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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Dorothy Smith

Originally Published by the Center for Private Enterprise, june 30, 2011

Though I am a woman, I have never focused in depth on women’s issues. Perhaps it was a counter-feminist within me that thought, “If we talk about women’s issues we’re perpetuating a difference between men and women. Or maybe it’s just that as a researcher on the Middle East, I steered clear of the ubiquitous discourse on the “Arab woman.” But a few recent events and stories have begun to chip away at this shell and spark in me a genuine interest in women’s political and economic empowerment.

The first was my participation in CIPE’s conference Democracy that Delivers for Women. In case you missed it, Stephanie Foster has a nice recap at the Huffington Post. Over the course of two days, women from across sectors and different countries spoke about education, entrepreneurship, technology, and more – and their relationship to women’s empowerment. But I’m not one for long, drawn out, up-in-the-clouds debates. So I was happy to hear examples of programs that have made it easier for women to start and maintain their own businesses, and to learn how financial independence has translated into political empowerment and support for democracy.

Soon after that, I was performing some background research on women and entrepreneurship, ahead of the Business Women Forum’s annual conference in the West Bank at which CIPE’s Chair Karen Kerrigan, Regional Director Abdulwahab Alkebsi, and Program Officer Amy Thornberry are presenting and facilitating discussions.

A quick internet search on women and business in Palestine returned this World Bank statistic: in the West Bank and Gaza women with a college degree or above account for 82 percent of unemployed women, compared to only 12 percent for men.

Why is that? What factors inhibit women working in Palestine, and how can these hurdles be removed? I’m sure this will be a central point of discussion at the conference.

Next, I read an article that describes how, while facing greater obstacles to doing business in the Middle East, women are slowly knocking down barriers to finance. The story gives excellent examples of how regulations and cultural characteristics have restricted women’s entry into the workforce. For instance, a woman entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia is likely to have difficulty registering her business because one cannot legally run a business from a home address. But as the article relates, more women becoming proactive: building their own investment vehicles, establishing their own financial firms, and creating outlets for their entrepreneurial spirit.

So women face all the same barriers to doing business as men, but these barriers disproportionally affect women because they are compounded by social and cultural norms, and in many cases unique legal environments.

I’m sliding, a bit reluctantly, down the path of women’s issues, and I’m actually eager to learn more about the unique circumstances that create disincentives for women to become entrepreneurs and work in the private sector, and how women and men are blazing paths to equal economic and political empowerment.



Al Masr al Youm, June 30, 2011

On Thursday, the 25 January Revolutionary Youth Coalition called for a massive protest in Tahrir Square on 8 July. Calling it the “Friday of Retribution”, the coalition hopes to put pressure on officials to speed up the trials of those accused of killing protesters during the revolution.

The coalition called on people to stay in Tahrir Square until officials meet their demands, including the immediate dismissal of Interior Ministry leaders involved in corruption cases and accused of oppression, particularly the directors of public security and central security.

In a statement, the coalition called for suspending any officers accused of harming protesters pending investigations, tracking all murderers and bringing them to a fair and speedy trial, opening trials of former regime stalwarts to the public, including that of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and his assistants, and compensating people injured during the revolution as well as the families of the deceased.

They said instability in Egypt is due to the absence of political will to purge state institutions from National Democratic Party remnants and corrupt members, especially in the Interior Ministry.

They criticized the slow pace of trials and the decision to limit Prime Minister Essam Sharaf by not allowing him to choose his assistants and staff. Reliable sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Tuesday that the ruling military council refused Sharaf’s request to dismiss seven ministers.

By Kelly McEvers

See the original post and listen to the segment via All Things Considered at

May 31, 2011


For the past 2 1/2 months, Bahrain’s government has cracked down brutally on opposition figures who led massive anti-government protests in February and March. Doctors, journalists, human rights workers and even elected officials have been detained and beaten.

The government’s most recent targets are women.

“They took me from my work,” one woman says. “And from the beginning, they slapped me on my face, on my head, shoulder.”

The woman agreed to be recorded in an interview with NPR only if she could whisper, in English, so that authorities wouldn’t recognize her voice.

She had been detained, beaten, then let go. When she met with NPR, she was limping from pain.

Government Crackdown

The crackdown began in mid-March, after hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis had occupied the Pearl Roundabout, marked by a white monument that looked like elongated fingers stretching a precious jewel toward the sky.

The government says the protesters were engaged in a violent plot to overthrow the state. Protesters were dispersed, and the monument was flattened.

Authorities detained thousands of men who were known to oppose the government — and then went after the women.

The woman who spoke to NPR says she was taken by bus to a police station, blindfolded, and made to stand for five hours in a room. She was accused of working to bring down the Bahraini regime.

“They tried to force me to confess that I told people at my work to be against the regime,” she says.

Authorities showed the woman a picture of someone protesting at Pearl Roundabout. At the time, Bahrain’s crown prince said it was legal to protest. Now, authorities say it’s a crime.

