Despite advances gained from women’s strong participation in the 2011 uprisings against the dictatorship of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Salih, and despite the fact that they continue to play an essential role in the day-to-day survival of their communities, three years of war and militarization have resulted in a significant setback for Yemeni women and increased their marginalization from formal political and conflict-resolution channels. Yet they continue to struggle for their rights and representation.
An examination of women’s struggles to gain the right to vote in Kuwait, and ongoing efforts to promote women’s football in Qatar, provide useful in-depth case studies. They cannot predict the future course of change in Saudi Arabia, but they illustrate the need for ongoing political engagement and social activism to secure gains, and the limitations of state-led efforts to remake isolated aspects of Gulf societies while failing to reckon with the complex web of social regulations that underpin present gender divides.
Traffic crawls as usual through Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, making its noisy way around the 65-foot pole flying the Egyptian flag newly erected in the middle of the plaza. It is hard to imagine that in January 2011 this very spot was the epicenter of the grassroots revolution that toppled President Husni Mubarak. Since the summer 2013 coup, the military-backed regime has remade this space of insurrection into one of imposed national unity. The revolutionary graffiti is long since whitewashed; the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, incinerated during the uprising, is demolished.
Published in MERIP Reports 58 (June 1977):
Yifat Susskind is executive director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization based in New York. Jillian Schwedler spoke with her on October 28, 2015, the week after Yanar Mohammed, head of MADRE’s partner group the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), testified before the UN Security Council about women’s vital role in sustainable peacebuilding and about the task of sheltering women fleeing sexual violence, including from areas controlled by ISIS.
What are the basic challenges for your work in Iraq, where the state does not fully function?
My son and I were both so excited. It was my first time attending a soccer game at a stadium. And it was a momentous match, pitting the French national team against their counterparts from Germany. The Stade de France just outside Paris was full of almost 80,000 spectators of different social groups, ethnicities, ages and genders. Watching a match at a stadium, I realized, is very different from watching it on television. I was thinking about my Iranian sisters who cannot enter a stadium in Tehran as I can in Europe.
At an October meeting of young Iranian-American leaders at the residence of the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, I asked Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the country’s unfair nationality laws. By these statutes, no Iranian woman married to a non-Iranian man can pass on her citizenship to her children, whereas an Iranian man can pass it on not only to his children, but also to a non-Iranian wife.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey is known for his strong pro-natalist sentiments. In 2012 his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP, by the Turkish acronym) passed a law to constrain women’s choice to give birth by Caesarean section — “nothing more than a procedure to restrict and square a nation’s population,” says the AKP leader, since a woman who undergoes it usually cannot have another baby. Erdoğan exhorts every Turkish family to have three children, just like he does.
The November 15 attack on an armored car transporting Shukria Barakzai, a women’s rights activist and parliamentarian in Afghanistan, shook me to the core. The attack, which Barakzai survived but three passersby did not, took place shortly after my return from a women’s rights meeting in Turkey. Several Afghan activists were in attendance, and they face similar risks each day. As I read the news, I thought, “It could have been any one of them.”
The media sometimes has trouble conjuring a feel-good story out of an airstrike, but not now. In the last few days, news outlets across the world have fallen all over themselves to champion Maryam al-Mansouri—the first female combat pilot in the United Arab Emirates—who flew in a nighttime sortie over Syria on September 22.
On June 3, the day that the Elections Commission announced the victory of ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt’s presidential race, television announcer Radwa Ruhayyim covered the festivities in Tahrir Square. Surrounded by ululating revelers, she noted that, amidst the celebrations, several women had been assaulted.  Live coverage of the June 8 inauguration festivities also included references to assaults that day. Tragically, the story of mass sexual assaults at large political gatherings is nothing new. Between November 2012 and August 2013, over 200 women were assaulted at political events including celebrations of the second anniversary of the January 25 uprising against Husni Mubarak and protests against President Muhammad Mursi in 2012 and 2013.
While senior Iranian and US officials are planning bilateral talks over Iran’s nuclear research program, the Iranian and world media are distracted by other issues: young women who post images of themselves without hejab on Facebook, and a video of six well-heeled youths dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” The gyrating youngsters were arrested and compelled to issue an apology on state television for what authorities said was a “vulgar clip” th
Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself on her official account last week using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, joining the Twitter campaign on behalf of the hundreds of schoolgirls, most of them Christian, who were kidnapped a month ago by the Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram. The purpose of the kidnappings remains unclear, but at least two girls have claimed to have converted to Islam, and at least 130 appeared in a video wearing, as the Guardian put it, “Islamic-style dress.” The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, indicated a willingness to release the girls in exchange for jailed militants.
President Barack Obama capped his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday by presenting the International Women of Courage award to Maha al-Muneef, a pediatrician and executive director of the anti-domestic violence National Family Safety Program (NFSP). We are “very, very proud of you and grateful for all the work you’re doing here,” Obama told her in a brief ceremony at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. “I’m looking forward to seeing you do even more wonderful things in the future.”
On June 1, the day after the brutal police attack to disperse the occupation of Gezi Park, thousands more protesters descended upon Taksim Square in central Istanbul. By the end of the week, demonstrators filled the plaza completely, with those in the park itself behind barricades should the police mount another raid. The atmosphere reminded many of a carnival, with people sharing food and dancing to music as they chanted slogans in the shade of the towering trees. It was an anxious occasion all the same — two protester tents were designated as infirmaries. Everyone wore masks or scarves around their necks to ward off tear gas and many carried first aid items for the volunteer health personnel.
Undeterred by pleas for mercy, the high-ranking intelligence officer Ra’uf pushes the junior ‘Azzam to his knees. Ra’uf forcibly shaves the young man’s head as other officers look on. He commands ‘Azzam to remove his shirt and pants, do pushups, jump up and down, and slide across the ground on his elbows. When another officer pounds him with a bat, ‘Azzam breaks down. Crying that he has had enough, he grabs a gun, shooting into the air and then at Ra’uf’s feet. He orders Ra’uf and the others onto the ground, gathers his clothes and runs away. When Ra’uf presses charges, an exceptionally kind mukhabarat officer says, “I saw how you humiliated him and induced him to carry a gun.”
In June 2013 popular anger, excitement and apprehension rippled through Cairo. Lines at gas stations snaked into major roadways, paralyzing traffic. Artists occupied the Ministry of Culture to oppose a new minister from the Muslim Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party who had fired respected cultural leaders. Artists, including the Cairo Opera ballet troupe, performed in solidarity in front of the Ministry, in a pointed retort to a member of the salafi Nour Party who said that ballet “provoke[ed] people to immorality.” Determined to oust then-president Muhammad Mursi, citizens signed the Tamarrud (Rebellion) petition calling for early presidential elections and planned to attend anti-Mursi demonstrations on June 30.
The 18 days of revolution beginning on January 25, 2011 united Egypt. A wide range of citizens, men and women, veiled and unveiled, young and old, middle-class and working-class, stood behind the goals of ending the 30-year rule of Husni Mubarak and stopping the planned succession of his son to the presidency, as well as winning bread, freedom, social justice and dignity. The military supported this national consensus and pushed its aims forward.
How is gender related to revolutions? What is the connection between “gender” and women or, for that matter, between gender and women and men? If gender is generally understood to be the social construction of sexual difference, what explains the differences in gendered identities across cultures or over time? And in thinking about gender, how can observers avoid the naturalization of the familiar, or the demonization of gender relations that seem foreign?