Women have been playing a major role in Egypt’s quest for self-governance for a long time. Sixty years ago, Doria Shafik led 1,500 women into parliament, demanding the right to vote. This action let to Shafik’s arrest and garnered international attention. She staged hunger strikes, and various other protests, before being put on permanent house arrest and having her name banned from the press. She eventually committed suicide, a sad end to an inspiring activist.
As 30% of the workforce, women in Egypt were greatly affected when the World Bank’s “generous” loans of the 1990’s led to a dramatic decrease in wages. Labor unions and many women’s organizations were also banned. Even though women graduate from university in equal numbers to men, 45% of women remain illiterate.
More recently, Asmaa Mahfouz helped rally the initial Jan. 25th protest by putting a call out on YouTube. She says, “I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square and I will stand alone.” Her viral video helped spark the revolution in Egypt.
Mahfouz’s actions had its roots in a protest led by another woman, Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid. In April of 2008, she helped start a Facebook group urging support for striking textile workers, landing her in jail. These two women helped bring down Hosni Mubarak, even if they’ve barely been mentioned in the mainstream media.
Doria Shafik once wrote, “no one will deliver freedom to women, except (the) women herself.” This is the kind of logic needed for social change. No one is going to give you freedom. You need to take it.
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Photo of Esraa Rashid from The New York Times
The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.