Mona Lisa Mouallem
At the 15th annual Women in the World conference, held in New York City last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her concern about the future of women’s rights in the Middle East:
"In recent weeks, we have seen women on the front lines of progress in Egypt and Tunisia. Some of the earliest organizers ... that helped galvanize Egypt and Tunisia were smart, wired and committed young women. But unfortunately, in both countries, there is a very real danger that the rights and opportunities of women could be eroded in this transition period."
Indeed, in the aftermath of the revolutions, women have been sidelined from the formation of the new governments.
In Tunisia, only two women have been appointed to the transitional government. Ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had far more women in his cabinet. Conservative voices in Tunisia are also calling for the scaling back of Tunisia's Personal Status Code, a series of laws that have protected women's rights in the country for more than 50 years.
In Egypt, not a single woman has been appointed to the council in charge of revamping the old constitution. And when Egyptian women called for a million-woman march seeking equal rights for all Egyptians, only a few hundred showed up last week. These women were greeted by a large group of men hurling misogynistic insults.
The fact that Middle East revolutions are not heralding improvements in women’s rights may come as a surprise. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that women and men were protesting side by side in Tunis, pitching up tents in unison in Tahrir Square, and bringing food and water to those who couldn't leave the demonstrations.
So why – despite their important role in bringing about change – are Arab women getting sidelined now?
There are several possible answers.
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