As clashes and uprisings continue throughout the Middle East, much of the attention of the world audience has waned. The news cycle has once again focused on celebrities, politics, and the common household item that you’re probably using right now that may kill you. Yet clashes are still raging on and women, the long overlooked warriors of this fight, are still accomplishing amazing feats in the name of liberty.
In Libya, the women have banded together in opposition-controlled regions to help the liberation effort. They have made giant communal meals for the infantry, helped carry water and supplies and have assisted in keeping cities running as normally as possible. Although the number of women fighting in Libya isn’t particularly notable, what is notable is that in such deadly conditions (Cairo was a cakewalk compared to Benghazi) you still see writers, bloggers, and workers making their voices heard.
Then the immensely brave Libyan woman heard round the world, Eyman al Abidi, stormed a hotel in Tripoli to tell the world of her brutal detention and gang rape at the hands of Gaddafi’s soldiers. She just strolled in, past the armed guards, pretending she was employed there. This is the only hotel where all the journalists in Tripoli are staying. Because of this it wouldn’t be outrageous to estimate that every member of staff is on some directive to keep an eye out for Gaddafi’s interests. She knew all of this and still managed to plaster a look of confidence on her face. In fact, her tenacity was so strong, even as she was being dragged away by guards, she was screaming her story.
Then, after she was taken away, thousands of Libyan women (and men) took to the streets from Tripoli to Benghazi, to march in solidarity of Eyman al Abidi. As state television tried to slander her as a drunken prostitute and traitor noting that, “Even a common whore should be patriotic,” her fiance took to the airwaves and declared he had never known a better woman than Eyman. Her mother also gave interviews in which she expressed belief in her daughter’s account and so did the entire family. Since her release, Eyman has given an interview with Anderson Cooper in which she says she’s still beaten mercilessly if she leaves her house. However, if it weren’t for the outcry from Libya and the world, no doubt her fate could have been much worse.
In Syria, just yesterday, 2,000 women took to the streets near Bayda blocking one of the main coastal roads in northern Syria. They chanted that they would not be humiliated by the government crackdowns and demanded the release of their husbands, fathers and brothers picked up in the sweeping arrests throughout the country. As security officials showed up the women held fast and announced they would not leave until their loved ones were set free. To sate the women, government officials actually released 100 prisoners and paraded them out in front of the chanting ladies. This drew cheers from the crowd, although numerous detainees looked as though they had suffered severe beatings.
In Bahrain, the situation is slightly more fragile with harsh government crackdowns devastating the nation. Newspapers have been suspended, journalists tracked, and the hospitals and streets are still being patrolled by Saudi troops sent in to quell (i.e. massacre) the citizenry. One woman, named Zaineb al Khawaja, has decided to make her dissent known by going on a hunger strike. Now into her fourth day of not eating, she has stated that sacrifices, and high-profile ones, are necessary for the world to notice the plight of the people. Her father, a human rights activist, was picked up along with her husband and brother-in-law. They have all been beaten, arrested, and are now being detained indefinitely. She plans on starving until they are released. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Zaineb has an 18-month-old infant she is still breastfeeding. However, she says that she trusts the women around her to raise the child should she die. In Arab families, it is not uncommon for a very close knit support system of women to help raise children together, so it is not unsurprising that she already knows who her baby would raised by should she keep to her strike until the end.
In all of these cases we see women doing what they can to help out in their unique situation. Libya, being the most violent of them all, clearly has the women tending to the families and the affairs of the towns and cities. Syria, which hasn’t entered such bloody conflict yet (but is inching ever closer) sees women still in the euphoric stages of risking their lives for the right to rally. And in Bahrain, a country that has seen some incredibly savage crackdowns, a woman is using her last form of control: the manipulation of her own body, to make her point. These women are extremely brave and it is imperative that we pay attention and do not let them get lost in the melee of the 24-hour news cycle. We can all dignify their sacrifices by not forgetting their invaluable efforts in the struggle for freedom.