Women urged to put their stamp on Arab Spring

Thu Nov 3, 2011 11:05am EDT
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DUBAI (Reuters) - Women should voice demands about their rights during the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world to avoid being short-changed by post-revolutionary governments, Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said.

Ebadi, a practicing Muslim, also expressed hope that Arab men and women would learn from Iran's 1979 revolution, when the overthrow of the shah led to the establishment of an Islamic republic which imposed sharia-inspired laws many women regard as restrictive of their rights.

"I think it is too early to talk of an Arab Spring, which should be used when democracy has been established and people can determine their own destiny and are equal and free. And we cannot forget half of society -- the women," Ebadi, a human and women's rights activist, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"If women cannot gain equality and the right to set their own destiny then that is not a real revolution and won't lead to democracy.

"Our experience in Iran's 1979 revolution proves this. We saw that people got rid of a dictator but instead of democracy he was replaced by religious despotism and many of the laws on polygamy, men's power of divorce ... and stoning were passed."

Since long-time leaders were toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, many -- not least in the West -- have fretted that their departure will leave the door open for Islamist groups to take power.

In Tunisia, some women have expressed concern over the victory of the Islamist party Ennahda in elections last month, though its leaders have said they will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.


Unless Arab women speak up soon, they risk being sidelined by the region's new governments, Ebadi said.   Continued...

<p>Anti-government protesters shout slogans demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a sit in calling to take Saleh to International Criminal Tribunal in Sanaa November 2, 2011. REUTERS/Louafi larbi</p>