Since the Arab Uprisings Began in Tunisia nearly a year ago, women have been on the front lines of change: protesting alongside men, blogging passionately and prolifically, covering the demonstrations as journalists and newscasters, leading public demonstrations, and launching social media campaigns. In Libya, women set up support networks to feed and clothe revolutionaries, relay information, and smuggle munitions—putting them at the center of the struggle for freedom. From Tunis and Cairo to Riyadh and Sana’a, female protesters have become the iconic image of the Arab revolutions. Their defiance has surprised many in the West who have long viewed Arab women as oppressed victims of conservative patriarchy and religion. Yet young Arab women today are significantly better educated, marry later, have fewer children, and are more likely to work outside the home than their mother’s generation. Their demands for greater freedom have been building for years. While women’s efforts have been important to the Arab revolts, there is no guarantee that they will be able to turn their recent activism into long-term economic, social, and political gains.
Women’s rights in the Arab World today face several challenges, including politically empowered Islamist parties that contest existing laws on religious grounds and popular inertia against increasing women’s participation in public leadership roles. Islamist organizations like the Renaissance Party (Al-Nahda) in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are influential players in their new political landscapes.
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