Wednesday, 9 March 2011

International Women's Day and the Middle East

Tuesday marked the hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day, or International Working Women's Day as it was when it began. Much has changed since 1911, and much hasn't. But countless articles will mull over "how far we have come," so I won't dwell there.

Instead, via Laurie Penny, I want to draw people's attention to something far more immediate;
Right now [this was published at 18:22], thousands of Egyptian women who gathered to commemorate the centenary of International Women's Day in the newly-liberated Tahrir Square are being assaulted, harassed and brutalised. Not by Mubarak's thugs, but by the men who lately stood beside them as equals on the barricades. As I write, images and reports are coming through on Twitter from women fleeing male aggression in the symbolic heart of what is already being called the Arab Spring. Speak it aloud, let it ooze over your tongue: how bitter does it taste?
Across the Middle East, as Naomi Wolf puts it, women "were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable." Rather that "serving only as support workers, the habitual role to which they are relegated in protest movements," they "organised, strategised, and reported the events."

This is important because, returning to Penny, "the liberation of women and the liberation of the working class ... [a]re two halves of the same equation."

In the Middle East particularly, though not exclusively, this only emphasises the importance of the moral universalism I have advocated on numerous occasions. Issues of sexism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and other bigotries cannot be unravelled from the broader question of class struggle and treated as stand-alone causes.

If something is an injustice, it is so regardless of who perpetrates it, and the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. But unfortunately this principle is not as widespread as it ought to be, especially on "The Left," from Unite Against Fascism forging alliances with homophobic and misogynistic Islamists and decrying the acknowledgement that Islamism is be a reactionary ideology to the virulent attacks against those who accused Julian Assange of rape. This must always be challenged.

Laurie Penny notes that "the revolutionaries of Egypt are forgetting" the link between class struggle and gender equality "all over again." We must hope that it can be revived, despite the events in Tahrir Square. Because you cannot build a free and equal society on the back of the submission and inequality of half of the population.