In Mideast revolts, women emerge as driving force

March 9, 2011 - 0:0

BEIRUT (AFP) – As popular revolts continue to rock autocratic regimes across the Arab world, women are defying both taboo and stereotype and emerging as a driving force that is keeping the momentum of the protests going.

""Women played and continue to play an integral part in the uprisings and revolutions in the region, and what is key is that they are there, physically present in the streets, showing their numbers,"" said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
""That is a hopeful sign,"" Houry told AFP. ""They should now play a key role the new governing structures that will emerge from these revolutions.""
In T-shirts and jeans or long black robes and veils, tens of thousands of women have made their voices heard in the streets, from Tunis to Cairo, from Manama to Sanaa, to demand reform in a region long ruled by autocracies.
Inspired by the uprising that toppled Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, women turned out en masse in Egypt's Tahrir Square for weeks to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who quit on February 11 after 30 years in power.
Bahrain, where thousands of mainly Shiite protesters have been demanding the fall of the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, has also witnessed a massive turnout of women, who form a sea of black in their traditional robes and headscarves at the continuing gender-segregated rallies.
And in the conservative countries of Yemen and Libya, women have overturned social norms and joined the insurrections against Ali Abdullah Saleh and Moamer Gaddafi, marching openly in the streets and talking to journalists on camera.
""Women play a decisive role in the region, from Tunisia to Egypt and Libya, and they have been a key factor in sparking the revolutions in every city,"" said Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist who is spearheading the participation of women in the Sanaa protests.