“They tried to force me to confess that a picture in a protest — that it is my picture. And it was really not my picture,” the woman says.

She was taunted about one of her relatives, who has been jailed without charge for many weeks. “They said very bad things about him,” she says. “And they told me that, ‘Do you think he will come out of the jail? He will die in jail.'”

Under Threat

But perhaps the worst part of the ordeal was that the woman was detained at all. In an Arab culture, particularly in the Gulf, detaining a woman is the ultimate humiliation, going back to the days when the way one tribe defeated another was to capture and rape its women.

“They told me if I didn’t confess they will let men come and — continue with me,” the woman says. “They told me that.”

She says she understood what they meant — the men would do bad things to her. When asked if she was told that the men would rape her, she says, “No, they didn’t say — but to beat … strong and [hard].”

When asked if she ever felt like she was in danger of something worse, like some kind of sexual attack, she replies, “Maybe, yes. Maybe.”

Women Targeted

So far no Bahraini woman has reported being raped while in detention. Middle-aged men have reported being threatened with rape, and young men have reported being raped.

There is much, much more to this woman’s story — details that simply cannot be divulged at this time. One of her relatives is still in jail, and she is terrified for her children.

Analysts in the region say this is the first time in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world that large groups of women have been targeted for going against the government.

Bahraini human rights groups say hundreds of women have been detained in recent weeks. Most were released. Dozens are still being held. One female journalist reportedly was beaten so badly she can’t walk. Authorities have vowed to investigate.

In her whole life, the whispering woman says, she has never been treated like this. No one has ever raised a finger to her, she says, or said a single unkind word.

If they apologize for this, she says, maybe Bahrain can go forward again. But if they don’t, she says, we will live with this shame forever. And that shame might eventually turn into revenge.

Here’s a press release from the State Department about an exciting new initiative for girls and sports across the world!


On June 6, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will launch the Women’s World Cup Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports, at the Department of State with members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and youth soccer players from around the world.

This joint initiative by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues harnesses the power of sports and international exchanges as a means to empower women and girls worldwide.

The event will take place at approximately 9:30 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. The event will be streamed live on and open to credentialed members of the media. Press access times will be forthcoming in the public schedule.

The Women’s World Cup initiative includes:

– Sports Visitor Program
Through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ SportsUnited Office, 18 teenaged female soccer players and their coaches from Bolivia, Germany, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories and South Africa will travel to the United States May 31-June 9 through the Sports Visitors Program for a 10-day exchange. During this time, the young athletes will travel to New York City and Washington, D.C., where they will meet with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and play soccer with local teams. The delegation will also meet with local community organizations that provide sports opportunities for youth with disabilities and mentorships through a soccer and literacy initiative.

– Sports Envoy Programs
Partnering with U.S. Soccer, former Women’s National Team players Briana Scurry and Amanda Cromwell traveled in May as Sports Envoys to Germany to lead soccer clinics and engage young audiences in Berlin, Dresden, Wolfsburg, Sinsheim and Frankfurt. Additional Sports Envoys will travel to Brazil this summer.

– Women’s Sports Management
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ International Visitor Leadership Program will lead a parallel 10-day international exchange program for five sports management professionals. With an emphasis on the administration of women’s and girls’ soccer programs, the program will allow the visitors to exchange ideas and best practices in the management of sports and recreational programs with their American counterparts. They will examine how athletic programs for women and girls promote leadership, teamwork, respect, self awareness and life skills, and how sports and recreation programs can make a positive impact on at-risk and underserved youth.

Visit for more information.

Department of State
Office of Press Relations
(202) 647-2492

Department of State
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Talley Sergent



Check out Sayidaty Magazine’s feature on AIC’s Dalia Ziada! For a closer look at the article, click on each photo below.








Source: Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights


(Cairo, May 25, 2011) The revolution of the 25th of January, 2011 was not born out of the moment, but was the result of a long struggle of all political and civil forces in Egypt. Women participated in all phases of this struggle and bore serious risks to confront the former regime and its security armory. This year, the 25th of May comes after the great revolution in which women participated to its success. Today marks the day in which women paid the price on the day of the referendum to amend article 76 of the constitution in 2005.

The 25th of May 2005 witnessed the rise of many voices of the Egyptian opposition by the announcement of a protest and criticism of what was described as – the fake change which forged the will of the people – on the so-called referendum to renew the presidential term of the former president. Young women and men and activists were at the forefront of those who gathered in front of the press syndicate and the judges club.

Despite the huge propaganda and use of all the resources of the state to support the play of the referendum, tens of young men and women worried the security forces and the ruling party to the extent that they decided to use more oppressive methods. They used a new security approach against the young women and men participating in the demonstration that caused the psychological feeling of defeat. The physical and sexual attacks targeted all people who protested or tried to protest against the fake referendum conducted by the state. All demonstrators were targeted, with a special focus on women and girls who were sexually harassed.

