While the world awaits the outcome of the Egyptian moves toward an elected government, women of the region—from the most senior of feminists to the new crop of activists—are openly concerned women will be forgotten.
Their rights are at risk in various directions. They could be rolled back by the Islamists or ignored by the more progressive forces fighting for a toehold in the government in formation.
On St. Patrick Day, a small group gathered in New York to learn more about the uprisings in the Middle East.
The 60 or so members of the crowd at the Midtown Manhattan cocktail party had electronic gadgets at the ready to capture the event honoring the 80-year-old Egyptian feminist, author, physician and activist Dr. Nawal el Saadawi.
Saadawi delivered a simple, strong message that was widely heard in the 1970s. The private is directly linked to the public; the personal is political.
Her hair was beautifully silver, her figure strong and trim, her eyes bright and her smile quick, laughing when she said she had been married three times and couldn’t even remember her husbands.
Two contemporaries joined her in the spotlight.
Sitting on the Saadawi’s right was Gloria Steinem, who needs no introduction and is co-founder of the Women’s Media Center. On Saadawi’s left was the host, Robin Morgan, also co-founder of the Women’s Media Center and author of the "Sisterhood Is Global" in 1984—still in print. Morgan emphasized that she and Saadawi had been friends for 40 years. A former Ms. Magazine editor JoAnne Edgar was in the audience and recalled editing Saadawi’s piece in the 1970s about female genital mutilation.
FGM as it is known, is a painful example of what Saadawi means when she says the private is directly linked to the public. What could be more personal and painful and dangerous than having one’s genitalia cut? Nonetheless the practice remains widespread in Egypt, sustained by public support.
She added that she believed many Egyptian women are beaten by their husbands yet in Egypt men have the unilateral right to a divorce while women must go through the courts and provide exacting proof of abuse. Another painful example.
The private is public, Saadawi said again, adding that the women and men fought together to rid the nation of the ousted Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and this time, the men must include women in the public sphere.
“Democracy doesn’t exist without women,” she said. That is the precise argument Nadya Khalife made in Women’s eNews three days before Saadawi’s appearance.
“Egyptian women fought for the overthrow of Mubarak alongside men. But now the male-domination of transitional politics is like going backwards,” wrote Nadya Khalife of Human Rights Watch.
She ticked off the reasons: No women on the drafting committee for the constitutional changes overwhelmingly approved by Egyptian voters March 20 and none of the newly appointed cabinet ministers is female. Moreover, the announced intention to form Committee of Wise Men confirmed the likelihood that women could be pushed to the sidelines again.
Women who entered Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day were chased away, a Women's eNews reporter has written. But clearly, more need to come, and come every day with their cell phones and Twitter messages if they are to honor Saadawi and prove Khalife wrong. Women’s eNews will continue to look for developments in these crucial developments in the well-being of women in throughout the region.