Voices of revolution – learning from women’s experiences in the struggle for change

On March 11, 2023, Mena Solidarity Network organised a virtual event to celebrate International Women’s Day. The event was called “Voices of Revolution – Learning from Women’s Experiences in the Struggle for Change” and aimed to explore women’s experiences in popular movements in Sudan, Iran, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. The event was attended by around 60 people from different countries, including women’s organisations, unions, and activists.

The event featured five women speakers who shared their experiences of the struggles faced by women in their respective countries:

Gamareia Omar from Sudan represented the “Sudanese Teachers’ Committee” and Amira Othman, a feminist activist also from Sudan, represented “No to Women’s Oppression”.

Lesley McGorrigan from the United Kingdom, representing the University of Leeds UCU Branch.

La’ya Hooshyari, a socialist feminist activist from Iran and PhD student of Education at the University of Manchester.

Manal Tamimi, a leading activist in the struggle by villagers in Nabi Saleh against Israeli occupation, represented Palestine.

The event addressed three key questions:

1-      What can we learn from the popular movements in Iran, Sudan, and Palestine about how resisting attacks on women’s rights can inspire uprisings for change?

2-     How should activists deal with the problem that women often participate massively in popular uprisings but end up excluded or marginalised in negotiations over political reforms?

3-     What role can strikes and workplace organising play in creating conditions for women’s liberation and an end to oppression based on gender identity?

Each speaker gave a powerful and inspiring speech, sharing their unique perspectives, experiences, challenges, and opportunities for change in their respective countries.

Gamareia Omar highlighted the significant role the Sudanese women are playing in the revolution, the importance of raising women’s awareness and the available tools to use in the fight for change.

“Although women play a significant role in mobilising the streets, they are excluded from political and professional processes, negotiation issues, and decision-making. Their participation is weak, due to the marginalization they face from elites who treat them as fuel for change, but when it comes to making decisive decisions, they find themselves excluded. This is the problem, but in my estimation, the solution is through awareness and enlightenment of women. No one can demand their rights without knowing them. Awareness is the priority and requires physical and material efforts from everyone, including women and men who support women, through workshops, speeches, small meetings in schools, and in workplaces. Everyone must work to raise women’s awareness, firstly, and then demand their rights. If women are aware of their rights, they will be able to stand against the existing governments, whether they are dictatorial or democratically elected by the people’s power”.

Amira Othman advocated for heightened efforts towards raising awareness and engaging in activism across the entire community to expand the pool of participants and prioritise women’s concerns as a means of addressing their under-representation in positions of power and influence.

“Unfortunately, the mentality of political parties still deals with women as part of the crowd and part of the mobilisation, but when it comes to policymaking, women are excluded or faced with obstacles. As women, we must not step back from the front lines and demand our rights. If there are obstacles, we must work to overcome them and expose those who work to exclude us from decision-making positions, and we must never compromise on this”.

Our commitment is to serve a cherished and benevolent nation that values its people and refuses to adopt the policies of the World Bank that lead to impoverishment. We uphold human rights, particularly women’s rights, and strive for their fair and dignified treatment, equality, and the preservation of stable families. Our goal is to create a society that provides access to education, healthcare, clean water, and housing for all. We work towards achieving a peaceful existence for all, far from the challenges of displacement and wars”.

Lesley McGorrigan addressed the conviction and imprisonment of Salma al-Shehab by the Saudi regime, a Leeds University PhD student, in a statement issued in August 2022. Salma’s peaceful expression of her views on Twitter resulted in a 34-year prison sentence, and she remains incarcerated to this day. The University of Leeds has made the statement available on its website.

“We call on the University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor to:

 a. issue a public statement unequivocally condemning Salma al-Shehab’s conviction and jailing and calling for her immediate release and the dropping of all charges against her.

 b. meet with the Saudi Ambassador as soon as possible to directly convey this message of condemnation to the Saudi authorities.

c. write to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and PM Boris Johnson urging the British government to likewise condemn Salma’s conviction and demand her release and the dropping of all charges against her.

We call on the University of Leeds management to review and report to UCU on its institutional relationships with the reactionary authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia”.

La’ya Hooshyari delivered a presentation where she discussed three significant stages of Iran’s history over the last century; the constitutional revolution, the revolution of 1979, and the Jina or woman, life, freedom uprising.

“I’m sure you have read and heard a lot about the Jina uprising in Iran. Today I don’t want to tell you what happened after the murder of Jina ‘Mahsa’ Amini. I don’t want to tell you about the myriad of dead and wounded, the endless flood of imprisonment, torture, rape and the terror of girls in Iran. But I want to share a fear, a big concern that again women are becoming the tool for opposition groups. Now everybody, even the most reactionary, misogynist right-wing people in collaboration with imperialists are talking about the freedom of Iranian women, but our long history of struggles shows they do not want our emancipation. They want their own benefits. Ordinary people in Iran, especially women and queer society, workers, and students should decide their future.

So, what is our duty? We must do as much as we can to insist on international solidarity. We need to go beyond symbolic solidarity action. We need to do something for our people, especially our sisters, under their own direction, not only in Iran but Afghanistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Palestine, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere”.

Manal Tamimi discussed the crucial role of women in the fight against the Zionist occupation, as well as the plight of imprisoned Palestinian women. She also emphasised the magnitude of the crimes committed by the Zionists against the Palestinian people, with a specific focus on the atrocities against women and children.

“As for the Palestinian female prisoners, their number is 29 and about 160 minors. The occupation authorities continue to detain individuals administratively under the pretext of a secret file that cannot be disclosed, violating the detainee’s right to know the charges against him or her, and thus violating the basic guarantees of a fair trial. 

Palestinian women are subjected to arrest and assault by the Israeli occupation authorities, like the rest of the Palestinian society, without any regard for their health, psychological, or social status. The occupation prison administration has carried out repeated and unprecedented repression against female prisoners where they were beaten, dragged, and threatened with spray gas in their rooms. A number of penalties were imposed on them, including depriving them of visits, a cantina ( which is the prison shop), and isolation.

The Israeli occupation authorities continue their policy of systematic abuse, and their systematic violations of the rights of prisoners and detainees guaranteed by international conventions, as part of the structure of violence imposed on the Palestinian reality”.

After the speeches, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions, which were answered by the five speakers. The event was a powerful reminder of the significant role women play in society and revolution, the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the importance of learning from women’s experiences around the world. 

In conclusion, the event highlighted the need to achieve equality for women globally. Women’s rights are human rights, and the fight for gender equality is far from over. The speakers at the event emphasised the importance of organising and mobilising women, as well as the need to include women’s voices in political negotiations and decision-making processes. The event served as a reminder that women’s struggles are interconnected and that by working together, we can create a more just and equal world for all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s