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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

For as long as Dahlia Eissa can remember, she has been a feminist. Growing up in Australia with Egyptian immigrant parents, she was never afraid to ruffle feathers. She began her activism leading Know Your Rights workshops for Muslim women with the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland. Early on, Eissa knew she wanted to work with women in immigrant communities, and she saw law as the natural career choice for her passions. Following 9/11, she established the Arab American Justice Project, a network of pro bono attorneys who advocate for Arab Americans facing discrimination, harassment, and deportation.

Dahlia Eissa

After finishing her undergraduate degree in Australia, Eissa wanted to pursue postgraduate studies in Islamic law and women’s rights. Finding the right program was a challenge. She wanted to study law as a feminist first and as a lawyer second. Her AAUW International Fellowship was the kick-start that made it possible for her to attend Harvard Law School. Without the award, she says, she would not have been able to come to the United States.

Today, Eissa uses her knowledge of law, women’s rights, and Islam to encourage women to broaden their perspectives of what is possible in their lives and identities. She insists that women do not need to be restricted to the binary of Western or Muslim worlds, but rather that women can be true to their Muslim identities and principles while embracing and being embraced by American society.

Eissa has been inspired by the women of the Arab Spring and the women of Egypt in particular. Her academic research has primarily focused on Islamic law and women in Egypt. So when the revolution began last year, Eissa strongly felt that she had to somehow support Egyptian women. She asked herself, How will this new wave of activism play out for women?

When we spoke last week, the first draft of the new Egyptian constitution was being voted on by the country’s Constituent Assembly. Sadly, the new constitution completely leaves out any provisions that guarantee the rights of women and girls. Eissa described the draft as absurd but predictable. As the world watches the women of Egypt, Eissa is focusing on how she can support them from the United States. Working with women activists on the ground, her strategy lies in mobilizing other women to minimize the negative impact of the legislation. The rejection of protections for women and girls could open the door to other dangerous allowances in the law, such as lowering the marriageable age for girls or blocking the recent U.N. resolution that calls for the end of female genital mutilation practices.

Eissa is deeply passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Even as a teenager, she recognized inequalities between men and women that were supposedly justified on the basis of “biology.” Eissa rejected socially constructed distinctions based on sex and spoke her mind, even when fearful of the backlash that she could face. Being an outsider, she says, is worth the risk in order to pursue what you believe in because, in the end, you’ll find that you aren’t that much of an outsider after all. In a culture that “banks on women being submissive,” Eissa wants women to “be fearless.” Let’s follow Eissa’s powerful example and go out there and ruffle a few feathers.

Eissa’s International Fellowship was sponsored by the Margaret Bigelow Miller International Fellowship, established in 1986, and the Helen B. Taussig International Fellowship, established in 1974.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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Recently, I went to Egypt for a vacation with my dad. We visited the Great Pyramids of Giza, pharaohs’ tombs, ancient temples, and museums. We rode camels at sunrise and took a boat ride on the Nile River at sunset. In addition to soaking in the country’s ancient history, we absorbed its current culture, visited Tahrir Square, talked to people who participated in the 2011 revolution, witnessed two protests on the street, and attended anti-street harassment meetings and events. To alleviate our loved ones’ concerns for our safety, we always scheduled a driver or took a taxi to get around. But when we had two hours free on our last afternoon, I suggested that we ride the subway.

I’ve spoken, read, and written about women-only public transportation for years, but until this trip, I’d never actually seen it in practice. I wanted to. I knew that Cairo had women-only subway cars.

On a crowded subway platform in downtown Cairo, groups of Egyptian women clustered together under brightly lit blue signs that read “Ladies,” while men and a few women spread out across the rest of the platform. Once a subway train arrived, everyone rushed to board. Most women piled into the ladies-only cars, which were designated by red signs above the doors. I joined them.

A few women assisted me when my bag got stuck in the closing doors. While it is not unusual to see women without head coverings on the streets, as I looked around the subway car, every woman was wearing a hijab. Sweat poured from our faces because the car had no air conditioning despite the 110-degree heat. No one talked, but one woman who was getting off at the next stop gestured to offer me her seat. I thanked her, but I didn’t take the seat because I too was getting off at the next stop.

Leaving the train, masses of bodies churned past each other. One woman sought me out and spoke to me in English. She asked where I was from and wished me a nice stay.

Next I rode in a regular car, where I was one of only three women among a mass of men. The two other women were accompanied by men who protectively wrapped their arms around their female companions. I felt much less comfortable there than I did in the ladies-only car, in part because I was so out of place. While most men left me alone, one man standing next to me stared at me for the entire two minutes. I avoided making eye contact with him and was relieved to leave the train at the next stop.

Most people in the United States are shocked when I tell them that other countries have resorted to women-only public transportation because the sexual harassment is so bad. From the research I did for my book about street harassment, I know that major cities in countries ranging from Japan and Mexico to India and Egypt have subway cars or buses that are reserved just for women.

While I’ve heard women say that they are glad when they can ride in the women-only cars and take a break from being on guard and wary of male passengers, I don’t believe it is the solution.

First, logistically, segregation does not solve the problem of harassment. Often, women-only transportation is only offered during rush hour and on major lines. For the rest of the day and to get other places, most women must use the regular trains and buses. Also, platforms and bus lines are not fully sex-segregated, nor are the streets people walk to reach the buses and subways. So there are plenty of opportunities to endure harassment.

