Arab and Muslim Women, ignored on International Women’s Day


Raul Lieberwirth photo



Ahmed Tharwat



The UN describes International Women’s Day as a day when ‘the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’ March 8th was designated by the United Nations to not only celebrate women’s rights, but a call for action to improve these rights and gender parity. However, Arab and Muslim women, who have a long history of struggles for their economic, legal and social rights, their stories are mostly ignored.

Arab women played a major role in the most transformative event in modern Arab history, the Arab Spring, where they were part of the protest and demonstration that toppled political and cultural dictators, many Arab /Muslim women giving their lives to bring a better future for women, as well as men. World organisations and the Western media have a habit of focusing only on ‘handpicked’ Arab/Muslim women that fit the scribe.

Western media and world NGOs turned those chosen women into media and world celebrities, from Malala Yousafzai, to the sexy Kurdish women fighters who are fighting ISIS. Mona Eltahawy, in an interview with The Guardian, bragged: “They (Islamists) are obsessed with my vagina. I tell them: stay outside my vagina, unless I want you in there,” Ms. Eltahawy’s oversexualizing and hyperbole fuelled journalistic style, suited only to the tabloid press, on this occasion making it to our mainstream press.

Western media, and feminist groups, are using a litmus test, a list of women and cultural issues like sexual harassment, circumcisions, gay rights and other social and cultural vices to determine whether or not women are free. Sexual harassment is not just an Islamic thing, as we have found out, it is also a Jewish thing, as we have learned from sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and even our own senator here in Minnesota, Al Franken.

Where religion never came into question the #MeToo movement showed us that the abuse of women has no cultural boundaries. Women throughout history have been abused by men in the name of so many things and religion is one of them. In the West women are abused in the name of beauty and the over-sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies by the culture of society and the so called ‘marketplace’.

Everyday and away from Western cameras and private parties, lots of Arab/Muslim women are fighting hard for their human and political rights. The history of their struggle started a long time ago and before the #MeToo movement. Algerian women played a major role in the struggle against French colonists in Algeria’s liberation movement where the “French attempted to depict themselves as liberators of women, many Algerian women experiencing violence perpetrated by the French during the war of liberation.” (Amrane 1982, 127).

Americans used the same as a pretext to invade another Muslim country in Afghanistan. Political harassment led to all sort of harassments. On March 9, 2011, during the Egyptian revolution, one day after International Women’s Day, Egyptian securities and militia led then by none other than Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, performed the most barbaric shameful act of Forced Virginity Tests on young Egyptian women at Tahrir Square, young women like Jihan Ahmed and Rasha Abdelrahan whom I met in Egypt and interviewed. “It is the day that I lost any respect of our Military,” Rasha told me.

Lots of shocking images came from Tahrir Square, but nothing was as shocking as what was then coined “The Girl In The Blue Bra”, as NPR reported it at the time. ”A veiled young woman is dragged and beaten by Egyptian military during a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Her face is covered. Her torso is bare, except for her bright-blue bra; she’s a millisecond away from being kicked by a solider.”

Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, Cairo Rose, was shot by President el-Sisi militia’s for carrying a wreath of flowers to commemorate the revolution in Tahrir Square. However the New York Times couldn’t contain its feminist view, as opposed to her political stand against oppression: “Ms. Sabbagh grew up in a conservative Muslim household but rebelled against its traditions, her friends said, and her father, a Muslim preacher who died a few years ago, grew resigned to her independence,” the Times explained.

There is more to Arab/Muslim women’s struggle than securing the sovereignty of Mona Eltahawy’s vagina, which got the attention of The Guardian, New York Times and Foreign Policy. Malala, a young Pakistani woman who was tragically shot in the head by a Taliban man, became the poster child of oppressed Muslim women, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, continually in the western spotlight, speaking at the UN and even visiting the White House. She wrote books, made movies, and even met President Obama and the Queen of England. In addition, she made Time Magazine’s edition of the ‘100 most influential people’; there even being a Malala Day.

Meanwhile the young Palestinian Ahed Tamimi wasn’t as lucky. We don’t see #ImAhed #JeSuisAhed or #MeToo outrages or support groups from the usual suspects. Feminist groups are strangely silent. Not even a whisper of protest from Malala herself, the champions of young women’s educational rights looking the other way.

Only certain Arab/Muslim women will make the cut and get Western attention, praise and glorifying coverage in the media. Their women’s stories fit the post-9/11 Western narrative about Islam and Muslims, oppressed Muslim women by Muslims extremists and Jihadists. Others Arab/Muslim women’s stories, fighting daily for their rights go unnoticed.

Arab/Muslim women; writers, journalists, and political activists, people like Tawakkol Karman, authors and activists like Zainab Salbi, Algerian novelist, Ahlam Mosteghanemi; their stories don’t reinforce the Western narrative of Arab/Muslim women, their stories need to be told. They need our support and our encouragement, not only on International Women’s Day, but every day.






Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV showBelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America,www.ahmediatv.comand his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter@AhmediaTV.

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