March 8 in Egypt

by Nariman Youssef

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Because women often spring to the fore during revolutions then go back to being marginalised once things have settled, some Egyptians have organised a special demo on March 8, championing women’s rights, calling for a just and inclusive constitution, and putting renewed stress on freedom and personal rights.

The facebook event looks small still, but there’s been more mainstream publicity on Egyptian TV and in the press than I’d personally expected. Another testimony I guess that this is indeed a new Egypt, and none of the old rules and expectations apply.

In the spirit of Jan 25, this too has been a fairly spontaneous movement with no clear leaders or representatives. Different people (men and women) have been taking ownership of the event and adding their touches here and there. Some of them have put forth a press release in Arabic. Below is my translation..

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Demonstration planned for International Women’s Day *

Why the Million Woman March?

“Dedicated to the men and women martyrs of the revolution”

Press release

On January 25th, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in cities and towns all over the country, and made their anger public for the first time. They protested corruption and oppression, low standards of living and poverty. They protested against those in power who were tearing the homeland to pieces and causing divisions between its people, while they got richer and gained control.

On that day and the days that followed, Egyptians from all walks of life joined the protests, men and women, Muslims and Copts, rich and poor. They all came together to spark a revolution that has by no means ended with the fall of the deposed president Mubarak, but is still ongoing until Egypt reaches the genuine free democracy that is the aspiration of all.

Many women and men have paid with their lives for this vision. They have become the martyrs of the revolution, the ones who sacrificed themselves for the rest of us to achieve the free and dignified lives we deserve. With their deaths they have written a new chapter of Egyptian history, one where all differences disappear leaving only the fact that we are all free Egyptians. The barriers that for decades have barred our path to justice and equality are falling one by one.

The barrier of patriarchal control is one that Egyptians have managed to break since day one of the revolution. For a long time, it had stifled Egyptian society as a whole and was felt most acutely by women. But from January 25th onwards, Egyptian women have resisted unjust control and fought to bring down the patriarchal regime and liberate themselves and their country.

They have stood side by side with men and defended the revolution with their bodies. The bodies of women, so often used as ideological battlegrounds, have withstood all kinds of police violence, from tear gas to live bullets. The real battleground did not differentiate between women and men.

Women acted as human shields, took part in the popular committees that protected neighbourhoods and the sites of protest. They lived through the “battle of the camels” in Tahrir Square and faced the thugs of the NDP. No one cared then if they were men or women, Muslims or Christians. Everyone remembered only that they were Egyptians.

What Egyptian women have done and continue to do in this revolution is not new to them. It is a continuation of the role they have always played throughout history for the advancement of their country and its liberation from various forms of tyranny. Women’s roles shall not be ignored nor their sacrifices forgotten. As full Egyptian citizens, women will continue to be a significant part in the political arena. It will not do to exclude them now –during this phase that is full of national challenges for all of us– through any form of patriarchy, be it political or social.

We are not after minority rights. We are not after symbolic political representation. What we want, what we are working towards, is fair and equal opportunity for all Egyptian citizens –beyond gender, religion or class. What we want is the inclusion of every Egyptian citizen in this society under the umbrella of a new civilian and secular constitution, abolishing all forms of discrimination and guardianship and giving everyone equal duties and equal rights. Women are half of this society. They must exercise their citizenship to the fullest for the Egyptian revolution as a whole to achieve a wider and more inclusive kind of democracy.

This is where the Million Woman March comes in. We want to take the opportunity of International Women’s Day and send a message out that is long overdue: that in the post-Jan25 Egypt, Egyptian women will not return to silence. It is time for Egyptian women to acquire their full legitimate rights as citizens who have paid a heavy price for the freedom and dignity of their homeland. We dedicate this march to the souls of the women and men who were martyred in the revolution, who did not wait for their basic rights to be bestowed from high up, but went out and fought for them. May we always honour their memory and remember the lessons they have taught us.

* See you on Tuesday, March 8. Main meeting point in Cairo: Tahrir Square, from 3pm.

The Million Woman March