Yesterday in Egypt, activists called for a Million Woman March in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding “fair and equal opportunity for all Egyptian citizens — beyond gender, religion or class.”
I wrote about the planned March with optimism, just as the organizers and participants felt optimism. This morning, reading about what happened makes me feel tired. Tired knowing how much longer Egyptian women (and women all over the world) will have to keep working toward equal rights, including the rights to public spaces free from harassment or assault, in the face of such hateful opposition.
“Hundreds of women — some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans — who marched to the square to celebrate the anniversary, demand equality and an end to sexual harassment were soon outnumbered by men who chased them out.
“They said that our role was to stay home and raise presidents, not to run for president,” said Farida Helmy, a 24-year-old journalist.”
“The turnout appeared to be no more than than 1,000, and the event quickly degenerated into shouting matches between the two sides.
“Men are men and women are women and that will never change and go home, that’s where you belong,” some of the anti-feminist demonstrators chanted.
There were men on both sides of the protest.
Organizers calling for the demonstration said on Facebook they were “not after minority rights. We are not after symbolic political representation.”
On Aljazeera, Fatma Naib shared her experiences and pictures from being on the square:
“I arrived in Tahrir around 2pm local time [12GMT] on Tuesday March 8, but was surprised to see the sheer volume of men who outnumbered the women, as if it was International Men’s Day!…
Many Egyptian and non-Egyptian men came in big numbers in support of the rally.
And a group of French and Italian expats also turned up in solidarity with the women of Egypt.
“We came here to show solidarity and support women’s rights in the world wherever they are. In Tahrir even more because women played a huge role in the revolution like the men,” Rafaela from Italy said….
Women of all ilk, young, old, veiled, unveiled, all decked up at the Tahrir Square. As they stood there peacefully with their signs that read: “more rights for women”, “Egypt for all Egyptians”, a small crowd of men started to gather in front of the women’s rally.
The anti-women’s day crowd grew as did their loud chants that said:”al shab yoreed esqat al madam“, “the people demand the removal of the lady/women”.
Some of them directed their aggression towards the men who were supporting the women; others just chanted ‘illegitimate’ while pointing at the pro-women crowd….
As the anti-women day crowd grew, the atmosphere went from celebratory to hostile. Most of the men and some of the women, that joined them later, had a problem with one of the demands that called for a woman to become a president….
It was a sad moment to see how a day that was meant to celebrate women all over the world end like this. It was particularly sad to see the faces of some of the women that were visibly shocked at the response and behaviour of the anti-women day protesters.
The event organiser was shocked at the incident.
She said, “I am shocked, I didn’t expect this to happen. But these guys are unaware of our plight and it will take time before the awareness is spread.”
For now the wheel of discussion and creating awareness about women issues and their democratic demands have started, but for now, the idea of a woman president seems unlikely… at least for now…”
“Rebel,” an Egyptian man who attended the rally to support the women, shared what happened on his blog, ending with:
“I was called a faggot defending whores. I was told I wasn’t Egyptian for doing this.
So now. Some accuse us of being too controversial. Some accuse us of using the wrong time and place to voice our grievances. Until when would we remain silent? And till when we will be too shy to call for women rights? I am not sorry I called for justice. I am just really appalled but what my friends had to go through. We managed to get our voices heard for once, and it won’t be the last time.
I hope what happened today will shed some light on the unacceptable attitudes towards women. More men need to speak out for women too. This will definitely help our cause.
The battle is hard. Mubarak’s regime and authoritarianism destroyed people’s sense of diversity. It may take years to actually change attitudes. I think we are up for it though.”
What happened is very disheartening ,but I know that those who support women’s rights won’t give up!
Do Something: This coming Saturday, HarassMap and The New Woman Foundation are hosting a discussion about women’s rights and ending sexual harassment in the streets. Saturday, March 12th, at 1:00 pm, at 14 abdel monem sanad st, off Ahmed Orabi, Mohandessin, Giza.
And on March 20, it’s International Anti-Street Harassment Day. Harassment in the streets is a global problem – people all over the world will speak out and question its social acceptability.