December 23, 2011

Egypt’s Women, Nobels, Occupy Protests Are Gifts

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(WOMENSENEWS)--The biggest and best gifts I received this holiday season did not come wrapped in colorful paper. Two were a complete surprise. One was something I had wanted for a long time. And I believe you received them too.

I read with joy that thousands of women in Egypt marched on Dec. 20 protesting not only the weekend's brutal beating, stripping and kicking of women in Tahrir Square by military police in riot gear, but also the frequent brutal treatment of women by the military, including "virginity tests" of arrested female protestors.

The women's protest was described as the largest and most significant in Egypt since a 1919 march against British colonial rule. Could this Arab winter protest spark a similar outpouring of women throughout the region demanding to be heard? And maybe spread to the homegrown protests in the United States?

The Nobel Peace Prize is the second major surprise gift this holiday season. When news first hit that three women received the Nobel Peace Prize, I looked up from my computer and shouted out to no one in particular, "Hey, how come they have to share it?" Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian grassroots organizer, and Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, each deserved the prize in their own right.

The Nobel committee's press release emphasized their struggle to push for women's rights and to ensure women were part of the peace process. True. However, I believe they saw their actions as the one strategy that might end the armed conflict that was destroying their nations and the accompanying wholesale corruption that enriched the leadership and impoverished the citizens. For them, ensuring women's rights are a means to an end.

By Dec. 10, when the three accepted their prize in Oslo, Norway, I had come to see that the Nobel committee giving three incredible, dedicated and dynamic women the recognition that they deserve was a gift to all of us.

Captured on Video

Women's eNews intern Hajer Naili managed to capture on video Karman's post-announcement press conference on the steps of the United Nations headquarters in New York demanding wholesale change in Yemen. She spoke in Arabic and it was simultaneously translated into English. We quickly posted it on both Women's eNews and Arabic Women's eNews.

And with apparent prescience, Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said during the peace prize ceremony: "The promising Arab Spring will become a new winter if women are again left out."

This fall, a loosely organized group set up camp four blocks from the Manhattan offices of Women's eNews and managed to disrupt the dominant U.S. political narrative of benefit cutbacks, lay offs, tax breaks and anti-contraception legislation. Not for one day--but for every day since.

In one clear voice, the demonstrators made a statement that reverberated around the nation and the world: 99 percent of us are not getting a fair share of our nation's wealth. The message has spread throughout our national and global conversations and continues to create new questions about the country's spending and moral priorities.

During the early days of the protest, Naili grabbed a video camera and recorded an interview with one of the female protestors on what it was like to get arrested. Christina Gonzalez's testimony was quickly posted online and proved to be hugely popular.

Other journalists also pursued the story. This video, shot and edited by Meredith Mandell, examines women's roles in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and why they participated in the protests.

Anti-Woman Subtext

When I read the most recent demand in Congress for "Reform Social Security" and "Fix Medicare" I see an anti-woman subtext.

Women are 56 percent of Social Security recipients and receive less each check because of earnings that, on average, are lower than those of male counterparts. Women also depend more heavily on Social Security because fewer have pensions and other assets and on average live four years longer.

As for Medicare, women are 55 percent of those covered while 14 percent of all enrollees are women 85 and older. None of the roars emitting from Washington focused on changing Medicare have argued for lower premiums for those with lower incomes.

Women not only earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, nearly half of employed women are clustered in 20 job categories, with average annual median earnings of $27,383.

If OWS results in a reshaped safety net, including Social Security and Medicare, and perhaps a fairer tax structure, women's lives could be dramatically improved.

The OWS crowd even managed to distract politicians leading the charge during the summer to defund Planned Parenthood on the federal, state and local levels, campaigns that kept the Women's eNews summer intern Marley Gibbons fully occupied covering the latest developments.

Splintering Anti-Choice Movement

By November, Mississippi voters rejected the "personhood" amendment that would have made many forms of contraception illegal and given citizenship rights to fertilized human eggs. With its decisive defeat, the anti-choice movement appears to have splintered. Some plan to challenge Roe v. Wade by taking such a law all the way to the now anti-choice Supreme Court; others vehemently argue all should stick with the "chipping away" approach that has been so successful to date.

At this moment, the anti-choice fever appears to have dropped a degree or two as Republican candidates have begun to talk about job creation and tax policy. (Unfortunately, the cooling down was not sufficient to prevent President Obama from limiting teens' access to Plan B, but a new year is coming.)

Many have complained that Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs have not articulated a specific agenda. That's fine with me. I am delighted the movement has been able to spotlight how badly we need a more equitable distribution of resources. And it is quite likely that the women in the movement will come to the fore, just as they have in Cairo.

Thank you OWS demonstrators. Even if it's not the focus, you might be pushing the nation in the direction of better treatment of women and to that I can only say Hurrah. And I am sure other thank you notes are on the way.

Thank you women of Egypt, thank you Nobel committee and thank you the women of OWS. Happy New Year for all of us!

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Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief and founder of Women's eNews.

For more information:

Christina Gonzalez video, Occupy Wall Street 9/24/11::
http://www.youtube.com/user/WomenseNews#p/u/5/SOsgdseA9p0

  • Samantha J Chamberlain

    Thank YOU! I’m only curious where the information on the wage gap is coming from, I find it unfortunate but very interesting how employers can still get away with a clear wage difference among genders.