Sahar Khamis (Ph.D.) Department of CommunicationUniversity of Maryland, College Park
Characteristics of the Arab Spring Grassroots, popular movement Peaceful Across the board Leaderless Significant role played by youth Significant role played by women Social media acted as catalysts for change Different outcomes in various countries
Women’s Activism in the Arab Spring Women played a visible role in the Arab spring Many took part in “non-stereotypical” gender roles, i.e., not just nursing, nurturing or supporting others, but rather being in the front lines, risking their own lives, and facing the risk of injury, arrest, or event death. The selection of Tawakul Karman, who came to be known as the “mother of the revolution” in Yemen, as the first Arab woman ever to receive the Nobel prize signified international recognition for women’s role.
About this Study….. This is a qualitative study which relies on in-depth personal interviews with a group of young Arab women journalists from Arab spring countries, namely: Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. All the interviewed women were in their 20s or 30s. They all received some Western education. They all had some overseas experience. They all described themselves as journalists/activists They all saw themselves as “agents of change”
Redefining Activism, Empowerment, and Resistance All the interviewees endorsed a form of bottom- up, horizontal, grassroots activism, which engages the widest possible segment of society They denounced government-manufactured activism, which results in “tokenism” or “cosmetic feminism” They saw empowerment as an indigenous, autonomous effort on the part of women themselves to enact change with their own hands and to speak in their own voice They conceived a parallel revolution which involves resistance in the “socio-political” domain
The Role of “Cyberfeminism” The term “cyberfeminism” refers to a process whereby women deploy new forms of communication, mainly online communication, to advocate for their own rights, causes, and demands, and to fight various forms of discrimination, injustice, or repression It is considered the sister term for the more general phenomenon of “cyberactivism”, which refers to the use of online tools to advance a cause which is difficult to advance offline They all hailed the role of new media in serving the needs of women and helping their causes
Three Main Functions Mobilization: Rallying support for certain causes which are important for women, collecting the needed funds, and securing the needed resources to help them.(For example: helping refugees and rape victims) Documentation: Using their cameras, cell phones, and even pens and papers, to show the whole world incidents of brutality, humiliation, and harassment against women Education: Raising awareness about women’s issues and discussing them through “positive media”
Perceived Opportunities All the interviewees believed that women have a lot of opportunities to fight for their causes, spread their messages, and make their voices heard. They saw social media as providing women with the needed “window” to see the outside world, and to be seen by the outside world, as well as the needed tools to network, organize, and mobilize. They believed that the affordability, accessibility, interactivity, and immediacy of these tools made them especially important in enacting socio-political change
Authoritarian regimes controlled the media… but protesters found ways to spread information and calls to action … using social media.
New media accelerate the spread of information to a wide audience… … to raise awareness of corruption and repression… to mobilize and coordinate resistance… to provide platforms for brainstorming … to keep up pressure AFTER the revolutions
Perceived Opportunities They saw the rise of new young Arab women activists, who are combining online and offline activism to fight for political rights, as well as social rights, to be particularly important and useful for women, as it increases the salience and visibility of women’s issues and helps to secure support for them. Many of these young women activists became “public opinion leaders”, who are setting good role models and positive examples, not just for other women, but for all citizens, men and women alike.
Nawara Negm: a prominent blogger who used her blog and Twitter foractivism
Asmaa’ Mahfouz: In January 2011, herFacebook video was posted to YouTube LINK TO VERSION WITH SUBTITLES
Perceived Opportunities They saw the increase in youth activism as especially important and relevant when it comes to supporting women’s issues, since both youth and women were perceived to be two sides of the same coin of activism
Young people:… are the fastest growing segment of the populationwhere reform is needed.… are 70% of the population in the Arab world.… can be agents of change with their open-mindedness, desire for reform, creativity, energy, anddetermination.… are technologically-savvy and comfortable withnew media tools.
Wael Ghonim & Abdul RahmanMansour created the Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said”
Perceived Threats From solidarity to fragmentation Creating an “unsafe public space” for women: sexual harassment, violence, virginity testing, and rape The rise of political Islam The reactionary, patriarchal culture Educational, economic, and infrastructural constraints The overshadowing and marginalization of women’s issues: “Thank you ladies, you can now go back to the kitchen!”
The Uncertainties Ahead The future of women’s status, and the gains they can actually secure, are very much related to the future of their respective countries, many of which are in flux, without any clear roadmap. This is applicable in countries where the struggle for freedom is still ongoing, such as Bahrain and Syria, but is also applicable in transitioning countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.
A Final Word…… In looking ahead, we have to bear in mind that it would be wise to adopt a realistic approach in looking at the future of women’s issues, in the context of socio- political transformation, which acknowledges their gains and contributions, but also takes into account the challenges and threats which are confronting them Likewise, it is wise to adopt an approach of “cyberrealism”, which avoids the two undesirable bi- polar extremes of “cyberpessimism” and “cyberoptimism”.
Limitations of Social Media While they may aid socio-political change as “catalysts”…… they are not “magical” tools and cannot bring change all by themselves. It is the people, in this case womenthemselves, who can create actual change in the real world.