For the last several days, I’ve been keeping an eye out for information about the role women are playing in the uprising in Egypt. There is very little information available about this yet. In one of the few pieces that have come out, Double XX tells us that women have in fact had a very strong presence in what has been happening,
An unprecedented number of Egyptian women participated in Tuesday’s anti-government protests. Ghada Shahbandar, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent. In past protests, the female presence would rarely rise to 10 percent. Protests have a reputation for being dangerous for Egyptian women, whose common struggle as objects of sexual harassment is exacerbated in the congested, male-dominated crowd. Police hasten to fence in the demonstrators, and fleeing leads to violence. And women, whose needs are not reflected in the policies of official opposition groups who normally organize protests, have little reason to take the risk.
One of the protest organizers is a woman: Political activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, whose 15-day detention in 2008 for her activism made her a symbol of resistance. But Abdel Fattah’s position at the helm of the movement did not previously mean a large female presence.
As things get more violent however, women are being urged not to attend because of the safety risks,
Now organizers urged women to keep their distance. Wednesday’s demonstrations were much smaller, and much more male-dominated.
And indeed, when you see pictures on the news, they mostly show men.
The pictures are so exclusively male that it prompted someone to compile what pictures could be found of women and post them to Facebook. I did find two pictures that I thought were notable in terms of what we see in the U.S. regarding what is happening in Egypt. First, there is this picture of President Obama talking to advisers about Egypt, note the lack of women in the room, particularly Secretary of State Clinton.
This second picture however is a revolution won- it’s a screenshot from a video of a news report–Martha Radditz and Christiane Amanpour talking about Egypt with Diane Sawyer on ABC–three women talking about a serious international news story, no men in the room–ten years ago that wouldn’t have happened.
Hopefully we will learn more about the role of women in the events that are taking place in Egypt during the coming days.
One last point that I think is critical–it is important to note that unrest of this kind is a significant risk to women because what protections they would normally have against sexual assault and other crimes, while significantly lacking to begin with, is seriously compromised and access to medical services, particularly for maternal care is in all likelihood severely hampered right now.