CAIRO: International Women’s Day on March 8 was first celebrated by women protesting in New York I the early 20th century, journalist Hanya Moheib said in her speech on Saturday. Women were carrying roses and bread on this day, claiming their rights to have less working hours and to vote, and prevent children from working.
Many countries celebrate this day all over the world. Several women’s rights organizations like “I saw harassment,” Foada watch and the Women’s Parliament and Act center, held a celebration in downtown Cairo under the name “They are the Change,” a phrase directed to women.
In addition to Moneib, member of the supreme committee of the Egyptian Democratic Party Maha el-Gazar, co-founder of the Women of the Arab World movement Sally Zohney and women activist Yasmeen el-Baramawy attended the celebration among others.
The celebration started with a press statement of the women organizations stating their demands. The statement read that ever since the January 25 Revolution, Egyptian women has been the most vulnerable group in society. They are subject to violation and marginalizing to force them to stop participating in the revolution and to stop demanding their rights.
The statement demanded that the authorities must start activating non-discrimination between males and females in higher decision making positions according to the 2013 constitution. The organizations announced that political parties, democratic powers and religious institutions must focus on letting women participate in ruling, not letting them become just house wives.
Furthermore, the statement demanded presidential candidates to include women’s welfare in their electoral programs and stated that the next parliament should adopt a law that incriminates all kinds of sexual harassment and violence against women.
Moheib spoke during the celebration about the image of women engraved in society’s mind. This image relies on putting women in the defendant’s position, implying that she is always wrong and she is the reason behind being violated or harassed, she said. Women broke the barrier of fear during the January 25 Revolution, as women are entitled to defend their own rights, children’s rights and animals’ rights as well, according to Hanya.
She added that one of the main problems that women face is the “masculine culture,” in which women have no rights, men must control everything and must be violent towards women, and women should not speak out for their rights. The journalist pointed out that so many women promote for this kind of culture as well and abandon their rights themselves.
Moheib said that women must be told that being silent towards harassment is considered a crime and she urged women to believe in themselves, because they are powerful enough to demand and regain their rights. One example of women’s power is a Kenyan lady called Wangari Maathai, who founded the green belt initiative to plant trees. Thanks to her 30 million trees were planted in Kenya, Hanya told the audience.
Politician Gazar spoke about increasing women’s awareness and the role of women in the Egyptian Democratic Party. Gazar further spoke about the Bosi project, of which he is a member, that forms a platform for Egyptian women to tell real stories about harassment, aiming to address and face this phenomenon in society.
The “I saw harassment” movement displayed three videos recorded back in 2012 about sexual harassment in the streets during Eid al-Adha. The videos contained interviews with children of both sexes between seven to 12 years old about why women and girls are harassed and what people’s reactions are towards girls that try to protect themselves against harassment.
Also activist Baramawy said that the presence of people who defend women’s rights to live a safe life and those who start initiatives to solve women’s problems against sexual harassment and violence, are the reason that keeps her going. Without these people she would have travelled abroad a very long time ago, she said. Also she played several music pieces using the Arab instrument Oud.