With Tasers and placards, women of Egypt are leaders in the fight against sexism

Laurie Penny, a blogger at the New Statesman, recently posted this report from Cairo. She writes:

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

‘‘The youth will liberate Egypt!” A girl in a sky-blue headscarf is yelling and 300 women shout the words back at her outside the Sayyida Zeinab Mosque in central Cairo. Behind the gates of the mosque, men in long robes stare at the growing crowd, growling insults at anyone who comes close, but also curious. “These men, they’ve been brainwashed,” says Fawzie, 68, a retired engineer. “I am angry, devastated. I went several times to Tahrir Square, doing my best to help.

“They want women to stay at home. I want to see liberty.”

For the women of Egypt, freedom from sexist oppression and freedom from state repression are part of the same battle.

“It is now dangerous for women and girls to go out alone without anticipating sexual and physical assault from mobs of men, from armed police, or both. The story being told by most of the western press is that Egypt’s revolution has been “spoiled” or “tainted” by this pandemic of violent misogyny – but at street level, something else is going on. The question is: whose revolution is this, anyway?”  Read more.

The female protesters wear clothing to protect them from being groped and grabbed by other marchers, and are risking their lives speaking out against rape and violence. For conservatives, argues a male volunteer supporting the women’s action, (OpAntiSH), the revolution is successful, but unless there is freedom for women and protection from sexual assault, the war continues for “the soul of the revolution.”

In leadership studies, we often talk about the courage to be authentic, to be present, to be visible. But the heart of leadership spirit can be seen in women and men like these activists.

They’re willing to risk danger to assert a NEW definition of authenticity — a new idea of freedom that includes an identity that goes beyond the conservative belief in what is “normal.”  It’s testimony to how abnormal such beliefs are when we see that conservatives in Egypt are willing to resort to violence to force women to conform.

Feminist activists all over the world are fighting for the right to define the terms of their own authentic lives. In cultures such as Egypt, simply wearing jeans, simply leaving the home and going out alone, simply standing up to family pressure — that’s risky. So picking up a bullhorn, becoming a public presence to combat the “brainwashing” of conservative men — that’s courageous leadership, especially in those so young, with so much to lose — and gain.




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