In the aftermath of the popular uprisings, CARE commissioned research in 2012 and 2013 to understand the new context and identify ways in which we need to adapt and respond. More than 300 women and men were interviewed in the course of this research in Egypt, the occupied Palestinian territory, Morocco and Yemen. Interviewees included women and men active in the popular uprisings; representatives of political parties, civil society organisations, the media, the private sector, and development programmes in the areas of education, health and agricultural livelihoods; as well as policy-makers and officials working for international organizations, including bilateral donor, UN and regional entities.
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There is a risk of roll-back on women's rights: A female activist in Egypt told CARE “The utopia of Tahrir is now facing the harsh test of reality.”
Women are not seeing the hope they thought would come out of the Arab Spring. In Yemen, one woman says: “Women thought that their presence and participation in the protest squares brought them close to decision making, where they could learn about what was happening to their country and help to shape it too. Yet, after signing the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to make a deal between power-holders at the elite level, all of that disappeared.”
A new generation or women is fiercely committed: A woman in Morocco told us: “We want real, radical change: a civil state, a democratic regime, a real popular constitution. We want good education and a good system of justice. Stop arresting people for their ideas and have equality between the sexes in all fields. […] My grandma, every time I meet her, she says don’t protest, you will go to jail, they will beat you. But I’m not afraid. I really believe in it. If I don’t do this, no one will do this for me.”
But the new generation has little faith in the established women's movement: In the words of a female activist in Sana’a: “The established women’s movement is not renewed. There is a challenge for the old and traditional section of the women’s movement to reach out to younger activists.”
Women continue to face enormous challenges, and are determined to overcome them: “To join the protests on Friday mornings and pray Al Juma’a with other women, I had to take shortcut routes by walking through rugged mountains every Thursday night. After what I had done, no force on earth dares to neglect me.” A woman who lives in a remote rural village in Ibb, Yemen.
Since the uprisings, there has been an alarming increase in gender-based violence, particularly in Egypt. Many believe that, just as sexual harassment was used to discourage women from participating in the revolution, it has since been used to exclude women from street protests in an attempt to put an end to the revolution. Read more in this blog from a CARE staffer in the region.
Tensions between generations and ideologies in the women's movement that are fragmenting the momentum to achieve change. Even in countries which had featured relatively high levels of female political particip
ation, the type of women engaged in such activism was new. With a few exceptions, women in politics were older, wealthy and well educated. The uprisings, however, saw the participation of women from poorer neighborhoods and those who had not been politically active before. These younger women, and those from different demographics don't connect with older women they see as elites, and struggle to build coherent demands and actions . Without a unified voice, the women
have been unable to get an equal place at the negotiating table in a time of massive change.
It is important to bridge the secular-religious divide: Even among actors in the women's movement, there is a spectrum of religious beliefs from the conservative to the more progressive. Islamic institutions and women’s issues can interact in surprising ways. Our research found a growing spread of popular forms of religious expression that are not necessarily restrictive for women. Across the region, many women go to mosques to hear female lay preachers, who advise them on matters of religion and daily life and often act as counselors on issues such as marital infidelity and male violence – often with a pragmatic interpretation of religious norms. Islamic philanthropic organizations also play an important role in all the countries we researched. Though they do not focus explicitly on women’s empowerment, they provide much-needed social support for many ordinary women, and have sometimes played a role in the genesis of women’s movements.