CAIRO: “The most powerful and revolutionary thing to do is to share life experiences as if they matter, because they matter,” said Mona Eltahawy, prominent columnist.
In a summit held on Wednesday, women from across the region shared their experiences with the audience who described the panel as “inspirational.”
“These are women who have been imprisoned and attacked but refused to be silent in fighting for freedom,” said Eltahawy.
The panel featured Maria Al-Masani, blogger and human rights activist and founder of Yemen Rights Monitor; Manal Al-Sharif, Saudi blogger and women’s rights activist; Danya Bashir Hobba, Libyan activist; and Egyptian activist and blogger Dalia Ziada, Egypt office director of the American Islamic Congress.
The women came together in Cairo for the Yahoo Change Your World Summit to share their life experiences in political leadership, women’s rights, journalism and entrepreneurship.
The event revolved around dialogue, exchange of ideas and collaboration between cultures and areas of expertise, in particular using technology and platforms to amplify women’s voices.
Having played an integral role in the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, women are still struggling to overcome many of the social and cultural obstacles.
“A political revolution will not succeed unless we have a revolution of the mind, and the revolution of the mind is a social, moral, cultural and sexual revolution,” Eltawahy told Daily News Egypt.
“At the heart of this revolution is women, so when women marched in December they helped rescue the Egyptian revolution because they reminded everybody that it’s not just about politics, it’s also about personal issues like women’s rights,” she explained.
Eltahawy noted that for revolutions to succeed, women’s, minorities’, as well as cultural and social rights must be a part of the revolution, “or else it will just be a revolution that has guaranteed [a place] for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties in parliament.”
Some women feel their calls for their rights are drowned out by other causes.
“Have a clear goal, a support group and pace it out,” advised Al-Sharif, Saudi blogger and women’s rights activist.
“Once you start you become so excited and you want to change but you get disappointed when society opposes you, what I would do is pace it out but continue to do it,” she explained.
Unlike the majority of women in the room who are demanding constitutional rights and a parliament quota, Al-Sharif has been fighting for the right of women to drive. She was jailed for nine days when she called on all Saudi women to drive last June 17.
Al-Sharif says she carries around a fake driver’s license in her wallet for inspiration. “I look at it everyday and say that I’ll get the authentic one.”
Al-Sharif encouraged attendees to surround themselves with like-minded women, because it “reenergizes you.”
Libyan activist Hobba, who played a major role in drawing attention to the Libyan revolution on social media, agreed. “When you’re alone you don’t feel that you have the support, but when you’re with a group of people that are also involved in what you’re doing then you automatically create a system of support. You create a kind of team and find a way to all work together,” she said.
Egypt’s Ziada, who was named by the Daily Beast as one of the world’s 17 bravest bloggers, pointed out that even though there might be women’s rights laws, they are, as in Egypt’s case, “fake laws” that were added to appeal to the West.
“We’re not waiting for fake laws to bring change; the problem is in the mentality, the mindset,” she said.
“Educating the people is the most important thing,” Hobba said on that note.
“If you educate the people then you can change the laws and have them actually want to implement the laws,” she said, adding that “everybody can have laws but if they’re not implemented and if people don’t understand the importance of these laws then there is no point in having them.”
A variety of issues were discussed at the summit, including online safety. Nashwa Hussein, government relations manager for MENA region at Google, said that “you have to manage your ‘e-reputation.’
“[Online activists] must understand that Facebook posts and Tweets come with certain ramifications. You must be ready to stand up for what you said in the court of law,” she explained.
In relation to women constitutional, legal and representational rights in the post-revolutionary Arab world, Tunisian activist and researcher, Asma Nairi, said, “A country that legally leaves women behind is going down socially and politically.”
“It would be a hypocrisy not a democracy,” she noted.
On a final note, when discussing what should be done in the future, media researcher and professor at the American University in Cairo Rasha Abdulla told the audience not to wait and think about how to make it succeed. “Just go out there and make it work.”