Second, from a gender equality standpoint, it’s frustrating that governments think that the solution is gender segregation. Don’t we want integration and equality? Would segregation ever be considered a solution for race-based harassment? Why is it the answer when it comes to men sexually harassing women?

Instead, I think that governments and community groups should focus on teaching respect in schools, holding awareness campaigns, encouraging people to report harassers, and enforcing punishments for the worst perpetrators.

What do you think? Do you see another solution? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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On March 20, spring will officially be here. I’m looking forward to wearing shorts when I go running, seeing flowers and green leaves instead of dead ones, and visiting the local farmer’s market.

But, like many other women, I’m not looking forward to an increase in gender-based street harassment — the catcalls, whistles, hoots, sexist or sexually explicit comments, and worse — that some men subject women to in public places. This threat unfortunately increases with rising temperatures.

This year I’m taking a stand against this bullying behavior that is shockingly socially acceptable, and you can, too. Join people around the world and participate in the first annual International Anti-Street Harassment Day on March 20.

On that day, many people will take the simple — but important — action of sharing their street harassment stories online or in person with friends and family. Ending the silence around this topic is a crucial contribution to its end. Others will write articles or create lesson plans to teach their classes or community groups about street harassment.

Several go-getters are organizing other community actions. Here are a few examples of confirmed activism opportunities with information about how you can become involved if you live in these areas.

Internationally, people in Canada, Egypt, England, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago are currently planning what they will do to address street harassment in their countries for International Anti-Street Harassment Day.

On my website, I have 10 ideas for what you can do to participate, including simply agreeing to share your stories. Once you’ve decided what to do, be sure to list your planned action on this map and RSVP on Facebook.

I hope you’ll consider taking part in this historic day and join me in reminding everyone that spring is no excuse for street harassment.

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All eyes have been on Egypt as millions of Egyptians marched on Cairo this week. They met at Tahrir Square, which is Arabic for Liberation Square, an ideal location for a gathering of millions of Egyptian citizens seeking to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign. Until Wednesday, the protests were considered peaceful. The situation took a violent turn as Mubarak supporters took to the square to counter the protests.

photo via Facebook - Leil-Zahra MortadaSources from around the world are proclaiming that women are marching as equals alongside men in the demonstrations in Egypt. Men, women, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds — they have all united for a common cause to oust Mubarak’s regime. So what makes this uprising different from others throughout the history of the Middle East that are more exclusive to men? Women were getting involved because the protests were deemed as peaceful and safe. For some, this was their first protest, and it has been a unique experience because of the respectful way men were treating them. But with escalating violence, the atmosphere has changed for women.

Human rights activist, writer, and celebrated feminist Nawal El Saadawi was a political prisoner who was forced to live in exile. She is one of the many voices speaking out about the unity in the Egyptian protests. El Saadawi says, “We are calling for justice, freedom, and equality and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system … and to have a real democracy.”

Even though most of Egypt is without Internet access, support for the protests has been spreading rapidly online through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Twitter is ablaze with the #Egypt and #jan25 hashtags, and users are sharing Twitpics. The Facebook group Women of Egypt, created by Leil-Zahra Mortada in Barcelona, Spain, has five photo albums dedicated to pictures of women protesting. Journalists are using their Facebook pages to report the opinions and sentiments of the women involved. Some are afraid that women aren’t being documented in the protests and that they will be written out of the history of this event. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born writer, has been educating the media on how to correctly talk about what is happening in Egypt. She called on CNN to use the terms “revolt” or “uprising” instead of “chaos” and “crisis” when referring to the situation.

At this point, it is unclear what the result will be from this uprising amidst the current violence, but it is clear that the Egyptian women will be remembered for their courage and willingness to stand up for their rights.

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In the beginning of September I was lucky enough to take my first trip to the Middle East, seeing the remarkable countries of Egypt and Jordan. Before leaving on this adventure, I prepared in the usual way by getting shots, appropriate clothes, and handy travel books. But what I wasn’t prepared for was hearing from one of my AAUW colleagues that Egypt is one of the worst countries in the world for street harassment of women. In a recent survey, 83 percent of Egyptian women reported experiencing harassment, and two-thirds of Egyptian men said they engage in harassment; more than 70 percent of the women said they were wearing a veil when they were harassed. This video chronicling the popularity of karate for self-defense against harassment gives you a sense of how desperate women are for their safety.

I had read that the best tactic to respect the cultures of these countries and avoid harassment was to try to remain completely covered, so I packed my bag with long sleeves, pants, and long skirts for the 100 degree weather! What I experienced on the street was a little different than expected, though. In Egypt you cannot walk for one minute without being hassled to take a taxi or to buy something or to ride a camel (yes, most places have camels at your service). And this hassling is constant; you cannot get away from it, because no matter how covered your body may be you are clearly a tourist. Initially I felt that I was being hassled not so much because I was a woman but because I was a tourist. Often the men would hound my friends and me and even follow us down the street continuing to hassle us. This behavior definitely made me question whether they would have done that if we had had a male in our group of four women. There were also several instances in which we were called out with “gendered” language — such as “Let me see your beautiful eyes,” “Show off those legs,” or the best/worst one, “Talk to me Baby Spice.” My fellow female travelers unfortunately have faced much worse experiences of street harassment in other countries around the globe.

Facing this hassling did not ruin our days seeing this amazing country or make me worry for my safety, but it was extremely tiring and just plain annoying. It gave me a keen personal sense, though, of how easy and acceptable it is for men to harass women on these streets and of what the women of Egypt must face every day.

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