By Safaa Abdoun and Dalia Rabie
CAIRO: Hundreds marched from the Journalists’ Syndicate to the People’s Assembly Thursday to mark International Women’s Day, with chants mainly directed at the ruling military council and the dominant Islamist parliamentary blocs.
Female and male protesters chanted against Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), accusing him of being an “American agent,” referring to the ongoing NGO trial.
The marched took off from the syndicate, down Talaat Harb Street as protesters made their way through Tahrir Square and then near Egypt’s parliament.
Protesters also chanted “Badei, Badei, women’s rights will not be lost,” referring to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei, and “Not Brotherhood or Salafi, women in the Constituent Assembly.”
With the current debate over the formation of the Constituent Assembly heating up, some are demanding that women comprise at least 30 percent of its members.
Presidential hopeful Khaled Ali was among the protesters, and said everyone should support the demands of Egyptian women.
“Women are an integral part of Egyptian society and the Egyptian revolution, and so [they have] to be fairly represented in the constitution and constituent assembly,” he said, suggesting that women constitute at least 30 percent of the assembly.
Prominent columnist Mona Eltahawy also joined the march saying that as a feminist, she believes “the women’s revolution is the most important revolution.”
“Women in Egypt have two revolutions; one against an oppressive regime and one against an oppressive society,” Eltahawy told Daily News Egypt.
Eltahawy added that the large turnout sends a strong message that women are an integral part of the revolution and are demanding their rights. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” she said.
Veteran journalist Amina Shafik lauded the large male turnout at the march.
“We used to march by ourselves, now we are joined by democratic men who support their society’s pressing issues and that in itself is huge progress,” she said.
Hala Shukrallah, an activist, said that one of the main slogans in the march is “we [women] were in the square and now they’re in parliament.”
“The sad reality is that the people who were seeking change and risked their lives during the revolution are sidelined and prosecuted and those in parliament were the ones against the revolution and are willing to make alliances with any autocratic power,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Amal Abdel Azim, an Arabic teacher, who said that the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members do not represent Islam, citing the era of Prophet Mohamed where women’s rights were upheld.
A year later
Last year, less than a month after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, a planned Million Women March in Tahrir Square to mark International Women’s Day went awry as counter protesters infiltrated the march chanting against and harassing the women, forcing some out of the square.
Scuffles broke out between female and male protesters when some men claimed it was “not the right time” to address women’s issues.
However, this year, women’s groups and protesters gained momentum after the success of the last women’s march on Dec. 20, when thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets of downtown denouncing the excessive use of violence against female protesters.
It was the biggest women’s march drawing around 6,000 women and around 2,000 men, who marched from Tahrir Square to the Journalists’ Syndicate, after shocking images of a girl being dragged and stripped by military police went viral.
However, on the political front, things were different. In the country’s first election after Mubarak’s ouster, parliament saw very low female representation.
Eight women elected and two appointed women make up less than 2 percent of the 508 seats in the People’s Assembly. Considering the proportion of women who applied, the chances weren’t big. In Cairo for example, only 80 women ran compared to 1,010 men.
A recent report by Nazra for Feminist Studies revealed that neither the Islamist nor liberal parties fielded a significant number of female candidates on their lists.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party however had more female candidates higher on their lists than many of the less conservative parties.
Parallel events are also planned in commemoration of International Women’s Day, including blogging and tweeting about women’s rights, as well as young artists drawing graffiti Downtown.
There is another march planned on March 9, the first anniversary of the notorious virginity checks.
UN Women and CARE Egypt, in collaboration with the Gender and Development Donors Subgroup, will also commemorate the day at the Cairo Opera House on March 10 in a celebration is titled ‘Laha’ (for Her).
The event will include a diverse group of speakers and artists who will highlight the diversity and strength of women.
Annually on 8 March, many events are held throughout the world to celebrate women, ranging from political rallies, business conferences and government activities. The first national Women’s Day was observed in 1909 in the United States.
Protesters in the hundreds marched through Talaat Harb Street, making their way to Tahrir and then near Egypt’s parliament. (Daily News Egypt Photo/ Hassan Ibrahim)