By Safaa Abdoun
CAIRO: A planned Million Women March in Tahrir Square calling for equality went awry as counter protesters infiltrated the march chanting against and harassing the women, forcing some out of the square.
Some men were chanting “The people demand the fall of women” and “We don’t want it secular, Egypt is an Islamic country.”
Scuffles broke out between female and male protesters, with men arguing that “now is not the time” for women to be calling for their rights.
Sally, one of the protesters, said there was a group of men across from them ridiculing them and yelling swear words. They then came closer and started accusing them of being “foreign agents” with “hidden agendas.”
She said some pushing and shoving started when a group of men who were protesting with the women formed a cordon around them to protect them. Sally said she was pushed and hit on the head and had her sign torn up. The women were then advised to leave the square for their safety.
“We have not been welcomed in Tahrir Square, but that it’s because some outlaws have been taking over it in the past few days other than the young, innovative, secular groups,” explained Women’s rights activist Iman Bebars.
Rama Maher, a member of the Women for Change initiative, said some men were tearing up the banners of female protesters and arguing that Islamic Sharia does not allow women to run for president and does not advocate equality.
Hundreds of women had gathered in Tahrir Square calling for women’s rights on Tuesday to mark International Women’s Day.
Bebars attended as one of the organizers of the march. “We were under the euphoria of the revolution but then we woke up,” she said.
“Women are dismissed after every revolution so we are here to say where are the women, why haven’t they been included in the committee drafting the constitution, why are they not in the group negotiating with the government?” she explained.
“Women have been shoulder to shoulder with men throughout the revolution and we should continue being so after it,” she pointed out.
The Million Women March, which has been labeled as a “people’s initiative” has six main goals, which were printed on banners held up by participants and distributed on flyers.
These are: women participation in laying the constitutional, legislative and political future of Egypt, a new civil constitution which respects citizenship, equality and cancels all forms of discrimination, changing all forms of laws including the personal status law to guarantee equality, playing down the women’s role as a mother as opposed to all her other roles, whether in her private or public life, placing harsh penalties on all forms of violence towards women and allowing women to run for president.
Journalists, artists and intellects were present at Tahrir to show their solidarity with the cause. Bothaina Kamel, television presenter and former news anchor on terrestrial television explained that women are calling for three main things: “Participation, equality and respect.”
“What usually happens is that during emergency men and women stand hand-in-hand and then afterwards we are put on the sidelines which is exactly what happened after the Jan. 25 Revolution therefore we are here today to remind everyone of our rights,” she explained.
Taking part in the march were various human rights and women’s rights movements and groups, including the Women for Change.
Women for Change is a new initiative working on becoming a lobby group advocating for women’s issues, raising political awareness for women, lobbying and negotiating with decision-makers about the different political and civil rights for women.
“[Tuesday] is a celebration for women, with the [objective] of showing that we’re still here, whoever is saying now is not the time to bring up women’s rights we’re telling them no it is the time,” said a member of the Women for Change, who preferred to remain anonymous.
“The whole point is to say that we did participate and had a pivotal role in the revolution which brought about change to the country but despite this there is only one female representative in the Jan. 25 Coalition negotiating with the Supreme Council for Armed Forces and only one female in the new cabinet of ministers,” she said, adding that none of the new constitutional amendments are gender specific.
“Women’s issues are still not addressed…there is a long way to go…we were visible [in the revolution], we were represented and [our efforts] were acknowledged so if that says anything then it is that now is the time to start,” she explained.
During the 18-day revolution in Tahrir Square, the participation of women was obvious. Like their male counterparts, female protesters spent nights in the square, confronted riot police, were attacked and defended themselves against the thugs.
Political activist and professor at Cairo University, Laila Soueif, who was demonstrating in Tahrir Square, explained that during the revolution the women’s role was evident and of the utmost importance.
“We were throwing stones at the thugs and spending nights there, the female doctors in the clinics around the square were extremely valuable to everyone,” she said.
However, regarding the reflection of women’s role during the revolution on the political front, Soueif said that it’s “too early to tell.”
“The upcoming elections will show the level of political participation by women,” she said.
“Before [the revolution] women refrained from participating in politics and elections due to the unfair and unjust elections, however all this is changing so the upcoming elections will reflect the women’s role and their true participation and influence in the Egyptian political arena,” explained Soueif.
The Egyptian Coalition for Civic Education and Women’s Participation, which includes 117 rights groups from all over the country, also expressed concerns regarding the recent constitutional amendments.
“These amendments led to great worries amongst the coalition for they did not achieve what the Egyptian people aimed for, nor meet the revolution’s demands,” the coalition said in a statement.
They cited three article amendments which reinforce inequality between genders, including the new Article 75 which states that “Egypt’s president is born to two Egyptian parents and cannot be married to a non-Egyptian woman. Neither he nor his parents shall have another nationality except the Egyptian one. He shall practice his own civil and political rights.”
According to the coalition, this article limits nominations to men only, a phrase like “cannot be married to a non-Egyptian woman” is only limited to the spouse of man; implying that the president will necessarily be a man.
The coalition suggested that the text reads “shall not be married to a non-Egyptian.”
Furthermore, the coalition said Article 189 which addresses the formation of a constituent in order to issue a new constitution by People’s Assembly and Upper House elections, “makes the constituent prone to balance of powers inside the council, since it does not stipulate standards that ensure existence of women and men experts from outside the councils,” the statement read.
“The text is general which may lead to having all the members of the constituent are those of the council. Thus the new constitution will not be created to be a constitutional or legal regime that is desired for Egypt; instead it will be created according to the dominated powers in the parliament,” it continued.
The coalition suggested including a condition whereby the constituent has experts from outside both councils, in which gender balance should be taken in consideration “in order to have sound participation of women experts.”