The militias of the National Democratic Party practiced before the eyes of all security forces the severe oppression from the very first moment of the attack on the demonstrators. The security forces – at the beginning – intentionally surrounded the demonstrators, severely pressured them while their back was against the wall, then split them – violently – into small separated groups.

Members of the security forces promptly dealt with the demonstrators in these small groups by direct orders of the officers who pushed them to cruelly beat the demonstrators and to sexually harass the women and girls. The orders of officers included verbal abuse that can provoke every free person. The security forces sought to kidnap prominent figures – of both sexes – from the demonstration, took them to the side streets to beat them, and then made them disappear in the buses of deportation, or in near police stations.

Security forces used the soldiers of the Egyptian central security forces who came out in civilian clothes, concentrated on the sexual harassment of women and girls by violently harassing their bodies, tearing their clothes, and removing the veil of veiled women, in addition to dragging them on the ground by their hairs; as for women or girls who tried to escape, they followed them and incited thugs to surround them to fulfil what they had begun. The women who could stop a taxi were forced out after they had horrified the driver to fulfil what they had begun. If they resorted to a shop or a residential building, they were surrounding it and breaking through with direct orders from the officers.

The message that the police and the former regime wanted to deliver at that time was that sexual harassment is the destiny for women who will participate in reform and requests of democracy.

It is worth mentioning that the victims of this day reached 13 female activists. Many of the private Egyptian and international media and blogs said that some thugs attacked female journalists, political activists, beat them, tore their clothes and sexually harassed them. In addition, a number of female journalists and activists, victims of what was then named “black Wednesday” reported to the general prosecutor what they had been subjected to. However, the general prosecutor then issued a decision to dismiss the investigations in the incident due to the failure of knowing the perpetrators.

At the end, the investigation was dismissed in this case due to the failure to know the perpetrator. The general prosecution ignored the witnesses, images and videos that demonstrated the attack!!

The dismissal of the investigation resulted in the statements presented by some activists to the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights which is affiliated to the African Union, since 24 organizations from the civil society presented a claim with the number 323 in the year 2006 (323/2006) in the name of 4 female journalists and activists who had been subjected to attacks. The claim included charges against the Egyptian government; that it violated the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which was signed by the Egyptian government and became integral and compulsory to the Egyptian legislation in March 20, 1984. The journalists syndicate, many writers, activists and human rights organizations also condemned the incident and called for the resignation of the interior minister and for the trial of the people responsible for it.

Although these severe incidents occurred, they did not impede Egyptian women from resuming their efforts in the political work. In the revolution the Egyptian women stood side by side with Egyptian men. Their bodies bore what had been borne by men’s bodies, by the violence of the security forces of all its types beginning with the sticks, and tear gas bombs to live and rubber bullets. There were women injured and martyrs.

Women shaped human armors and stood in the popular committees. They experienced the battle of the camels, and confronted the thugs of the NDP. At that time they were not concerned about being women or men, mothers or young women, Muslims or Christians; they were just remembering that they are Egyptians.

As the acts of women were not new for them, and were not separated from their historical national role played over ages for the renaissance and liberation of their nation from different types of authoritarianism, women’s role in this popular revolution must not ignored. The price they paid as Egyptian citizen must not be omitted. It is also unacceptable in any name or under any type of guardianship, either political or social, that women are excluded on the political stage in the coming period, which is full of national challenges for all of us as Egyptians, women and men.

The achievements of the Egyptian women, which reached a minimum level of citizenship, were obtained after a long struggle for which they paid a high price. They were not granted from a ruler or a ruler’s wife, as said by people who want to forge history and cancel the Egyptian awareness. Instead, these achievements of the Egyptian women affirm that women are on their path to equality and human rights.

We sought to achieve real participation in decision making, and equal opportunities that ensure to every Egyptian female citizen and every Egyptian male citizen to carry out their duties towards their nation under a new civilian constitution that cancels all types of guardianship and distinctions and ensures the complete rights and equality for all. All we desired is empowering women, who are half of the society, to resume their role as Egyptian citizens to ensure their access to broad and comprehensive types of the meaning of democracy.

The Egyptian society as a whole and afore them the national figures and the military council are requested to support and help the victory of women’s rights as part and parcel of human rights. We also desire the removal of the obstacles to their participation in the decision making and wish that the required measures to ensure this are taken.

(There is no democracy without women’s participation, and there is no women’s participation without democracy)

Second Update on Manal Al Sherif Manal Al Sherif, according to first reports of her sentence, was supposed to be released today. The local media has taken an official stance on Manal’s case. While columnists in these very same schizophrenic newspapers have taken the opposite position by supporting Manal and advocating lifting the ban on women driving. In one estimate, there were over 60 columns supporting Manal on Tuesday and Wednesday. Meanwhile the official stance is that Mana … Read More

via Saudiwoman's Weblog