Women in the Arab Spring

In December of 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old Tunisian merchant set himself on fire as a protest for being harassed by municipal officials. Little did he know that he would be the catalyst for a wave of revolts which spread throughout most of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

In January, Oman, Yemen, Syria and Morocco were starting their own revolutions. On January 25th of 2011, a particularly influential event occurred, one which will forever remain a symbol of the Arab Spring and which is now a national holiday in Cairo. On that day, thousands of young men, women and children gathered in Tahrir Square, to demand the resignation of then-president Hosni Mubarak.

Women were there, fighting alongside men, protesting for their rights, battling for democracy. There is no doubt that they served as key players in the fight for a regime change.

In fact, in Cairo, women lent a helping hand and handled the organization of the uprising, by being the ones caring for food, medical supplies and blankets. In Bahrein, some witnesses insisted on the importance that women had, by treating their injured and healing wounds.

In Yemen, Karman, a human right activist, was the one who triggered the revolution in her country by protesting and leading demonstrations against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was awarded the Nobel peace Prize in 2011, and was the first Arab woman to receive not only a Nobel Prize for peace, but a Nobel Prize in general. This was an important leap forward for Arab women, and women in general.

It is therefore not a secret that women played a crucial and primordial role in this revolutionary movement, deeply shocking the leaders of the authoritarian regimes, who did not expect to see them alongside men, demanding rights and claiming what they are due.

Women’s participation clearly depicted the importance of the role that we have to play when it comes to asking for changes and implementing them.

During the revolts, women were beaten, mistreated and abused, and their gender made no difference when it came to the way they were fought against, yet they stood tall next to their families.

What happened, however, when the Arab Spring came to an end?

Unfortunately, despite the active role that women endorsed during the Arab Spring, in some countries they were side-lined when it came to negotiations and decisions to be made


regarding the new governments to put into place. For example, in Egypt, the number of women with a parliamentary seat decreased, and their possibilities to have a say in the new Egyptian constitution drafted after the fall of Mubarak, was minimal. In the second draft, however, women tried their best to obtain support for themselves.

In some other countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, there were attempts to implement quotas and rules to keep parliamentary seats from being entirely occupied by men.

Overall, however, women did not manage to obtain a radical change when it comes to their rights, and seem to still have quite a long way to go until they get an equal say as men in politics.


-Elisabetta Torossian