relation to the UN Secretary General’s seven point action plan on women’s participation in peacebuilding and the Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security. The conference brought together women to learn from, women to share with, and women to advise on lessons learned and the means to capitalise on successes.
(But the Egyptian boy of the tweet seems to be oblivious to trivial matters, such as half the world’s role in political life since the creation of humans.)
Speakers at the conference tackled issues including women and gender perspectives, engaging in political dialogue, women’s role in economic recovery, inclusive governance, and promoting law and security. Steps and measures were discussed to increase the role of women in mediation tables and peace processes, given the successes they have achieved in these areas. Governments are on board with this. I, then, am distracted by remembering how our Islamist rulers view women’s roles as limited to submissive wifehood… and nothing more.
Stories poured in from all over the world, the Liberian awe-inspiring experience giving hope to the Egyptian and Colombian struggles, the Libyan women’s fight for inclusion and the depressing Afghani state. The Norwegian giant leaps in promoting women in all aspects of society and state. The exchange of ideas and experiences not only gave me hope, but also gave us room to share solutions and practical steps to escape the mess some countries are mired in.
Some countries, like Egypt for example, are going backwards on women’s issues. I would so much rather we really go backwards, till we reach the days when Hatshepsut was the Pharaoh of Egypt and the country had a flourishing economy, booming trade, and peace. But unfortunately we are only going backwards enough to get to the days when women were slaves for pleasure and child-bearing (that boy’s tweet keeps coming to mind!). When raping your wife was part of your “values’ system” as our rulers seem to believe. Coupled with the Muslim Brotherhood reaction to the UN’s Violence against Women declaration, we get the picture of where Egyptian women stand in their eyes.
Such a strong statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood denying Egyptian women the right to be safe from violence, the right to fight for their rights, indeed the right to be equal as humans. The Brotherhood deemed the declaration to be “the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries” and said that it would lead to “the complete disintegration of society”. It was a shame to discuss this with women who advise their military institutions on conflict resolution and are involved in peace negotiations. It was also a great burden to have to refute the notion that Egyptian women agree to this atrocity of a statement, after that mutant constitution came to pass. “You elected him” and “I can only commiserate with you” were especially difficult to digest, but the amount of support was overwhelming and these foreign women seem to have a lot more understanding of the crisis ahead than most Egyptian men and women.
And while these amazing women were discussing women’s participation in resolving conflicts in war zones and planning disarmament strategies, I was contemplating how our rulers were blaming women’s dress code for the epidemic sexual assault.
While they were angered by a low 19% rate of participation in parliament, I recalled the picture of the rose that replaced the actual image of a woman in parliamentary campaign material produced by Islamist political parties, and the shameful 1.5% representation of women in the (thankfully dissolved) Egyptian parliament, and all were Muslim Brotherhood “sisters”.
And while they discussed increasing women’s involvement in mediation (given they proved more efficient at it than men), despair loomed over me as I recalled the saying that a woman’s voice should not heard by men; Islamists deem it “awra” and say that it must be silenced.
But then, I also remembered our Egyptian reality. I remembered the role of our women in the past two years and I was proud and hopeful. I remembered the ladies taking the frontlines in the revolutionary squares of Egypt, followed by the men. Those brave women healing the wounded in impromptu field hospitals, and covering the faces of the dead in overcrowded chaotic morgues. I remembered mothers leading chants in marches, pushing their men to join the struggle. Brave young women helping fathers find their sons in secluded security detention facilities. I know what we can do.
Maybe it is necessary for us to have a culture revolution. Maybe the women of this country should revolt. Maybe it is time for us to rise up to meet our oppressors.
But for today, maybe that boy with the tweet should get a good spanking from his mommy!